BOLTON // Dimitar Berbatov's dramatic last-minute header helped Manchester United overtake Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table. Trailing Rafa Benitez's side by two points before kick-off, the champions looked like they had missed an excellent opportunity to hit the summit against a resilient Bolton.
But the Bulgarian striker stooped to head home Carlos Tevez's perfect cross in the final minute to move Sir Alex Ferguson's team a point clear of their closest rivals. After three successive Premier League defeats, Bolton were hoping for a repeat of last season's success at the Reebok when Gary Megson's side triumphed 1-0. But the omens were not good for Wanderers, who have lost seven out of their last eight encounters with the champions and had not scored a goal against anyone since defeating Portsmouth on December 20. United, meanwhile, had the opportunity to equal Chelsea's top-flight record of 10 consecutive clean sheets.
With the in-form Reds eager to pile the pressure on Liverpool ahead of their game with Everton on Monday night, the visitors dominated the early exchanges and Berbatov fired over after neat link-up play with Tevez on the edge of the area. It was Bolton, however, who came closest to breaking the deadlock when Fabrice Muamba's 25-yard piledriver forced a finger-tip save from Edwin Van der Sar on 28 minutes.
Kevin Davies then saw his ambitious volley fly wide as Wanderers' confidence visibly grew. United continued to struggle to create clear-cut chances but Cristiano Ronaldo finally forced Jussi Jaaskelainen into action with a downward header from Darren Fletcher's cross. The Wanderers' goalkeeper then made an even better save from Ronaldo three minutes before half time when he dived low to his left to turned aside the Portuguese star's free-kick.
Megson had clearly set his side up to grab a point, with new signing Ariza Makakula cutting an isolated figure up front as the game progressed into the second period. The Portuguese striker, on loan from Benfica until the end of the season, only joined on Friday but Bolton rushed through his papers to get international clearance so he could make his debut. Makakula nearly made a telling contribution nine minutes after restart when he set up Matt Taylor, but the midfielder volleyed wildly over when he should have scored.
Davies went even closer when he headed Jloyd Samuel's cross inches over before Jaaskelainen again denied Ronaldo when he kept out one of the winger's trademark thunderous free-kicks. Ferguson threw on the experienced Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs as United searched for a goal, but, apart from another Ronaldo free-kick which was well saved by Jaaskelainen, they could find no way through until Berbatov's timely late contribution.