|photo by Lordcolus||via PhotoRee|
Paul Scholes' 45th minute wonder strike brought us back to the future, providing the initial separation between United and Bolton, and second half strikes from Danny Welbeck and Michael Carrick gave the final margin to the Reds' 3-nil victory at Old Trafford on Saturday. Although it was a win, it was yet another frustrating home performance from United, as the margin could easily have been double the final scoreline. In the end, however, the work was still good enough for all the marbles as the Reds moved level on points with the League leaders. The outcome wasn't comfortable until late in the match, and Bolton had their moments on the break -- especially in the first half -- but United never looked likely to concede, and it was more a matter of whether or not the home side would find the back of the net -- something they'd managed to do in their last 42 encounters at Old Trafford. Herewith, some further thoughts on the crucial victory:
o Scholes may have looked a bit rusty, but he showed yesterday that he's still got a trick or two up his sleeve, as well. It was a real surprise to see him back in the starting lineup -- I fully expected the Ginger Ninja to be introduced with about 30 minutes left in the game to work on his fitness -- which is still obviously lacking a bit. Once again, Scholes had a couple loose balls early in the match, leading to a nervous moment or two. And his timing still isn't quite up to snuff -- witness the brutal kick to Mark Davis' midriff when he mistimed his approach to a 50/50 ball. It's completely understandable that there's rust showing -- the guy hasn't featured competitively since May, and he's not exactly playing in some backwater league.... But give Scholes the ball in front of goal and he's still as dangerous as ever, as Bolton learned yesterday in first half stoppage time. Welcome back, Scholesy -- we've missed you.
o Before Scholes' late first half strike, the game had a similar feeling to the first encounter with Newcastle. Tim Krul -- er, Adam Bogdan --made save after save, frustrating the Reds at every turn, and it was beginning to feel like one of those games where the ball just won't go into the back of the net. If Roo had hit his penalty the game could have turned into a rout. Instead we were left with yet another nervy home performance in a season seemingly full of them. Last season, major problems away from home; this season, major problems at home. Some consistency would be nice....
o And speaking of consistency -- or rather the lack of it -- Referee Peter Walton made a terrible decision that allowed Bolton to remain in the game for much longer than they deserved to. Danny Welbeck was hauled down in the box by Zat Knight, Bolton's last defender; a penalty was awarded; and a yellow card was handed out -- but there was no dismissal. Say what?! It was undeniably a clear goal scoring opportunity, and Walton's attempt at a Solomonic decision handed Bolton a massive lifeline back into the game. Instead of being down both a man and a goal -- effectively game over -- Bolton was right back in the game when Wazza missed his kick for the second straight week.
o Rafael played 90 minutes today, with only the slightest of eye injuries even slowing him down. I'm literally speechless -- or typeless.
o The play in the middle of the pitch was superb yesterday, but the composure in the final third was severely lacking. United has had a strange pattern this season: when they've scored the early goals it seems to calm the team right down, and they go on to score loads more. But when that early goal is lacking the team seems on edge on both sides of the pitch. It's in games like yesterday's that United are seemingly lacking the calmness required to score goals and kill the game off.
o Antonio Valencia was easily the Man of the Match for me. I don't know quite how he does it, because the Ecuadorian is by far the most one-footed player in the game, but somehow --- by hook or crook -- Valencia still manages to get his crosses in, time after time. He absolutely tortured Samuel Ricketts and Bolton all day long yesterday, tearing up and down the right flank, and offering perfect balls into the box. Although it may not show up on the stat sheet, Valencia's work opened up the middle of the pitch and was a key ingredient to the Reds' victory.
This is farlieonfootie for January 15.