Trinidad & Tobago left-back Samuel celebrates his 29th birthday tomorrow but he was the one handing out the presents here.
His astonishing own-goal set Manchester United on the way to a fifthsuccessive Premier League victory that was as emphatic a response toChelsea's 7-1 hammering of Aston Villa earlier as Sir Alex Fergusoncould have wished for.
Crisp finish: Dimitar Berbatov fires past Jussi Jaaskelainen to double United's lead
It left the United manager purring: 'When you see the turnaround ingoal difference it represents a challenge. Throw the gauntlet down andUnited will always accept it.'
Samuel's 38th-minute own-goal came when the match seemed to be heading for an interval stalemate.
Berbatov's second-half brace and a fourth from substitute Gibson only served to emphasise the gulf in class and application.
Suddenly a six-goal difference in Chelsea's favour was reduced totwo and could be wiped out altogether when Carlo Ancelotti's team visitOld Trafford on Saturday.
Bolton fans must have breathed a sigh of relief when they heardthat Rooney was not even on the bench - the United striker has beentheir nemesis in recent meetings, scoring six goals in the past four.
If they did, they reckoned without brilliant Bulgarian Berbatov as United maintained domination of their Lancashire neighbours.
Screamer: Darron Gibson fires the fourth
Bolton have now won only one of their past 11 meetings and havefailed to take a point from any of the so-called top four glamour clubsthis season.
United quickly took the game to their opponents. They went close inthe 19th minute when Berbatov's first-timer from Darren Fletcher'sthrough ball almost caught Jussi Jaaskelainen by surprise, the Boltongoalkeeper pushing the effort on to a post and over for a corner.
In response, Jack Wilshere found Johan Elmander in a great scoringposition and Edwin van der Sar was happy to palm the £9million Swede'seffort away for a corner. Six minutes later, Gary Cahill put a freeheader a couple of yards wide.
Then came United's astonishing breakthrough. Nani's overhead kickfound Ryan Giggs onside and when the Welshman's cross flashed acrossthe front of the goal Samuel, under no pressure, buried the ball lowpast a perplexed Jaaskelainen.
Bolton boss Owen Coyle said: 'On another day, Jlloyd would make abetter decision in terms of clearing his lines, even though it was asuperb ball from Giggs, but the second goal hurt us more. Losing 4-0isn't a fair reflection of the game.'
The first-half advantage was only preserved by a magnificent savefrom Van der Sar two minutes later. Wilshere teed up Fabrice Muambainside the area but the Dutchman finger-tipped away the EnglandUnder-21 midfielder's right-footer.
'It was a match-winning effort,' admitted Ferguson later.
Massive clanger: Jlloyd Samuel (right) fires past Jussi Jaaskelainen to gift United the lead
Three minutes into the second half, Berbatov demonstrated strength and control to win the ball in midfield before a neat one-two with Fletcher left him in front of goal, staring at the whites of Jaaskelainen's eyeballs. Unfortunately he slipped and fell over when he was about to pull the trigger.
But the striker punished another Bolton error to put the game beyond the home side's reach in the 69th minute.
Giggs and Fletcher combined for the Scot to fire in a strong shot that Jaaskelainen should have held, but the ball slipped from his grasp and Berbatov pounced to shoot into the net. Michael Carrick replaced Paul Scholes and Ivan Klasnic came on for Elmander, hurt in a clumsy collision with Nemanja Vidic, but the switches only served to underline United's supremacy.
That was never clearer than in the 78th minute when Berbatov made it three with the most arrogant of right-footed flicks to touch home a Nani cross.
Gibson came on for Fletcher in the 80th minute and scored the fourth with his first touch.
Nani, ghosting past Sam Ricketts for the umpteenth time, provided the chance for the midfielder to crash in a shot that Jaaskelainen could only push into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
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