In contrasting style to their previous two Barclays Premier League draws, Manchester United were forced to come-from-behind twice to secure a 2-2 draw with the Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium.
On two separate occasions, Zat Knight and Martin Petrov gave Bolton the lead, but Nani and Michael Owen were able to peg them back, but United were unable to find a goal to move them closer to top of the Premier League table.
After some shock results at the top of the table this weekend, United were in a good position to gain ground on Chelsea, but they ran into a tough, resilient Bolton team, and like they have done all season long, the Reds let their chance slip away.
The match was a typical local Manchester derby, and to be fair Bolton deserved their point, and United were lucky to get theirs.
A minute and a half into the match, a great splitting through ball from Rooney found Berbatov out on the right, but, selfishly, he opted to try to beat Jussi Jääskeläinen at his near post rather than put it back across the box.
United decided to make life difficult for themselves as the first goal of the game went to home team after Chung-Yong Lee’s deflected shot went out for a corner.
An in-swinging corner found the head of Zat Knight, and the central defender directed in off the far post – exactly where Patrice Evra was suppose to be to give Bolton a shock lead.
Within three minutes of losing the goal, though, United had two chances to pull level, but both Rooney and Ryan Giggs were unable to make the proper contact and trouble the Bolton goalkeeper.
Darren Fletcher made a run through the middle and he went for a shot on his own, but Jääskeläinen made a good one-handed save and Bolton just managed to clear the danger.
United had another chance to test Jääskeläinen, but Rooney’s shot was half-hearted and the Bolton ‘keeper easily gathered the tame, rolling effort.
Bolton could have very easily been up two goals, but thankfully Edwin van der Sar saved Johan Elmander’s effort after his run split both John O’Shea and Nemanja Vidic.
Sam Ricketts made a driving run through the heart of the United defense, and his shot, which took a deflection off of Elmander, but thankfully van der Sar was able to collect.
Finally, in the 23rd minute United drew level.
Nani, with a very similar run to Ricketts’, darted and danced through at least five Bolton defenders and slammed ball passed Jääskeläinen into the far corner of the net.
The game flowed back and forth, and then five minutes before half-time the best chance since United’s equalizer came from Rooney, but the forward, who is evidently low on confidence, his shot from a good position a couple feet over the Bolton crossbar.
Bolton almost grabbed the lead on the stroke of half-time, but thankfully Vidic got a telling touch on Elmander’s shot, because it looked as though it was going to trouble van der Sar.
In first-half stoppage-time, Giggs’ corner found the head of Vidic, but the United captain could not direct his effort on target.
In the first minute of the second-half, United had a very good chance when Evra, who made a very promising run down the left, picked up Rooney, and from a good position he pulled his shot painfully wide of the Bolton goal.
Sir Alex Ferguson was forced into making one of his substitutions only minutes into the half as Ji-Sung Park came on for Giggs. The wing wizard seemed to pick up a hamstring injury, which was an injury that plagued him throughout his career.
The lost a little bit of it’s movement from the first-half, so Ferguson opted to replace the ineffective Rooney with the young, sprightly Federico Macheda.
The change almost pay immediate dividends, as Macheda combined well with Berbatov, but the Bulgarian’s shot was palmed away by the Bolton goalkeeper and out for a corner.
United got a taste of their own medicine as they were hit by a classic counter by Bolton. Petrov started the move with a great cross-field ball to Lee, and the ball ended up back with the former Manchester City man and his shot, aided with a deflection off of Fletcher, ended up in the United net.
United were up against it for the last 20 minutes, so Sir Alex made his final change bringing on Michael Owen, who scored two goals during the midweek match in the Carling Cup, for Fletcher.
Bolton should have wrapped all the points after shaky defending from both of the United center-backs, but thankfully Elmander blasted ball over the bar.
Nani played a wonderful ball into the Bolton area, and the smallest man on the field, Owen, rose highest to flick the ball in off the Bolton post to draw United level.
Paul Scholes, who was surely going to be tested by being the only center midfielder on the field, earned his way in way into Phil Dowd’s book after unfairly challenging Kevin Davies from behind.
United nearly got their noses in front, but Nani, who received a great ball outwide from Scholes, cut inside on his right, but his left-footed curling effort went on the wrong side of Jääskeläinen’s far post.
Following another good spell of possession, Macheda laid the ball into the path of Scholes, but the sometimes shot-shy midfielder, let fly, but the ball went just over the crossbar.
Vidic became the next United player to earn himself a caution after he dangerously went through the back of Elmander after the ball was gone.
Elmander almost put Bolton in front again, but after he got ahead of Vidic, the Swedish center-forward pulled his left-footed shot just wide of United’s left-hand post.
Scholes went to the ground and was deemed to have fouled Elmander in a very good area, but, luckily, from the ensuing free-kick Petrov pulled his curling left-footed shot well-wide of van der’s near post.
Owen Coyle did his part as he made sure that his tough-as-nails team saw out the well-deserved point, by making two changes in stoppage-time.
By playing after their title rivals, Manchester United wasted a great chance to close the gap in the Barclays Premier League table as their have failed to win away from Old Trafford for the third time this season.
Nani was really the only United player to have played his part in the 2-2 draw as he scored a wonderful goal and provided the match-tying assist for Owen.
E. van der Sar – 6; J. O’Shea – 6, J. Evans – 6, N. Vidic – 6, P. Evra – 6; Nani – 7, P. Scholes – 7, D. Fletcher – 6 (M. Owen – 6), R. Giggs – 5 (J. S. Park – 6); W. Rooney – 5 (F. Macheda – 6), D. Berbatov – 6
Nani (23′), M. Owen (74′)
Shots (On Target): 13 (6)
Fouls Conceded (Suffered):18 (16)
Bookings: P. Scholes, N. Vidic