After two successive home wins in the FA cup and Champions league, United looked to make it three on the bounce on their return to Premier league action against local rivals Bolton Wanderers. Having lost their previous two league games against Chelsea and Liverpool, victory was imperative to get our title bid back on track and keep chasers Arsenal at bay. However the Trotters have been in good form this season under new boss Owen Coyle, and with United’s defence depleted by injuries, victory was no formality for the reds. With 4 first team defenders out, United restore Jonny Evans to the centre of defence alongside Chris Smalling, whilst Michael Carrick recovered from injury to start in midfield alongside Ryan Giggs in what was an offensive looking United line up.
A stubborn Bolton side rode the early wave of United pressure with relative ease, as United’s midfield duo of Carrick and Giggs failed to fully get to grips with the task at hand, and failed to provide our forward players enough opportunities to attack. Most of United’s rare first half opportunities were a result of individual brilliance from Wayne Rooney, who was again relishing his role as an attacking midfielder. Rooney firstly had a powerful drive from the edge of the area go narrowly wide, and minutes later presented Javier Hernandez a great opportunity with a precise cut back, only for the Mexican to squander the chance wide. A relatively drab first half came to a worrying end for United, as their defensive injury crisis was further manifested by a knock picked up by Wes Brown, who was replaced by Fabio da Silva.
United also introduced Dimitar Berbatov for the jaded looking Hernandez, as they searched for a much needed victory with title rivals Arsenal struggling against West Brom. Berbatov’s introduction appeared to lift United somewhat, as we began to threaten the Bolton goal with more frequency. A last ditch challenge from Gary Cahill prevented Berbatov from giving United the lead, and the Bulgarian’s curling shot narrowly missed the far post after Rooney’s lay off. As the United pressure intensified however, disaster struck, as on 75 minutes Jonny Evans went in for a hard challenge on Bolton midfielder Stuart Holden, which was deemed to be dangerous by the referee who promptly gave Evans his marching orders. Although Evans won a large chunk of the ball, these days any sort of aggressive challenge is punished by a red card, making life for defenders very difficult.
With yet another defender now missing, United called upon make shift centre back Michael Carrick to fill in for what was a crucial last 15 minutes, a role which he was often called upon to fulfil during last season. Despite being down to ten men, United’s attacking efforts intensified, with firstly Nani and then Wayne Rooney forcing good saves from Juusi Jaaskelainen. With the clock ticking down, Bolton were presented with a golden opportunity to secure all three points, as Matt Taylor broke into the penalty area totally unmarked, yet with the goal beckoning he could only aim his header straight at Edwin Van Der Sar. After such a huge let off, it was almost inevitable United would win. And with 2 minutes left on the clock, Nani’s bouncing shot could only be parried by the usually reliable Jaaskelainen, and Berbatov was on hand to slide home what could be a title winning goal come the end of the season. So often this season United have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and with Arsenal dropping crucial points away from home against West Brom, this weekend could be pivotal in deciding the outcome of the title. United now have 2 weeks until their next match to recover and attempt to get some key players back fit for the crucial run in.