With thoughts of the previous Premier League match still lingering around, the 3-2 loss to Blackburn Rovers, there could be no complacency coming into today’s game against Bolton. With Wanders facing the reality of a relegation scrap a result at Old Trafford could change their season around. It was United, however, who kept the pressure on City at the top of the table with what ended up in a comfortable win over their Lancashire neighbours.
With those memories of Blackburn in mind it was United who came out of the blocks on the attack, dominating both possession and territory straight from kick off. This was indeed reminiscent of that Blackburn game. However, this time there appeared to be a greater urgency to make most of this early dominance. Nani, Valencia and Danny Welbeck, all had good chances within the first ten minutes. Some last ditch defending and fine goalkeeping was all that prevented the Reds from taking an early lead.
United continued to look for the brake through, attacking from the right wing where Antonio Valencia performed brilliantly. He constantly found himself beating his man to the bi-line and at the very least delivering dangerous balls into the box. Bolton always defended in numbers, as expected, making it difficult for those United attackers in the box to latch onto the danger stirred up by Valencia. And it was indeed Valencia who looked like he had provided the moment that would duly give United the lead. He lifted a beautifully weighted ball over Bolton’s defence which Danny Welbeck timed his run perfectly to pick the ball up and bear down on goal. He never got the chance to finish the move however, as he was clumsily brought down by Zak Knight in the box who left the referee little choice to award the penalty. Knight may count himself lucky not to have been sent of being the last man. However, convert the penalty and you could be forgiven for believing that Bolton having their full quota of eleven players would make no difference to the outcome of the game as you would expect United to go to town. It was Wayne Rooney who placed the ball down for the penalty kick, but it was saved well by Adam Bogdan to deny him and leave Rooney having missed his third penalty this season
This seemed to knock the wind out of United who began to lose a little momentum and became a little sloppy. Never the less they continued to control the game, Bogdan once again coming to Wonderers rescue by saving well low down to his left from a Danny Welbeck effort. Welbeck had been Uniteds’ most likely scorer so far with great movement and not afraid to attack Bolton back line while willing to chase anything loose. Wayne Rooney, not as involved as in his previous game, however found himself linking well with Welbeck and was also effective when tracking back into midfield.
Once again though, it was Paul Scholes who had the fans talking before the game when it was announced that he was in the starting line-up. Many would have expected him to be introduced from the bench later in the game. He was having quite a quiet game in the centre of midfield, just keeping things tidy. Naturally he found himself lucky not to be in the referees’ book after a clumsy swing at a loose bouncing ball which caught Mark Davies in the chest. He did however come close when he looped a header from a Nani corner on target only to see it cleared off the line. Just as halftime was approaching though, injury time in fact, his moment came. United were looking frustrated but kept plugging away, and when Nani had a close range shot blocked the ball found itself at the feet of Wayne Rooney who squared to an unmarked Paul Scholes at the back post who swept the ball first time into the bottom corner past a sprawling Bolton defence. A dream return to Old Trafford and the eighteenth season in a row he has scored at the Theatre of Dreams.
At the other end, Rafael returned to the starting line up as did Johnny Evens. Evens’ inclusion was most likely due to the absence of Jones and Smalling who both picked up little knocks in training during the week. In goal, Anders Lindegaard retained his place in front of David De Gea. It may have been United who had control of the game but Bolton had their chances to get forward. These were largely on the break when play broke down higher up the pitch. Rafael was also caught committing to a challenge high up the pitch which led to a typical Bolton attack; somewhat uncommitted with the player on the ball lacking in options. On occasion though there was more purpose, mainly down their right wing and from set pieces. However, Lindegaard was barley tested. He did however look confident in coming for crosses and commanded his defence well. The defence on the whole looked tight and solid.
With no changes at halftime and the goal just before the break United should really have stepped it up a gear. However they started with a lesser intensity and on the hour Bolton had their own spell of pressure. A number of corners were won, one of which threatened the United goal but was cleared off the line by Rafael. It was also Rafael who also put his body on the line with a fabulous block from a Petrov shot. Once again though, the United back line coped well and looked very competent. Johnny Evens gets a lot of criticism but when alongside Ferdinand he looks assured and today was no different. He was always positioned well and was never rash. Also very good on the ball and looked to start attacks. Perhaps against a more capable attacking side there would have been more opportunity for an equaliser because as tidy as the United defence was, Bolton were sloppy themselves.
United may have taken their foot off the gas again in the second half but Valencia was still a major threat, unplayable at times when running at the Bolton defence, seemingly always providing good balls into the box which were begging to be attacked. With Boltons spell of pressure coming to an end, Sir Alex Ferguson rung the changes. Paul Scholes’ triumphant Old Trafford return was over, still lacking in match fitness, and maybe a little bit of sharpness. He was replaced by Ryan Giggs while a largely ineffective Nani was replaced by Park. With a new lease of life in the team, and with Bolton still demonstrating that the game was not yet won United looked to gain control again. It was Rooney, who had been out of sorts during the second half, who got behind the Bolton defence and by luck or by judgement under a David Wheater challenge found Welbeck who slotted home, himself under pressure. It was unfortunate for Welbeck but the pressure from the Bolton defender saw him pick up an injury and he was immediately replaced by Hernandez. Welbeck had been excellent all game, working hard and showing a great attitude, so it will be important to have him back for next weekends’ trip to Arsenal.
With the match all but won the Reds found themselves with more time and space on the ball. This was highlighted by Michael Carrick nine minutes after Welbecks goal. With space on the ball and little pressure he guided a twenty yard shot around his marker and into the bottom corner to make it 3-0 and mark what had been a good day for him personally, as he had once again been solid in Uniteds midfield. This capped of a reasonably comfortable and straight forward game for United. Darren Pratley had one more good opportunity to give Bolton something to go home with when the ball broke to him in the United box, but he fired his shot harmlessly wide when he really should have been hitting the target at least.
Without being brilliant today United had comfortably swept aside a poor Bolton team. This was the kind of match that was perfect before a run of very tough games. They are back to winning ways in the league and without wasting too much energy United have re-joined City at the top of the Premier League, coming through the match with all players playing in their favoured positions. Perhaps now they can play to their strengths and with some added emphasis as we head to the Emirates next Sunday afternoon.
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