Owen comes to Red Devils' rescue
Bolton 2 Manchester Utd 2
Michael Owen might have spared Alex Ferguson his first taste of defeat this season with his face-saving header, but both Manchester United and their manager are in need of some R&R to remedy their faltering season.
Rooney and Rio to be precise. Wayne Rooney's search for form combined with Rio Ferdinand's mystifying absence from the 18 players on duty at the Reebok ultimately conspired to leave United grateful to avoid losing their unbeaten record.
At one end of the pitch, Rooney's travails have blunted United's attacking edge, while at the back, Ferguson's reluctance to restore the fit-again Ferdinand to his Premier League back four has exposed the aerial weakness of Jonny Evans and, coincidence or not, seen a usually parsimonious defence concede seven goals in three away games.
Ferdinand spent the afternoon in the main stand alongside United's Mexican forward Javier Hernandez despite having completed 90 minutes against Scunthorpe United in last Wednesday's Carling Cup victory.
The 31-year-old would be expected to be thrust straight back into the starting line-up when fit, but Ferguson's doubts over his ability to play more than one game a week following his three-month knee-injury lay-off have yet to be erased.
United cannot continue to concede at this alarming rate, however, and the need to tighten up could hand Ferdinand a reprieve. Resolving Rooney's situation will not be quite so easy, though. So far this season, he has scored just once -- a penalty against West Ham -- and he did not look set to improve his statistics before being replaced by Federico Macheda on 61 minutes.
Rooney, nursing a gashed ankle that is expected to clear up in time for him to face Valencia on Wednesday, delivered one neat pass to Ji-sung Park early in the second half, but that was the sum total of his efforts.
His touch was heavy and his movement restricted by the suffocating pressure that comes with the intense focus on him, but the scrutiny he is under will only fade once he hangs up his boots and that won't happen for a good while yet.
Yesterday was a day when United needed all of their leading players to deliver a first away victory of the campaign. With Chelsea and Arsenal both losing on Saturday, the trip to Bolton offered United the chance to make up for earlier dropped points at Fulham and Everton.
But if they arrived at the Reebok expecting Bolton to be rolled over without a battle, then their complacency would have been wiped out by Zat Knight's sixth-minute opener. Once again, the defensive frailties that saw three points reduced to one in the final minute at both Craven Cottage and Goodison Park resurfaced.
Martin Petrov's out-swinging corner was met by Knight, who comfortably outjumped Evans, and his volleyed flick ended up in the back of the net courtesy of Patrice Evra's decision to abandon the far post.
United responded well but with Rooney ineffective they had to rely on Nani and Dimitar Berbatov for inspiration. It was Nani who equalised with a stunning solo goal on 24 minutes. Having picked up the ball inside his own half, Nani raced towards goal and glided past three defenders before beating Jussi Jaaskelainen from 20 yards.
United dominated possession but chances were limited and, eight minutes after replacing hamstring injury victim Ryan Giggs -- who will be out for two weeks -- Ferguson ended Rooney's involvement by withdrawing him.
Macheda instantly worked a neat one-two with Berbatov that resulted in the Bulgarian forcing a good save from Jaaskelainen, but the next goal came at the other end following another display of defensive frailty by United.
Johan Elmander was allowed to turn his marker on the edge of the penalty area before laying the ball off to Petrov deep inside the 18-yard box.
Petrov then beat Park with ease before seeing his right-foot shot beat Edwin van der Sar following a deflection off Darren Fletcher.
Having surprisingly introduced Macheda ahead of Owen nine minutes earlier, Ferguson now turned to the man who issued a reminder of his goal threat by scoring twice at Scunthorpe.
Owen has spoken publicly recently of his frustrations with his role on the fringes at Old Trafford, but having done his talking off the pitch, he is now doing it on it.
And for the first time since scoring in the 3-0 victory against West Ham United in February, Owen added his name to a Premier League goal sheet by scoring the 200th goal of his English club career with a well-taken glancing header from Nani's free-kick.
It might not have been as dramatic as his injury-time winner against Manchester City last season, but it saved United from defeat. And with Rooney still searching for his shooting boots this season, Owen is at least showing his manager he knows where the goal is. (© Daily Telegraph, London)