After Chelsea had hit Aston Villa for seven and Arsenal had got a point at Birmingham, Manchester United – minus leading scorer Wayne Rooney – secured a massive result at the Reebok Stadium, beating local rivals Bolton Wanderers 4-0 to move back to the top of the table.
After a Jay Lloyd Samuel own goal had given the visitors the advantage, Dimitar Berbatov scored twice and Darron Gibson wrapped up an emphatic result from a potentially tricky obstacle.
The on-paper-defined difficulty – particularly given the absence of Rooney and Rio Ferdinand – was never really represented in reality as the Champions displayed all their experience and ability to make the fixture as much of a procession as it could reasonably be. Darren Fletcher set up two early chances, first for Berbatov and then for Jonny Evans – the Bulgarian’s excellent shot from an angle was well saved, and Evans’ left foot shot with an inviting goal went over.
Bolton’s best chance came in the 26th minute after on loan Arsenal midfielder Wilshere brilliantly played in Elmander, but van der Sar made a smart save. Five minutes later the returning Ryan Giggs could have scored but his shot went over, despite the legend having done great work in the build up. The Welshman was to prove the defining factor in this game, however, and it was his contribution in the 38th minute that swung the match in Uniteds favour. Nani did fantastically well to give Giggs the ball, the United veteran provided a trademark pass into the area – Samuel was unfortunate that he was the one to connect but still probably will feel he could have done better, as the ball rolled into the corner of the goal.
The big chance to equalise came right on half time, through another ex-Gunner, Muamba, but van der Sar made an exceptional save to preserve United’s half time lead. The stakes were high in the second half – Boltons combative attitude never reflected into any worthwhile chances, and the result rested on the Red Devils desire to finish the game off. Fortunately for the visiting faithful that desire was in abundance, and after Berbatov had fallen over and Valencia had shot wide to give the hosts early threats, a flurry in the final quarter of the game left no-one either inside the stadium or watching in London (or Birmingham) any doubt.
Giggs’ return had been a real telling contribution to the cause and it was his smart pass inside to Fletcher that created all the havoc for the decisive second – Fletcher’s shot from distance was saved, but only parried towards Berbatov, who finished easily.
Nani has been making the headlines for his sensational form on the pitch as of late but on Friday celebrated that with an improved, elongated contract – he burst into life to show just why his career at Old Trafford has been extended with two individual examples of his vastly improved intelligence. Both goals originated from the Poruguese’s position on the left hand side, and after first skinning his marker in the 77th minute to casually play in Berbatov for his second and the team’s third, Nani did the same trick 5 minutes later, this time gifting substitute Gibson a goal just a minute and a half after coming on.
It was the perfect response to the earlier results and leaves United in a great position heading into next Saturday’s crucial encounter with Chelsea – win that, and the Champions could even afford a slip up elsewhere.
Ratings : van der Sar 8, Neville 7, Evans 7, Vidic 8, Evra 7, Valencia 7, Fletcher 7 (Gibson), Scholes 7, Giggs 8 (Macheda), *Nani 9, Berbatov 8