Dimitar Berbatov’s 88th minute goal saw 10-man United beat Bolton Wanderers after a less than convincing display at Old Trafford.
The game looked destined for a draw after Jonny Evans received a straight red card in the 73rd minute for an over the top challenge on Bolton’s Stuart Holden. Evans may feel slightly aggrieved at his sending-off after he won the 50/50 challenge with the American midfielder but the follow through left Andre Marriner with little choice but to give Evans his marching orders.
It was a shame Evans’ game had to end that way because bar a silly pass straight to Kevin Davies in the first-half, he’d had a steady game on his return to the first-team.
Little of note happened in the first-half. Bolton’s best chance of the half came when Fabrice Muamba got caught in two minds when the ball was at his feet 8 yards from goal after Johan Elmander’s good work on the right after only three minutes. At the other end, Javier Hernandez fired wide after a good United move down the right involving Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney.
United were unfortunate not to get a penalty kick when Javier Hernandez’ effort was blocked by Gary Cahill’s arm inside the six yard box. Some would argue that it would’ve been a harsh decision given that it was unintentional, but Cahill’s arm was spread as he flew in to block the shot and the Bolton defender can count himself lucky it wasn’t penalised.
Cahill can also count himself lucky not to receive a red card after he flew into a tackle with Patrice Evra that saw his studs connect with the United captain’s ankle.
Half-time saw Hernandez and Wes Brown withdrawn and replaced by Dimitar Berbatov and Fabio da Silva. Brown’s initial inclusion in the team ahead of Fabio will have been a measure to counter Bolton’s height advantage and physicality, but the young Brazilian showed he was more than capable of mixing it as well as giving United more of an attacking edge.
Berbatov was having a frustrating day after his introduction, being caught offside time and again. His performance reflected United’s; glimpses of style with very little substance.
Nani was getting no joy against Gretar Steinsson down the left, so swapped wings with Antonio Valencia in an attempt to break through Bolton’s well-organised and impressive backline. It almost worked when Valencia cut inside to play in Berbatov with a first time ball, but Cahill was able to deny the Bulgarian an opportunity with a superbly timed tackle.
After Evans’ dismissal United got more and more into the game, and it made for an open encounter. Matthew Taylor – on as a replacement for the injured Holden, had a free-header that thankfully found it’s way in to Edwin van der Sar’s grasp.
Michael Carrick performed well when he slotted into defence, as did Antonio Valencia who moved into the centre to fill the gap left by Carrick. Indeed, Valencia along with Rooney and Fabio put in fantastic shifts when United went down to ten and on top of the victory Sir Alex Ferguson will be delighted with the desire shown by the aforementioned trio – particularly Valencia, who was starting his first game since September.
After Taylor’s missed chance United kicked on and Nani saw a powerful effort saved well by Jaaskelainen after cutting onto his left-foot from the right hand side. The winger then cut in from the left-wing and let fly with a right-footed strike that Jaaskelainen fumbled to the feet of a waiting Dimitar Berbatov, who slotted in from close range to give United the points.
It wasn’t a great performance and for large periods of the game Bolton more than matched United, but The Red Devils rallied and showed great determination after going a man down to get the victory that takes them five points clear of Arsenal – who could only draw at West Brom.
The starting line-up
1. van der Sar 7; 6. Brown 5(20. Fabio 45 7), 12. Smalling 7, 23. Evans 6, 3 Evra 6; 25. Valencia 7, 16. Carrick 7, 11. Giggs 7, 17. Nani 6; 10. Rooney 7, 14. Hernandez 6(9. Berbatov 45 7)
Referee: Andre Marriner