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Premier League

Ferguson urges United to restore mean streak

Manchester United 2 Bolton Wanderers 1

Like most managers who resent any query more searching than "happy with the three points?", Sir Alex Ferguson is more at ease asking questions than answering them.

On Saturday the Manchester United manager used his programme notes to restate his apology to Alan Wiley, which should not spare him an FA charge today for questioning the referee's fitness. However, more space was devoted to rounding on a questioner from The Sun, who after their Champions League victory over Wolfsburg, had asked if United had been winning "without firing on all cylinders". "It should not be necessary for me to have to answer that kind of question," Ferguson wrote, beginning nine paragraphs of justification of Manchester United's season thus far, pointing to impressive displays at Tottenham and Stoke "where we gained a significant win with 70 per cent of possession".

All very true, just as Ferguson talked of the "woeful passing" that had unhinged the champions against Sunderland. And this match was United's season compressed into an hour and a half. There was some giddying attacking football, some shoddy defending and the realisation that, but for the opposition gifting them three own goals in five matches at Old Trafford, they would this morning be outside the top four, rather than leading the pack.

The champions dazzled for an hour and the dancing feet of Ryan Giggs demonstrated why he has been nominated for the European footballer of the year award. Dimitar Berbatov, who had dashed back to the team hotel on Friday night after the birth of his daughter in Bulgaria, displayed the same levels of confidence and control that had driven United to victory over Wolfsburg.

But Ferguson knew, too, that had Gary Cahill's last-second header been directed anywhere else than at Edwin van der Sar's midriff, Manchester United would have tossed away another two points against the kind of team whom the champions would beat almost unthinkingly at Old Trafford.

"In past years we have gone on runs of games without losing goals which have been important in terms of winning a championship," Ferguson said. "We have to get back to doing that. The goal we conceded was a slack one, a soft header from the back post."

Something seems to have gone from this part of Manchester along with Cristiano Ronaldo – fear. Manchester United have begun leaking goals at Old Trafford. Matt Taylor's header that infuriated Ferguson was the seventh they have conceded at home in five games. Last season it took them 14 matches to reach that total. "The Premier League has become harder now because everybody believes they can beat everybody else," remarked Zat Knight, whose inexplicable deflection of a weak Michael Owen header had given United the lead. "We have come to Manchester United and almost come away with something. Football has changed; it is not all about the big four any more. Clubs like ours are confident we can go to Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford and get something. Everyone believes in themselves a bit more."

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra (O'Shea 83); Valencia, Carrick, Anderson (Scholes, 86), Giggs; Berbatov, Owen (Welbeck, 83). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (g), Brown, Nani, Macheda.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Ricketts, Cahill, Knight, Samuel; Muamba (Basham, 75); Lee (Klasnic, 52), Gardner, Cohen (M Davies, 63), Taylor; K Davies. Substitutes not used: Al Habsi (g), Robinson, Steinsson, McCann.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).

Booked: Bolton K Davies.

Man of the match: Giggs.

Attendance: 75,103.