First Thierry Henry and now Paul Scholes, it has been such a week for dramatic comebacks that Manchester City might ask Colin Bell if he is doing anything tomorrow night.
Naturally enough, Scholes' homecoming carried less fanfare than the return of va-va-voom to north London. He would rather have learned ancient Etruscan than dedicate a statue of himself as Henry had done. The results were, however, the same; a goal and the realisation that no matter how pollutedby money sport might become, it will always have the capacity to sprinkle stardust.
In a way it was a return even more remarkable than Henry's. Scholes had actually retired whereas Henry had been taking a winter break from playing in New York, although some on the Stretford End would argue that it amounts to the same thing but with more money.
It was always hard to know what Scholes might have done once he packed in. It was hard to see him as a manager and impossible, given his shyness, to see him in a television studio. Unlike Gary Neville, he is a man who does not glory in giving his opinions to others. Like Sir Bobby Robson, who always talked of going to Australia to watch England play cricket but never did, there was only ever football for Scholes. He said he might go and watch Oldham.
Instead, he found himself scoring the 151st and most unexpected goal of his Manchester United career. It was not spectacular, a low pass from Wayne Rooney that found him unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, but he could have been standing on the goal-line and it would still have been special.
Michael Carrick, who struck the third and most spectacular goal of the afternoon when the match was already won, was asked if Scholes had talked about the goal in the dressing room. The answer, naturally, was no. He had got dressed and gone home. The talking, as always, was left to others.
"He popped up and scored when he should have been sitting back, taking control of central midfield," Sir Alex Ferguson reflected after another managerial gamble had come off.
"He has always had that instinct for goal ever since he was a kid and he has delivered for us today. He has been one of our greatest players and yet there has been all that negative stuff in the press about his comeback which has been really pathetic. You don't ever lose that quality. He has been training hard for the last two weeks and he has given us more than an hour of real quality. He has scored an important goal and he's back."
His goal was also typical of a Manchester United side that have now clambered level on points with Manchester City – having knocked them out of the FA Cup – something they have only sporadically suggested they were capable of.
The fourth official had just indicated the first half was into stoppage time and Bolton, having survived a Rooney penalty, were probably looking towards some respite in the dressing room.
Instead, they fell behind and they lacked the ability even to suggest they might force a draw. The only question was the margin of Bolton's defeat and they were fortunate it was only three goals. Afterwards, their manager, Owen Coyle, confirmed he was close to bringing Tim Ream in from New York Red Bulls as a replacement for Gary Cahill. He will be joining a defence that has been conceding more than two goals a game since the start of the campaign and which did not improve on that average here.
Bolton never remotely came to terms with Antonio Valencia, who set up what should have been the opening goal with a fabulous pass that seemed too strong but which drifted on to Danny Welbeck's boots. Zat Knight, pursuing, gave Welbeck a push and conceded a penalty for which, in Ferguson's eyes, he should have been punished with a red card because he was the last defender.
"It was a sending-off and again there has been inconsistency from the officials," Ferguson said. "They really should be given direction from the very top. You have to make it clear that this is not allowed."
Just as he had at Manchester City in the FA Cup, Rooney took the penalty. Again it was saved but this time the rebound did not sit up for him to head home. Adam Bodgan, another redhead who enjoyed an excellent afternoon, saved it two-handed and it was scrambled away. Some 10 days before, at Everton, the young Hungarian had been beaten from 80 yards by a clearance from Tim Howard pumped into a gale. Now, on a cold, still day, he had saved a penalty at Old Trafford and football's wheel of fortune had come full circle.
Ferguson agreed that it was not Rooney's day and that the miss had frustrated the striker beyond measure. Another fabulous pass from Valencia skidded low across the six-yard box at the Stretford End and Rooney, at full stretch, steered it wide. He did, however, under pressure from David Wheater, provide the pass to Welbeck, who shot just before he was tackled by Sam Ricketts. He finished with a goal and a twisted knee but, for Bolton, the pain went far deeper.
Manchester Utd (4-4-2): Lindegaard; R.Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Scholes (Park, 69), Nani (Giggs, 69); Rooney, Welbeck (Hernandez, 78).
Bolton (4-1-4-1): Bogdan; Steinsson, Wheater, Knight, Ricketts; Reo-Coker; Eagles (Riley, 69), M Davies, Muamba (Pratley, 80), Petrov (Tuncay, 88); Ngog.
Referee Peter Walton.
Man of the match Valencia (Manchester United).
Match rating 7/10.Reuse content