Saturday 20 January 2018

'Dinosaur' Scholes puts bite back into United

Man United 3 Bolton 0

Paul Scholes celebrates after scoring for Manchester United at Old Trafford
Paul Scholes celebrates after scoring for Manchester United at Old Trafford

Mark Ogden

AS Paul Scholes ghosted in at the far post to score Manchester United's opening goal, the immediate reaction was to scour the records to discover the last time the 37 year-old put his name on the scoresheet.

The statisticians would point to a 20-yard strike at Fulham in August 2010, while further investigation would identify his last goal at Old Trafford, which came in a Carling Cup victory against Manchester City back in January 2010.

Yet, the reality that Scholes' most recent United goal actually came last August, during a 6-0 victory against New York Cosmos in his post-retirement testimonial game, highlights the remarkable nature of his second coming.

After that 'farewell' game, United manager Alex Ferguson saluted Scholes' Old Trafford career before cutting through the dewy-eyed sentimentality by delivering a harsh truth.

"It is a sad parting," Ferguson said. "But age catches up with everyone, especially footballers."

Five months on and how times change. Such has been the sense of joy and disbelief among United's supporters since Scholes emerged from retirement eight days ago, there was a temptation to look at the back row of the Old Trafford directors' box on Saturday to see which other former hero was being lined up to dust off his boots.

Former United man Quinton Fortune sat in Scholes' recently vacated seat as United cruised to victory against Bolton, but even at 34, the South African midfielder can probably forget about getting the call from Ferguson.

There is a method behind the apparent madness of Scholes being asked to the turn the clock back for United, however.

Ferguson has identified a dearth of experience in his squad caused by summer departures and the loss of key players to injury and Scholes is the short-term solution.

Against Bolton, Scholes' nous was obvious and it permeated through the supporters.

There was no panic and murmurings after Adam Bogdan saved Wayne Rooney's early penalty, simply because Scholes was there to ping his passes and set the tempo.

When he scored his 151st United goal after converting Rooney's pass in first-half stoppage time, it was as though Old Trafford had just witnessed football's retelling of 'It's a Wonderful Life', with Scholes playing spirit of Clarence Odbody to Ferguson's troubled George Bailey.

But should United and Ferguson really be relying on a once-retired 37 year-old to come to their rescue? Within the dressing-room, the answer is obvious.

"The players idolise him," United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard said. "He is a man to look up to and it was brilliant to see him score.

"He has given us a bit more safety in the team and has a lot of experience for us to benefit from.

"Nobody knows United as he does and he has given us a bit more to bounce back after a lot of ups and downs. You won't get many words out of him. He thinks before he speaks and that is how it is.

"But he is one of the most respected guys in the team and when he does open his mouth, it goes silent everywhere else. People are listening.

"When times are tough or when they are good, you look at Scholesy and see how he is handling it, what he's doing and how he deals with the pressure.

"You can feel his presence. The way he does things is something to live up to. That is how you are supposed to be."

Scholes, jokingly referred to as a "dinosaur" by United captain Patrice Evra, scurried away from Old Trafford after the game, leaving others to do the talking on his behalf, but his return has restored a sense of streetwise knowledge to Ferguson's team.

As such, victory never appeared in doubt against Bolton, whose only effort on goal was a sky-high attempt from David Ngog after 51 minutes.

It was all United, before and after Rooney's penalty miss. The visitors had no answer to Antonio Valencia, who dominated the right flank with a conveyor belt of testing crosses and neat passes.

United still had to wait until the 74th minute before they secured the points, though, after a succession of missed chances.

But when Danny Welbeck slid in to convert Rooney's pass -- a movement which resulted in the youngster tweaking a hamstring -- Bogdan was beaten and United could now be sure of moving joint top with Manchester City.

Michael Carrick, impressive again in central midfield, completed the scoring with a curled left-foot strike from 20 yards seven minutes from full-time.

Now for Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday. With Scholes up against Thierry Henry, it might yet be filmed in black and white. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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