United 2 Bolton 1: verdict
IT was like old times at Old Trafford for 75 minutes. United were cantering to success, two goals to the good after just over half an hour and a big-winning scoreline on the cards. There were two wingers destroying the full-backs with mesmeric trickery and strength. There was a player spilling over with a mouth-watering repertoire that brought gasps of admiration and approval. Then there was a defence that rolled up its sleeves and defiantly put up a substantial road block. It was an afternoon set to soothe the bruising of recent weeks with a bagful at one end and a clean sheet at the other. But then a wave of panic enveloped the Reds and all the problems of recent weeks resurfaced. Clearly, restoring Old Trafford as a fortress is going to be a painstaking operation. In the meantime, United fans are going to have to get used to perching on the edge of their seats both in awe and alarm. The champions have not had a truly comfortable full 90 minutes in front of the Stretford End all season. But the up and downs of the Arsenal match, the derby, Wolfsburg and Sunderland looked a distant memory as Bolton were initially swept away. Wanderers' chief tormentors were Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov and Antonio Valencia. Victim What more is there to say about Giggs? At this point, you could just cut and paste all the paragraphs of praise previously lavished on the evergreen winger this season. Jlloyd Samuel was added to a long list of victims who cannot control the Welshman in his twilight years. On the other flank, Sam Ricketts was the first to discover that life isn't going to be all plain sailing for left-backs facing United now that Cristiano Ronaldo has gone. Slow-burner Valencia finally rediscovered some of the danger that had been commonplace down that flank in the last six years. Then there was Berbatov, whose band of supporters can now see beyond the sweat-free, lethargic-looking style, and enjoy the class. Re-run those old Eric Cantona DVDs and some of the sublime touches of the Frenchman are being replicated by the gifted Bulgarian. For someone who supposedly doesn't do busy, he's had one heck of a week. He has had to suffer the disappointment of accepting he will have a summer break next June when so many of the world's best will be on duty in South Africa. He then hit back with a 29-minute hat-trick for his country to sign off the qualifiers on a high and hours later he was celebrating the birth of his first child in Sofia. Deflection After all that he was still able to present a series of gentle touches and spectacular goal efforts that inspired United and deflated Bolton. United cannot complain that the opposition aren't helping them to rebuild their commanding home form. Zat Knight's blunder after four minutes, when he sliced in Michael Owen's off-target skimming header, was the third own goal scored at Old Trafford this season following Abou Diaby's bizarre effort in the Arsenal win and Anton Ferdinand's deflection that rescued a late point in the Sunderland game. Bolton should have equalised when Kevin Davies headed a golden chance wide after 13 minutes, but once Valencia powered his way through courtesy of a one-two with Gary Neville to slam in the second, United should have been on Easy Street. Keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen put up a fantastic one-man barrier to keep the Reds at two. A 17-minute second-half sequence orchestrated by Berbatov, Giggs and Valencia, should have seen United run up their biggest Old Trafford score since Spurs last April. But Bolton survived and, when Ricardo Gardner and Edwin Van der Sar re-enacted the Kenwyne Jones - Ben Foster moment against Sunderland, the Reds' solidity seemed to collapse. Ivan Klasnic put the ball in the net after the aerial clash but it was ruled out. United got away with that one but four minutes later Matt Taylor jumped to head home and nails rapidly began to be chewed towards the quick. Gary Cahill should have snatched a late equaliser for Bolton when he headed straight at Van der Sar four minutes into injury time. Just when you thought it was safe to start praising United's defence again it all ended with more questions to be answered.
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