Bolton Wanderers 1 Man Utd 2

Wednesday 7th January 2004
Reebok Stadium, Bolton

It may have been the first Premiership game of the new year, but Manchester United were the same efficient, talented and victorious team that they have been all season. By getting three points against one of the teams they have found difficult to beat over the last few years, United kept themselves at the top of the table, and extended their winning streak to 8 consecutive games!

United were in fine form on a cold night in Bolton, in the North of England. They began the game by keeping possession of the ball for long spells, and completely dominated the game. After three minutes, Ruud van Nistelrooy had the first shot of the game. He drilled the ball towards goal, but his shot was deflected out of play by a Bolton defender. It was a promising start to the game

United were creating chances galore, due mainly to the mercurial brilliance of Paul Scholes, who showed incredible vision and creativity on the ball. People say that he gives United another dimension, and tonight they were all proved right. None of the Bolton defence could cope with Scholes' precision passes. He would jink to the left or right, before making passes that set van Nistelrooy or Giggs up with a chance on goal, and that left the Bolton team standing.

After several wasted opportunities including Ruud missing two one-on-one situations Scholes decided he couldn't trust the attackers to score the goals. Instead, after making a great through-ball, he charged into the Bolton area and waited to pounce. His through-ball to Fletcher was eventually returned to him via Giggs and van Nistelrooy, and, stood just a yard from the open net, Scholes had little to do but prod the ball home.

Scholes played a crucial role in United's second goal too. He played a ball over the last line of Bolton defence for Giggs to run on to. With his lightning speed, Giggs made it to the ball just before the Bolton keeper. After a beating the Goalie by miscontrolling the ball Giggs aimed a lofted shot towards goal. It would have gone in of its own accord but van Nistelrooy made sure, nodding the ball home when it was just inches from the line.

After half-time, United slipped down a gear, and, though they still looked a cut above their opposition, they began to be troubled by them. In the first half Howard had done little but stop the odd long-range effort by a Bolton midfielder. The mark of a good goalkeeper is that he can stop shots from any range. Tonight Howard proved himself to be one of the best.

For his moment of glory, Howard parried a powerful shot from 20 yards out, and the ball seemed to be falling to the feet of a Bolton player. Arguably the best save of his United career, Howard showed remarkable reflexes as he dived forwards and just managed to get enough of a hand on the ball to shepherd it towards Mickael Silvestre instead.

Despite Howard's display of goalkeeping excellence, United conceded a goal when Djorkaeff was left free at the back post when there was just 2 minutes left on the clock. The remaining minutes saw Bolton's keeper going upfield for corners and free-kicks, but to no avail.

The night was even better for United, as title-rivals Arsenal could only draw against Everton, and Chelsea lost to Liverpool.

Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Hunt, N'Gotty, Charlton, Gardner (Thome 18), Campo (Ba 82), Frandsen, Djorkaeff, Okocha, Nolan (Javi Moreno 64), Davies.

Subs not used: Poole, Giannakopoulos.

Booked: Hunt, Frandsen.

Man Utd (4-4-1-1): Howard; Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea; Fletcher, Keane (Butt 82), Phil Neville, Scholes; Giggs (Fortune 84); Van Nistelrooy.

Subs not used: Carroll, Kleberson, Forlan.

Attendance: 27,668

Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).