Manchester United 4 Bolton 1: Ronaldo's sorcery cheers Ferguson

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The Independent Football

Sam Allardyce had little reason for festive cheer in the wake of this dismantling of his team, but he did guffaw at one suggestion. "Sir Alex's mind games might work on Mourinho and Wenger," he chortled, "but they don't on me." He was undoubtedly right.

Allardyce found Sir Alex Ferguson's claim that Bolton Wanderers had not done as much as they could to ensure Wednesday's game against Middlesbrough had gone ahead to be laughable. Unfortunately for him, Manchester United's players took it seriously.

Told by their manager that Bolton would be fresher, they tore at their opponents from the whistle, imposing their will so emphatically that opponents widely regarded as being as physically intimidating as any in the Premiership were reduced to rubble. United scored four times, hit the post twice and would not have been flattered if they had doubled their tally.

On Ferguson's 64th birthday age, inevitably, was a talking point and so it proved, although not in the manner expected. Stripped of several players thanks to a chest virus (cynics suggested it was a form of "Arsenal Flu", given the match at Highbury tomorrow night), United fielded seven players aged aged 24 or under during this match. Too raw, was the first reaction. Too exuberant for Bolton was the second.

The 20-year-old Wayne Rooney, inevitably, was at the core of a display that was as good as any provided by United this season.

"He was the catalyst," Allardyce said. "Not only did he frighten us with his skill, he frightened us with his physical attributes. He was brushing some of our players off today to keep possession. You can plan all you want but if a player is in that sort of mood it's difficult to cope."

At the moment, Rooney is churning out mini masterpieces at a rate Mozart would envy, but while his excellence is taken as read, several other United players were a revelation on Saturday.

Darren Fletcher, 21, and John O'Shea, 24, an unpromising central midfield on paper, were dominant on the pitch and Cristiano Ronaldo, 20, teased and tormented Bolton into a grotesque mess out wide.

"Goodbye and good riddance," was one United fanzine's epitaph for 2005 on Sir Matt Busby Way, but if anyone was glad to see the back of the year it was the 20-year-old winger.

The death of his father and an unsettled life outside football undoubtedly took a toll on Ronaldo, who spent much of the last 12 months looking like a trick trying to find a purpose. Instead of Portugal's answer to Rooney, he has frequently resembled a latter-day Gordon Hill - gifted but infuriating.

On Saturday the stepovers were there, but so was the end product. Two goals is a fine return for any flank man but he also hit the post twice and his crosses were a danger rather than things to bear. His second strike, in particular, was outstanding as he turned the hapless Bruno N'Gotty into a twisted irrelevance before beating Jussi Jaaskelainen with a left-foot drive from just outside the area.

"That's the best thing that could happen to him all season," Ferguson said. "He missed some chances at Birmingham in midweek but the important thing today was that he was hitting the target every time. That's five goals for him, but he should be scoring 15 goals a season."

The old curmudgeon was smiling again. Saturday proved a truly happy birthday.

Bolton and Blackburn face inquiry over heating failure

The Premier League is to investigate why undersoil heating at Bolton and Blackburn failed to cope with the freezing weather, forcing postponement of matches against Middlesbrough and Sunderland respectively last Wednesday.

The Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, pointed out that the postponement allowed Bolton extra rest before Saturday's game at Old Trafford. The Premier League is now demanding an explanation from Bolton and Blackburn.