Having beaten Manchester United in August with his Burnley team, which with every passing week looks the most unlikely result of the campaign, Bolton's manager Owen Coyle was unable to conjure up a repeat or anything like it. The champions, on a ground where they usually win but had to wait until the 90th minute to do so a year ago, benefited from the 11th own goal that opponents have generously contributed this season, and then ran in three in 13 second-half minutes to stay one point ahead at the top. "Put the gauntlet down and United will always accept it," Sir Alex Ferguson said of Chelsea's seven-goal flourish.
He was even able to hold back Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand for Tuesday's Champions' League tie against Bayern Munich, who had Arjen Robben injured in a 2-1 home defeat by Stuttgart yesterday. Dimitar Berbatov, the scorer of that late winning goal last season, took Rooney's role and claimed two more, each almost as easy as he makes everything look. Darron Gibson had been on for only a couple of minutes as a substitute before scoring the fourth, by which time Bolton were beginning
to worry about goal difference themselves. As it is, they are grateful for the 32 points already banked and one more victory should see them safe.
Coyle may have attempted to bring a little more craft to their play, and Jack Wilshere's promptings offer a welcome option to the long ball forward for Kevin Davies, but as Ferguson said: "I got a sore head just watching. When you come here you have to put your head on everything." Nemanja Vidic did that superbly to subdue Davies, although Coyle was upset by one "terrible" challenge on Johan Elmander, who needed five stitches to the back of his head.
For all Coyle's positive spin, Edwin van der Sar was required to make only two saves, even if the second of them was an outstanding one. That came just after a ridiculous own goal belatedly brought the game to life. Ryan Giggs' cross eluded the one or two red shirts keeping up with the attack, but Jlloyd Samuel, presumably attempting to play the ball for a corner, passed it precisely inside Jussi Jaaskelainen's right-hand post.
Wilshere's clever pass sent in Elmander for a shot that Van der Sar pushed away and the goalkeeper then made a fine save towards the top corner of his net after another Wilshere pass, to Fabrice Muamba. The half ended bizarrely with Bolton allowed to take a corner when Van der Sar was out of his goal and Ferguson made his feelings known as the officials left the field. He was able to relax with 21 minutes to play once United had seen off a Bolton rally.
Giggs slipped a pass square to Fletcher, who had been more adventurous throughout than his position as the second defensive midfielder implied. The Scot hit a left-footed drive which Jaaskelainen could only push into a danger area inhabited by Berbatov, who gratefully knocked in the rebound.
The points were probably secure at that stage. Nine minutes later there was no further debate after Nani jinked in from the flank and crossed low for Berbatov to flick in with the outside of his foot. Four minutes after that Nani repeated the trick and this time Gibson was on the end of it to profit.
The only disappointment United provided was for the many thousands staying up late in Korea who had hoped to see Park Ji-Sung going head to head with compatriot Lee Chung-Yong. The latter was lively in Bolton's midfield but Park remained on the bench.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Fletcher
Match rating: 6/10