In recent history Sir Alex Ferguson’s gamble in resting Rio Ferdinand, Park Ji-Sung and most pertinently Wayne Rooney at Bolton Wanderers may have backfired. But this is a Bolton side with a softer core than under Ferguson’s close friend Sam Allardyce and United ran riot to regain the Premier League lead despite the absentees.
Although the Scot insists Rooney’s knee is not a worry, despite the England international missing training this week, the forward’s absence was something of a surprise. But with two games against Bayern Munich, sandwiching the visit of Chelsea to Old Trafford in the next week, fitness protection was the name of the game.
Ryan Giggs, restored to the starting line-up, provided support to Dimitar Berbatov in attack with Nani and Antonio Valencia offering width from the flanks. It was all too much for Bolton in the end, although the score didn’t tell the story of a match in which the home side offered a real threat.
“The score makes it look as if it was easy but we never dominated the game,” Ferguson said.
“It was hard, as it always is here. It’s difficult to play when the ball’s in the air all the time. It took two magnificent saves from Edwin van der Sar to keep Bolton out in the first half.”
But first United created multiple chances in the opening minutes with Fletcher’s cross from the right and Berbatov’s flick at the near post to forcing a save from Jussi Jaaskelainen and then Jonny Evans blasting over moments later.
Not that the visitors had it all their own way with Nemanja Vidic making a last-ditch tackle to deny the home side and Edwin van der Sar providing a strong hand to stop Johan Elmander’s near post shot in the opening quarter.
Berbatov and Giggs then worked an opening only for the Welshman to fire just over. But the veteran’s left-wing cross forced the opening goal for Ferguson’s side moments later as Jay Lloyd Samuel put the ball in his own net for the 11th own-goal of United’s season.
Bolton continued to offer a threat and van der Sar, at nearly 40, produced a wonderful save to keep Ferguson’s side in the ascendancy.
The game ended as a contest 15 minutes into the second half after Valencia and Giggs worked an opening for Darren Fletcher, with the Scot’s shot blocked by Jaaskelainen, only for Berbatov to fire home on the rebound.
Now United opened up Bolton at will, with Nani offering brilliance from the left. First the Portuguese skinned Sam Rickets to offer Berbatov the Bulgarian’s second of the night with 20 minutes to go. Then the winger cut in from the left to provide Darron Gibson with an opportunity to finish with a trademark flourish in off the bar.
“We’ll all drop points before the end of the season, we just have to make sure we don’t drop as many as everyone else,” added Ferguson, who believes Arsenal remains in the race despite the Londoners’ draw at Birmingham City.
“Chelsea scoring seven did not put extra pressure on us, but when you see that turnaround in goal difference in four days it represents a challenge. Put the gauntlet down, though, and United will always accept it.”
Next to Munich with Ferdinand and Rooney likely to return despite the “minor knocks” suffered by the pair this week.