Bolton 2 United 2: Mathieson's verdict
It had been such a good weekend for Manchester United and then the Reds played. On Saturday, Chelsea and Arsenal had failed to apply the pressure at the top as they slipped up. If any encouragement was needed after United's victory against Liverpool then the results 24 hours previous should have provided an additional energy burst for United. The opportunity to make good the throwaways at Fulham and Everton and repair some of the early damage in the league table was there for the Reds. But again United's one-time formidable defence has blown three points on their travels. It is a sickness that doesn't bode well. In the end, it was the continued re-emergence of Michael Owen as a potent goalscorer that kept helped United snatch at least a point from this bleak weekend for the title favourites. Owen's had to sit and twiddle his thumbs last season as Wayne Rooney became United's top dog by a street. This season, he's had to watch Dimitar Berbatov grab the headlines. Even when he did score in midweek at Scunthorpe, Fergie wasn't there to see Owen's double at Glanford Park. But the United boss was a relieved onlooker this time as his substitute masterstroke paid off. It was clear from the outset that the double threat of Johan Elmander and Kevin Davies was something that would have ruined Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans' breakfasts as they contemplated the bruising tussle over their cornflakes. Perhaps they hadn't even considered the potential goal damage of the giant centre back Zat Knight. He only needed six minutes to expose the unease at the heart of United's defence. Martin Petrov's corner was slung right into the middle of the penalty box mayhem and Knight's big frame was well in front of Evans' attempt to put him off as the ball dropped to his feet. Guided The defender simply guided the ball into the net. Despite the fillip of the lead, Bolton still looked vulnerable and kept presenting the ball back to the Reds without the need to work too hard to regain possession. If Wanderer's defending for those attempts was slack it was non-existent when United deservedly got back level. Nani picked the ball up in the centre circle and was allowed an unimpeded run at goal. Not a single white shirt saw enough danger to bother interrupting his slalom. Only when the ball struck the net did they wake to the error of their ways. Rooney is reported to be on Barcelona's radar again but the Spaniards would probably prefer the England striker from last season when he abandoned foraging deep for an all-out penalty box role. United fans, too, would rather he return to that selfish thinking but when Berbatov is leading the line in current form something has to give. Once again, Rooney spent more time looking for possession and impact outside of the box than in it. Consequently, he barely got close to adding to his one penalty since last March.It's a huge conundrum for Sir Alex Ferguson. It was no surprise that Elmander had a hand in Bolton's second as he held off John O'Shea to nick a pass to Petrov, who skipped inside substitute Park and slammed in his shot off Fletcher's chest. Fortunately for the Reds, Bolton were as rocky at the back as they were and despite the massive figures packed into the box to defend Nani's 74th-minute free kick it was the diminutive Owen who was alert to the cross and glanced in United's second equaliser. As the minutes ticked by towards the final whistle both sets of fans suffered passages of panic with Nani almost snatching it and the Elmander answering with an equally close shave himself. But it was the Wanderer's support who cheered the final whistle like a victory signal as another two away points went west for the Reds. What is your verdict? Have your say.
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