Manu – Bolton 4-1March 18, 2007
Manchester United signalled their intention not to let a mounting injury list derail their Treble drive as they smashed four past Bolton Wanderers for the second time this season.
Park Ji-Sung and Wayne Rooney both scored twice as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men surged to a victory which leaves them requiring a maximum 18 points from their last eight games to end a four-year title drought.
Not for the first time this season Cristiano Ronaldo was the star of the show as Bolton found themselves totally incapable of stopping the brilliant winger.
Yet the victory came at a price for the hosts, who were already missing six senior men through injury and suspension, as skipper Gary Neville was forced off with an ankle injury.
After half an hour of the onslaught it would have been difficult to know who was sitting most uncomfortably, Bolton manager Sam Allardyce or England boss Steve McClaren – who had taken the opportunity to survey the start of a crucial weekend for him in the Old Trafford directors’ box.
The game was only 10 minutes old when the England coach’s day took a serious downturn as Neville lay on the ground in agony after his left ankle crumpled under a challenge from Gary Speed.
Neville could put no weight on his leg as he was helped to the touchline and the word swiftly came out that he could not continue.
And the United skipper was later ruled out for three weeks when Ferguson confirmed he had suffered ankle ligament damage.
If there is any comfort for McClaren, it is that England are not facing Portugal next week because, with Ronaldo in this mood, they would be virtually unbeatable.
Having already suffered heavily at United’s hands once this season, Allardyce was keen to avoid a repeat.
Yet, after Bolton had received a major let-off when Park skied over from three yards, the visitors were well and truly flattened by a big red steamroller driven mercilessly by Ronaldo.
The opener came from an innocuous beginning as Rooney won a header with Tal Ben Haim close to halfway.
Ronaldo was on to the loose ball in a flash, darting not just to the by-line but down it, then picking out Park with a fine cut-back which invited the South Korea international’s precise finish.
A capacity crowd was still catching its breath when United scored one of those breakaway goals which have been such a hallmark of their success down the years.
Breaking out of their own area as they half-cleared Ivan Campo’s long throw, the Red Devils streamed forward.
In the end only Ronaldo and Rooney were required to make contributions as the pair exchanged passes twice in a run which took them 80 yards downfield before Rooney beat Jussi Jaaskelainen with an impudent chip to register the 50th goal of his United career.
For a while it seemed Bolton would be humiliated in a manner seldom seen since Allardyce took charge seven years ago.
It was almost as if the visitors were so fearful of Ronaldo they dare not go near him, offering the winger a huge amount of space to run into every time he got the ball.
Jaaskelainen was distracted enough by his presence to allow a relatively weak shot to slip from his grasp just before the half hour, the rebound rolling kindly for Park to tap home his second.
From that point on it was a damage limitation exercise for Bolton, with Ferguson feeling sufficiently comfortable about his side’s position to remove Ryan Giggs and – to a standing ovation – Ronaldo from the fray long before the end.
Only Jaaskelainen’s save prevented Ronaldo getting his own name on the scoresheet for the 18th time this season but the winger’s exit at least allowed Alan Smith to experience Barclays Premiership combat for the first time since he suffered those horrific injuries at Liverpool in February last year.
He was soon celebrating too after setting Rooney free with a lobbed pass which allowed the United forward to outpace Ben Haim before belting an unstoppable volley past Jaaskelainen.
The goal involved precisely five touches from the moment the ball left the United area to it entering the Bolton net.
It took Rooney’s tally for the season to 15, five of which have come against Allardyce’s team, who bagged a late consolation when Gary Speed slotted home from the spot after Nemanja Vidic had been ruled to have fouled Abdoulaye Faye.