Manchester United traveled down the road Saturday to meet Bolton Wanderers.
With several players coming off international duty, there were a few changes in United's lineup—the most notable being the exclusion of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nemanja Vidic from the squad. The starting goaltenders were Jussi Jaaskelainen and Edwin Van der Sar.
The first chance of the game came in the fifth minute, when Michael Carrick ran on to a loose ball but missed his shot and looped the ball into Jaaskelainen. United came close a minute later as a great pass outside from Tevez to Nani set up a cross into the box that eluded everyone.
Bolton had their first chance in the eighth minute, when a long ball released Nicolas Anelka. His cut back pass found Kevin Nolan at the top of the box, but his shot was blocked by Carrick.
Bolton continued the pressure and Guthrie was tackled harshly by Evra. Campo took the free kick, and his looping pass into the box eluded United defender Gerard Pique and found the foot of Anelka, who turned and picked the far corner on Van der Sar.
1-0 Bolton in the 11th minute.
United and Bolton continued to exchange the ball for the next few minutes. United got another chance in the 15th minute, as Louis Saha took a shot that again was mis-hit into Jaaskelainen. Bolton came back with some good ball possession and won the first corner of the game in the 17th minute, but they were unable to generate anything from it.
I was quite impressed with Bolton and their defensive coverage up to this point. They were spot-on with their tackles, and didn’t allow United any free room.
The game got a bit chippy when Patrice Evra and Kevin Davies did a little shoving in the Bolton zone, and both players were warned by referee Clattenburg. Two minutes after the warning, Davies again decided to leave his feet in an ill-advised tackle on Evra, which earned him his fourth yellow card of the season.
Shortly after that play, Diouf flew in to tackle Nani. Nani went down injured, but somehow Diouf escaped a yellow card.
In the 29th minute, United got some good passing going, resulting in a shot from Carlos Tevez that deflected off Andy O’Brien and looped into Jaaskelainen. The 32nd minute again saw Davies clatter into Evra, and he was taken aside by the referee and given a strong talking-to. I imagined that would be the final straw for Davies, and any further problems would result in him being red-carded.
In the 34th minute, Bolton again came close to scoring, as some good ball movement set up Guthrie at the top of the box and his blast deflected just wide of the post. The corner again gave Pique some problems, as his clearance fell right to Hunt and his drive deflected off Ferdinand for another corner. United finally cleared the ensuing kick.
United got some good movement in the 39th minute, as Nani was sent clear down the right side. His cross came to Tevez, who dropped the ball to Owen Hargreaves 20 yards out, but Hargreaves' shot was high and wide of the net. The 44th minute saw a revenge tackle by Evra on Davies, which earned him the wrath of the referee. Clattenburg gave Evra a second chance as he had done with Davies.
The first minute of extra time saw another mistake by Pique lead to a Bolton chance that Ferdinand had to clear to safety. The first half ended with the score still 1-0, Bolton.
Bolton played the first half the way they wanted, giving United very little room to move and flying tackles all over the place.
United couldn't get anything going. Their normally non-stop movement was not there, as they seemed to be just standing, waiting the passes. The first half may have been the worst half Pique has ever played, and if Vidic was playing the score would have been zero.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the United locker room at the half!
The second half started with word that Sir Alex Ferguson has been banished from the United bench as the result of some words he had with the referee at the end of the first half.
United started the half with some good ball possession that led to a cross into the box which gave the Bolton defenders and Jaaskelainen some trouble. Bolton came back in the 48th minute with some great passing, leading to a shot by Anelka from 25 yards out that went high and wide.
With 52 minutes gone, United continued to be outmanned at every opportunity. The 53rd minute saw Guthrie tripped just outside the United box by Carrick. The free kick from Anelka hit the wall and flew out for a corner that amounted to nothing.
In the 56th minute, United had one of their best spells of passing in the game but the chance was wasted by a weak effort by Carrick. Bolton came right back, and a cross from the right side again eluded Pique and Van der Sar was forced to collect the ball. Bolton came back again and a cross flashed across the front of the United goal.
United made their first substitution in the 59th minute, with Pique making way for Anderson. With the change, Wes Brown moved inside to replace Pique and Hargreaves dropped back to right back. The 61st minute saw a long ball into Giggs, which hit his arm and ended the play.
United appeared to have turned their game up a notch. However, Bolton came right back and shoddy play by Brown and Ferdinand almost allowed Anelka another free shot at the net.
United were pushing forward again in the 64th minute, with Anderson sending Evra away. He was pulled down by Nolan, earning the Bolton captain a yellow card. The free kick from 25 yards was taken by Hargreaves, and he beat the wall and forced Jaaskelainen into a great diving save. Another free kick was earned, and this time Giggs took the kick and earned a corner as the ball bounced off the wall.
In the 67th minute, Tevez sent a nice cross into the center of the Bolton box that just escaped the control of Saha and rolled to safety. Nani's cross from the left side was intercepted just before it found Giggs. Nani then had a drive that was just a yard wide of the net.
In the 70th minute, Bolton made their first change, as Gary Speed replaced Davies.
Evra then beat a defender out right, and his cross found Tevez behind everyone—but his deflection went wide from three yards out. How do you miss the net from three yards?
The stamina of Bolton was tested in the second half, and they appeared to tire. In the 75th minute, Bolton made their second change as Guthrie was replaced by Wilhelmsson.
Bolton then has a short period of possession that troubled the United defense but nothing came of it. United came right back with more pressure that resulted in a corner. Giggs sent the kick in and an overhead kick by Nani went way wide. It looked impressive—but it needed to be on target.
Bolton took their time with the throws and free kicks, trying to waste as much of the clock as possible. The 81st minute saw a great chance for United as Tevez sent Saha in but Jaaskelainen was out to collect before Saha could catch up to the ball. Spot-on goalkeeping there.
The 83rd minute gave us the most questionable call—or non-call of the game, as a cross by Nani into the box struck the arm of the Bolton defender, but referee Clattenburg decided there was no infraction.
United came close in the 85th minute, as a corner from Giggs found the head of Ferdinand and his header deflected off a Bolton defender over the net—however, a goal kick was given. Bolton came back down into the United half and wasted 30 seconds waiting to take a throw, earning Hunt a yellow card. United made another change, and replaced Brown with O’Shea.
The 89th minute saw another wasted chance by United, as Hargreaves took a shot from 25 yards that went well wide. Bolton did a great job of countering in the closing minutes, forcing United to defend.
Four minutes of extra time added to the drama of the game. United earned a corner in the second minute of extra time that saw Van der Sar join the fray. Bolton cleared and Evra was loose on the right side.Hhe decided to go for glory, but put his shot high over the net—a totally wasted effort with Saha wide open.
In the fourth minute of extra time, Diouf took down Evra, which gave United one last free kick. Hargreaves took the kic,k and it beat the wall and hit the top of the netting. That was the last effort for United as the whistle blew to end the game.
The game was very reminescent of the first couple of games United played this season when they had Rooney out injured and Ronaldo out suspended. They started the season horribly when those two players were missing and did no better today.
To make things worse, United’s best defender Vidic was also left out of the squad. I think Sir Alex made a mistake by not respecting Bolton. If United miss the title this season this will be a game that will be looked back on as the possible reason.