Thursday 23 November 2017

Scholes turns clock back to keep United ticking over

Manchester United's Paul Scholes celebrates scoring the 151st United goal of his career, his first since August 2010
Manchester United's Paul Scholes celebrates scoring the 151st United goal of his career, his first since August 2010

In the blink of an eye, Paul Scholes was wheeling away from the goalmouth in celebration, charging towards an East Stand that was roaring his name.

The overwhelming emotion, on his part and ours, was disbelief.

During the long months of his retirement, while curling up in front of the television at his home in Grasscroft, or watching from the stands at Boundary Park, he would scarcely have imagined that a moment like this could ever come to pass again. It is a rare privilege to be able to view the past with the clarity of the present. Old Trafford at a quarter to four yesterday afternoon truly was one of those moments.

The ground rocked to the chorus of "Paul Scholes, he scores goals", but the fact is that he does not; not often, at any rate. This was his first since August 2010, his first in the league at Old Trafford for almost three years. Hence the incredulity. Scholes was not revived from dotage by Alex Ferguson for his potency in front of goal. Nonetheless, his run to the back post and comfortable finish from Wayne Rooney's cross was a demonstration of the intelligence and sense of timing that has marked him out for two decades.

"He popped up when he should have been sitting," Ferguson smirked afterwards.

"Just enjoying being in the centre of midfield controlling things. But he has got that instinct for goal, he's had that since he was a kid, and he's delivered for us again."

In the epilogue of his career, Scholes is clearly no longer the roaming menace he was in his 20s. It takes him a little longer to get from box to box nowadays. Instead, he prowls; always looking to receive the ball and recycle it using just one touch if possible. It is why his impact on a game is so rarely noted; the ball is in and out of his possession in a twinkling.

Two superb lofted balls to Antonio Valencia on the right wing served notice of his timeless class.

Meanwhile, United should have led after 21 minutes when Danny Welbeck got to the ball ahead of Zat Knight. Welbeck paused momentarily, allowing Knight's momentum to get the better of him, and then gratefully began his descent. Referee Peter Walton's finger was pointing at the spot almost before Welbeck hit the turf.

So up stepped Wayne Rooney, striking his penalty hard towards the corner, but Bolton 'keeper Adam Bogdan spread himself dramatically to his right and pushed it clear. It was Rooney's fourth league penalty miss in the last eight.

With 45 minutes on the clock, up popped Scholes. Nani's shot was blocked by David Wheater but Rooney slid the ball across the six-yard line as Scholes peeled away from Gretar Steinsson at the far post, to apply the simplest of finishes.

There was a time when United going a goal up against the league's second-bottom team signalled game over. But even given Bolton's lack of imagination, Old Trafford was unable to relax. David Ngog missed a wonderful chance to equalise when he skied a shot from 10 yards after an impressive run and cut-back from Mark Davies.

"It looked like we would get the equaliser at that point," said a disappointed Owen Coyle.

Instead, the home team seized the day once more.

Scholes and Nani took their leave, to the loudest cheer of the afternoon and five minutes later, United made the game safe. The ball broke on the edge of the area for Rooney, who held off Wheater's challenge and tapped the ball right to Welbeck who reached the ball a fraction ahead of Sam Ricketts and placed it into the corner.

It was a brave last effort from Welbeck who left the pitch injured. Javier Hernandez replaced him, although Ferguson said the twisted knee Welbeck suffered was not serious.

With time and the home fans leaking away, Michael Carrick put a well-merited gloss on the scoreline, receiving Ryan Giggs's sideways pass and curling a left-footed shot into the corner from 20 yards out. As United lurch into the familiar territory of a suffocatingly tight title race, it is to these familiar faces that they will increasingly turn. And there are few more familiar than Paul Scholes.


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