Howard faces bullet as Bellion rescues point for United

Bolton Wanderers 2 - Manchester United 2
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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson had one of his jovial uncle masks on after this game. No one deserved to lose, a marvellous match, a good derby - think of the world that Sky commentators inhabit where all games are fantastic and problems are merely there to make things even more exciting and you get the picture. Then the bonhomie slipped.

Sir Alex Ferguson had one of his jovial uncle masks on after this game. No one deserved to lose, a marvellous match, a good derby - think of the world that Sky commentators inhabit where all games are fantastic and problems are merely there to make things even more exciting and you get the picture. Then the bonhomie slipped.

"Certainly Tim could have dealt with it better," the Manchester United manager said with a smile that must have chilled the heart of his American goalkeeper, Tim Howard. Normally Ferguson does not do public criticism, so you can only imagine what kind of eruption confronted Howard in the privacy of the dressing-room. Never mind the hair dryer, more the back draft from a Concorde engine.

We will probably never know, but a clue will come on Wednesday when Ferguson names his side for the Champions' League match against Lyon. Last season Howard paid the penalty for lacklustre performances and it could be that Roy Carroll will again be United's No 1 until Howard lives down a last-minute calamity that made you wonder whether David James had nipped across Manchester.

When Ferguson watched Match of the Day he might have thought so too, because it did not look pretty in slow motion. A long ball from Jay-Jay Okocha was converted into a crisis when Mikaël Silvestre headed high into the air. Howard came with his conviction far behind him in a challenge with Les Ferdinand and then compounded his error by knocking the ball away from Silvestre as he attempted to tidy up the mess. For Sir Les read surprise as the Bolton striker was faced by an empty net.

Fortunately for Ferguson's blood pressure, David Bellion replied with his third goal of the season after another bout of defensive madness but United are already nine points behind Arsenal and they could need binoculars to see the leaders if the Gunners win at Old Trafford on 24 October.

It is a situation requiring soothing words and, while Ferguson was doing his best, Sam Allardyce, his Bolton counterpart, was doing even better. "United fans should be gloomy if they're in the same position at the end of April, but they won't be. They've got the best manager in the world and they will be a force if they keep everybody fit."

So are United still a team to fear? Allardyce replied in the affirmative. "There was no need to motivate my team. In fact, I had to demotivate them because they were getting too hyper, too uptight and too intense. I had to bring them down. It's difficult to make the transformation in a split second from the high tempo you need to win the ball back off United to being calm and composed.

"The element of fear brings out the best in a team, it's a great motivational tool in life. If I came round a corner with a 12-bore shotgun and said, 'I'm going to shoot you', you're going to run faster than ever before in your life." A shotgun? Howard might need one when he reports for training today.

Goals: Heinze (43) 0-1; Nolan (50) 1-1; Ferdinand (89) 2-1; Bellion (90) 2-2.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, N'Gotty, Jaidi, Barness; Campo; Nolan, Okocha, Speed (Hierro, 86), Pedersen (Diouf, h-t); Davies (Ferdinand, 74). Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Haim.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Howard; P Neville, Brown, Silvestre, Heinze; Kleberson (Ronaldo, 74), Keane, Scholes, Giggs; Van Nistelrooy (Bellion, 74), Smith. Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), Spector, Djemba-Djemba.

Referee: M Messias (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Bolton: Okocha, Hunt. Manchester United: Giggs.

Man of the match: Keane.

Attendance: 27,766.

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