Bolton Wanderers 0 Manchester United 6
Manchester United, even economical with their best, turned this bizarrely timed fixture into a tea dance, waltzing in four of their goals in the last 20 minutes.
The Premiership moguls, however, will scarcely be complaining. Completion of formalities here has provided them with the summit meeting they craved. United head for Tyneside a week tonight, trailing Newcastle United by only four points with the conviction they can further reduce that deficit.
Liverpool, too, lie in wait, the championship promising a vibrant contest which may yet rival last season's classic finale.
Bolton Wanderers, their optimism revived after winning at Middlesbrough, were re- acquainted with reality. The chasm between top and bottom was vividly demonstrated and Colin Todd's side are surely destined for an instant return to the Endsleigh League after all.
United effectively secured the points in the opening 15 minutes and only their apparent lack of appetite aroused expectation in the home ranks.
No one seized on that invitation more enthusiastically that Sasa Curcic, who illuminated the early evening with his beguiling range of skills. He revelled in the chance to outsmart Ryan Giggs and even Eric Cantona but this sideshow, engaging though it was, was never likely to unsettle United.
Roy Keane provided the driving force, Giggs and David Beckham, brought in for the injured Lee Sharpe, the width and penetrative crosses. By the end Giggs and Cantona were watching from the bench, their limbs and repertoire protected for the trip to St James' Park.
Paul Scholes, who replaced Cantona, scored twice, a reminder of the potential Alex Ferguson has in the locker. Andy Cole mustered one goal and fate may well require him to play a more significant role against his former club.
A guide to the general pattern came with an incisive move and cross from United and Nicky Butt ought to have given Keith Branagan a sterner test. But quality, penetration and the finishing touch were packed in United's fifth-minute counter-attack.
Keane released Giggs on the left as Bolton's left-back, Jimmy Phillips, scampered across to cover for his colleagues. Giggs lifted the ball over the defender and volleyed against the underside of the bar, and Beckham leapt to head in from the rebound.
Cole should have extended United's lead five minutes later, his header placed with too much care and attention, and Branagan was able to push it away. But five minutes on and United had their second goal, Steve Bruce heading in his first of the season from Beckham's corner.
United slipped into cruise mode and Bolton were presented with ample possession to make a match of it, Alan Thompson's free-kick almost finding the head of Simon Coleman.
In the 70th minute, though, Cole beat Coleman and his shot went in off the underside of the bar. Perhaps just as well just for the pounds 7m man. Scholes scored within two minutes of his arrival and added another with a deflection from Keane's effort. Nathan Blake had the ball in United's net nine minutes from the end but a linesman's flag indicated offside and worse was still to come as Butt, with assistance from Cole, made it six in the final minute.
Goals: Beckham (5) 0-1; Bruce (15) 0-2; Cole (70) 0-3; Scholes (75) 0-4; Scholes (78) 0-5; Butt (89) 0-6.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Green, Fairclough, Coleman, Phillips; Lee (McGinlay, 74), Curcic, Thompson, Sellars; Blake, De Freitas. Substitutes not used: Stubbs, Paatelainen.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Irwin, Bruce, Pallister, P Neville; Beckham, Butt, Keane, Giggs (McClair, 57); Cantona (Scholes, 73), Cole. Substitute not used: G Neville.
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
Man of the match: Keane. Attendance: 21,381.Reuse content