Ferguson delighted as United go top of table

Bolton 0 Man Utd 1
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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson admitted he was just about to take Carlos Tevez off when the South American supplied Dimitar Berbatov for Manchester United's last-minute winner at Bolton today.

Despite completing almost two full games without hitting the net, Wayne Rooney's first-minute strike against Wigan on Wednesday and Berbatov's last-gasp header at the Reebok Stadium mean United top the Barclays Premier League table for the first time this season.

It puts the pressure on Liverpool ahead of Monday night's Merseyside derby at Anfield. But it may not have happened if Ferguson had been a bit quicker.

"It is a new tactic," he joked. "Get someone stripped on the touchline and see what happens.

"I was ready to take Carlos off and then he makes a goal.

"Danny Welbeck is a big lad and I just felt he might get us a goal from a cross. I am always prepared to gamble."

In the end, Ferguson didn't need to as Berbatov provided another substantial repayment on his club record £30.75million transfer fee.

United have now won five successive games since they returned from the Club World Cup, four of them by a single goal. At the same time, they have closed a seven point gap on Liverpool and now lead Rafael Benitez's men by one themselves having, until Monday, played the same amount of games.

"Being top is not decisive at this stage but it is always nice because it is the best place to be," said Ferguson.

"We have been playing catch-up in terms of fixtures for a while now. We still have another game in hand against Fulham on February 14.

"Only after that will we have a good idea of where we stand between Liverpool, Chelsea and ourselves."

The United boss will now make changes for Tuesday's Carling Cup semi-final with Derby, when United will start a goal adrift of their Championship opponents.

They then tackle Tottenham in the FA Cup on Saturday before resuming their league challenge at West Brom on January 27 and Everton on February 2, by which time Ferguson is hopeful Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown will be available.

Not that United have been faring badly without the England duo as they have now equalled Chelsea's Premier League record of 10 consecutive clean sheets, with Jonny Evans, like Tevez a major doubt beforehand, playing a starring role.

"I was delighted to have Jonny fit," said Ferguson.

"He has been fantastic for us and did a great job again and Nemanja Vidic's performances have been magnificent."

Understandably, Bolton boss Gary Megson was an unhappy man, berating his three centre-halves; Gary Cahill, Andy O'Brien and new arrival Sebastien Puygrenier for not dealing more decisively with Tevez in the build-up to Berbatov's winner.

"Our part in that goal was particularly poor," said Megson.

"I put three centre-halves in there at the end because we were out on our feet. It looked as though we would get something but it hasn't happened."

Megson was full of praise for another new arrival Ariza Makukula who, just a day after arriving on loan from Benfica, turned in an industrious shift and provided Vidic in particular with major problems.

But it was a succession of saves from Jussi Jaaskelainen that looked like denying United until Berbatov made the breakthrough.

"I don't know if this result was ominous for the rest of the league but if anyone finishes above United, they will win it," said Megson.

"They usually come good in the second half of the season but if you look at what Chelsea have done, they will be equally delighted. That is what good teams do."

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