United sweep aside Bolton
Bolton Wanderers 0 Manchester United 4
Sir Alex Ferguson's calculated gamble paid off as Manchester United remained on top of the Barclays Premier League even without the services of Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand.
Ferguson admitted the England duo would both have been risked at Bolton tonight had United's need been dire.
Instead, with Saturday's crunch clash with Chelsea splitting a Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich, the Red Devils chief took the decision to let the pair nurse a bruised foot and groin injury respectively.
In their absence, Jlloyd Samuel came to United's aid, breaking the deadlock in bizarre fashion seven minutes before the break with their 11th own goal of the season.
After weathering a severe Bolton storm immediately after half-time, Ferguson's men cut loose, responding to the seven goals Chelsea scored earlier in the day.
Dimitar Berbatov bagged a double before Darron Gibson lashed his first touch beyond Jussi Jaaskelainen to emphasise United are not quite the one-man team many pundits believe.
When news of the teams filtered through an hour before kick-off, one wag suggested in Rooney's absence it was time for 'own goals' to start pulling his weight again.
United had 'scored' 10 of them before Christmas and number 11 was suitably gift-wrapped.
Seven minutes from the break, having equalled their visitors for much of the contest, Bolton must have breathed a sigh of relief as Ryan Giggs, having galloped onto Nani's overhead pass, drilled a low cross beyond lone front-man Dimitar Berbatov.
Although Antonio Valencia was in the vicinity, Samuel seemed to have an easy task to clear.
Instead, the full-back slotted the ball back beyond a startled Jussi Jaaskelainen and into the bottom corner.
It was a quite amazing act, that got no better for repeat viewing.
Chelsea might argue scoring seven - or 12 in a week - is the mark of champions. Ahead of their crunch encounter at Old Trafford next Saturday, the Red Devils could counter that good fortune is required along with a touch of class.
Aside from the goal, Bolton had the best chances of a first half that ended on a pretty sour note.
Jack Wilshere's superb through-ball to Johan Elmander allowed the Swede to bring an excellent low save out of Edwin van der Sar.
Within a minute of Samuel's mishap, the veteran Dutchman did even better to tip Fabrice Muamba's goalbound effort over after the excellent Wilshere had created the opportunity.
Shortly afterwards, referee Martin Atkinson, having ruled Van der Sar was time-wasting as he went to collect a ball Bolton were entitled to given it was their corner, waved play on with the Dutchman still off the field.
The half-time whistle that eventually followed brought Atkinson a confrontation with Ferguson, who had been appalled by an earlier Sam Ricketts tackle on Patrice Evra that went unpunished.
In another part of the field, Nani and Ricketts had to be separated.
Tempers calmed during the interval, although with physical confrontation inevitable given Bolton's style, Owen Coyle is slowly starting to change, there was always an edge to the contest.
That only brings out the best in Nemanja Vidic, who with Ferdinand missing was an imposing presence at the heart of United's defence.
Vidic won virtually every aerial challenge as Bolton peppered the visitors' penalty area.
But, thanks to their teak-tough Serb, United held firm until play quickly switched to the other end and Jaaskelainen was unable to hold Darren Fletcher's firm drive, allowing Berbatov to tap home his 11th goal of the season.
Having already beaten United once this season, when he was still in charge at Burnley, Coyle must have known there was no chance of a repeat.
United were not finished. Often in the past Ferguson has spoken of the importance goal difference might one day play in the title shake-up.
Having suffered a swing of 11 in four days, they decided it was time to react.
Nani was the creator for Berbatov to slot home his side's third and the in-form Portugal winger also teed up Gibson, who drilled his first touch past Jaaskelainen.
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