Sir Alex Ferguson’s calculated gamble paid off as Manchester United remained top of the table without the services of Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand. He admitted the England duo would both have been risked in this tricky visit to Bolton had United’s need been dire. Instead, with a crunch clash with Chelsea splitting a Champions League quarter final against Bayern Munich, the Red Devils chief decided to let the pair nurse a bruised foot and groin injury respectively.
In their absence, Jlloyd Samuel came to United’s aid breaking the deadlock in bizarre fashion seven minutes before the break with their 11th own goal of the season. After weathering a Bolton storm straight after the restart, Ferguson’s men cut loose. Dimitar Berbatov bagged a double before Darron Gibson lashed his first touch beyond Jussi Jaaskelainen to emphasise United are not quite the one man team many pundits believe.
Seven minutes from the break, having equalled their visitors for much of the contest, Bolton must have breathed a sigh of relief as Ryan Giggs, having galloped onto Nani’s overhead pass, drilled a low cross beyond Berbatov. Although Antonio Valencia was in the vicinity, Samuel seemed to have an easy task to clear. Instead, the full-back slotted the ball back beyond a startled Jaaskelainen and into the bottom corner.
Aside from the goal, Bolton had the best chances of a first half that ended on a pretty sour note. Jack Wilshere’s superb through ball to Johan Elmander allowed the Swede to bring an excellent low save out of Edwin van der Sar. Within a minutes, the veteran Dutchman did even better to tip Fabrice Muamba’s goalbound effort over after the excellent Wilshere had created the opportunity.
Man of the match Nemanja Vidic was an imposing presence at the heart of United’s defence. He won virtually every aerial challenge as Bolton peppered the visitors’ penalty area. But thanks to their teak tough Serb United held firm until play quickly switched to the other end. When Jaaskelainen was unable to hold Darren Fletcher’s firm drive Berbatov was on the spot to tap home his 11th goal of the season.
United were not finished. Often in the past Ferguson has spoken of the importance goal difference might one day play in the title shake up. Having suffered a swing of 11 in four days, they decided it was time to react. Nani was the creator for Berbatov to slot home his side’s third and the in form Portugal winger also teed up Gibson, who drilled his first touch past Jaaskelainen.
Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Ricketts, Cahill, Knight, Samuel, Muamba, Lee, Cohen (Taylor 73), Wilshere, Elmander (Klasnic 73), Kevin Davies.
Man Utd: Van der Sar, Neville, Vidic, Evans, Evra, Fletcher (Gibson 80), Scholes (Carrick 74), Valencia, Giggs (Macheda 84), Nani, Berbatov.