Paul Scholes' first Manchester United goal since August 2010 put the Red Devils on course for a 3-0 victory over Bolton at Old Trafford.
It had been a frustrating afternoon for the hosts, for whom Wayne Rooney once again failed from the penalty spot, until Scholes turned home the striker's cross-shot in first-half stoppage time.
Danny Welbeck and Michael Carrick increased the advantage in the second half as United wiped out the three-point gap on Manchester City, who they now trail only on goal difference ahead of the leaders' trip to Wigan on Monday.
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