Football: Time up for United's misfiring Cole

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The Independent Online
Bolton Wanderers 0

Manchester United 0

Ask Colin Todd about the blackest moment of a dark season when Bolton were last in the Premiership he does not hesitate. Losing 6-0 to Manchester United at Burnden Park hung shroud-like round the club. "You try to come in to work with a smile on your face, but it was hard after that," he said.

The Bolton manager will be able to arrive this morning with satisfaction beaming from his features. It may have been a bore, but for Todd it was six goals better than last time. "We've come a long way on and off the field," he said, looking round at the splendid new Reebok Stadium.

They have, and the signs are they will make more that a fleeting acquaintance with the Premiership this time. It is just the neutrals who will look back on this match and have problems raising a smile.

A spiteful derby, the match was scrappy before Gary Pallister and Nathan Blake were sent off in the 35th minute, and it did not tidy itself afterwards. If you like a game with more bad tackles than good shots then this was it. Only the dismissals will linger in the memory.

Even they had an unsatisfactory element about them because it was difficult to justify Pallister's red card, even if Blake's Prince Naseem impression gave the referee little option. In the former's case, you suspect he sifted through the evidence accumulated earlier in the game and assumed skulduggery had taken place.

Pallister had stood brow to brow with John McGinlay, and been put on probation a few minutes later. When the England centre-half was suddenly being used as a punch bag by Blake the official's patience snapped. "I think it'll be in our favour when we see it on TV," Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said. "He certainly didn't raise his fists."

Match of the Day bore that out, although the cameras did leave the pair for a few seconds. What was recorded was a late, malicious challenge from Blake and the Bolton striker throwing two punches. What happened in between only they will know.

Todd did not question his player's dismissal - "If you raise a hand, it's automatic" - but he did feel his side's loss had been greater than United's. To back his case, Bolton, who had hit the bar through Per Frandsen after 27 minutes, did not manage a shot on target afterwards.

As for United they were inadequate, lions in terms of possession, lambs when it came to doing anything with it. "We didn't make enough chances to win," Ferguson conceded. "We were disappointing in the last third of the pitch."

That threw the focus on the principal striker, Andy Cole, and it is difficult to see what he gives United at the moment. His confidence has been missing for so long now the police have stopped searching, while his first touch is a gift to defenders.

Cole's hook back that hit the post after 72 minutes was a positive contribution but his team-mates give the growing impression they have lost faith. His runs are frequently ignored, his mistakes so frequent the eyebrows no longer go up in surprise. When your colleagues are mentally preparing to go on the defensive as soon as you receive the ball, your time is up.

Particularly as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is approaching full fitness. The Norwegian made it on to the pitch as a substitute and once he and Teddy Sheringham are restored to health you cannot see how Cole can be accommodated. Sooner rather than later, you suspect, Ferguson will cut his losses on the man he bought for pounds 7m.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Bergsson, Fish, Taggart, Whitlow; Pollock, Frandsen, Thompson, Sellars (Beardsley, 66); McGinlay, Blake. Substitutes not used: Johansen, Todd, McAnespie, Ward (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, Berg, Pallister, Irwin; Poborsky eane, Butt; Scholes (Solskjaer, 55), Cole. Substitutes not used: McClair, Thornley, Van der Gouw.

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Sendings off: Bolton: Blake; Manchester United: Pallister.

Bookings: Bolton: Frandsen, Bergsson; Manchester United: Irwin, Beckham, Cole, P Neville.

Man of the match: Berg.

Attendance: 25,000.