Football: Red mist descends on United

Bolton Wanderers 0 Manchester United 0 Attendance: 25,000
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The Independent Online
Having negotiated their trip into the Slovakian unknown with the minimum of fuss on Wednesday night, Manchester United were obliged to scrap in their own backyard yesterday afternoon.

The champions hit Bolton for six on their last trip to Burnden Park, but were reeling themselves on their maiden trip up the M61 to the Reebok Stadium. Not that Wanderers were in thumping form at their new home, three miles within the county boundary of Greater Manchester.

It was the blow struck against Gary Pallister by Nathan Blake that floored Alex Ferguson. Although Pallister appeared not to retaliate, he was sent off with the Bolton centre-forward for his part in the fracas which flared 10 minutes before the interval. It left Ferguson seeing red, too.

So enraged was the United manager he strode from the visitors' dugout to point an accusing finger at the nearest official, one of the referee's assistants, then remonstrated with the man in the middle himself, Paul Durkin. His point seemed valid, if somewhat overstated.

"I think television will prove what happened," Ferguson said afterwards. "The referee said it was for raising his fists, but he said he'd look at it again on television. So that's in our favour. That's all I've got to say."

There was not a great deal more to say about the game. When the dust settled, a point apiece seemed the just outcome of a fractious local dispute which raised the temperature of the 25,000 in attendance, but never promised to rise to any great heights.

The Reebok Stadium still awaits its first home win and its first goal, but the Bolton supporters left content that a point of local honour had been earned. However, they would have been celebrating a more tangible victory had their team made the most of their superiority in the first half.

The Wanderer called Fish gave the Premiership's Michael Palin club particular cause for delayed travel sickness after their midweek trip to Kosice. A trialist at Old Trafford before taking the Roman road to Lazio, Mark Fish made his debut at the heart of the Bolton defence - well, nominally, at least. The South African had licence to roam and did so to impressive counter- attacking effect too often for United's comfort.

It was Per Frandsen, though, who rattled the champions just before the half-hour. Some 25 yards out, the Danish midfielder who started out on his chosen career path with a club called B1903, crashed his shot against the crossbar situated close to the A6027.

Ferguson's concerns were not restricted to officialdom. For all their neat and tidy play, United's approach work was laboured and they failed to trouble Keith Branagan until four minutes into the second half.

Having started with the same 11 who brushed aside Kosice, fresh legs were clearly needed and the introduction of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Phil Neville put the appropriate spring into United's step.

Something more than Branagan's best save was required to keep Bolton on level terms in the 72nd minute. The home goalkeeper did well to parry Roy Keane's stinging drive, but only the outside of his right post stopped Andy Cole's follow-up effort.

Cole then shot inches wide of the other upright, his sights perhaps sharpened by the morning reports of an Old Trafford interest in Dwight Yorke. Or maybe it was the belated introduction of his former foil, Peter Beardsley, albeit to the opposition ranks, which stirred the fires of the old Newcastle Cole. Ultimately, though, it was the heat generated by parochial passion which prevailed.

Not that Bolton's Springbok felt like a Fish out of water. "I have played in derbies like this," he said, "for Lazio against Roma. And back home in South Africa some supporters stand at the side of the pitch holding spears. You have more to worry about than the match."