Eurosport - Sat, 27 Mar 19:30:00 2010
United leapfrogged Chelsea to go a point clear, and they are now four ahead of Arsenal who drew at Birmingham. It completed a satisfactory evening for United that began amid injury worries over two of their leading players.
Fears over the state of Wayne Rooney's knee inflammation appear to be well-founded after the England striker was left out of United's match squad altogether despite having a week to recover since their last game against Liverpool.
Less surprising was the omission of Rio Ferdinand, following his umpteenth back twinge of the season - both absences will cause major concern for fans of both United and England with the World Cup less than three months away.
The first half initially offered little in the way of excitement before exploding into life late on. Ryan Giggs returned from a broken arm and was deployed through the middle to replace some of Rooney's spark, but the Welshman failed to assert himself.
But Bolton came closer, bringing two world class saves from Edwin van der Sar. First Johan Elmander raced onto an exceptional through ball from Jack Wilshere, but saw his shot repelled by the Dutchman's strong wrist at the near post.
Then Van der Sar had to be at his acrobatic best to leap and tip over a Fabrice Muamba shot that appeared destined for the top-left corner.
But between those two saves came Samuel's aberration. Giggs sent in a low cross from the left and Samuel met it at the back post, planting the ball back across goal into the far corner, giving Jaaskelainen no chance. A great finish, if only he had meant it.
It was the 11th own goal scored in United's favour in the Premier League this season - the previous record for any side is six.
Ferguson's fury was put into perspective after the break when Nemanja Vidic caught Elmander with an altogether heftier blow to the head when leaping for a header. There was no suggestion of malicious intent from the Serb, but he caught Elmander with a forearm that drew blood.
While the Swede was receiving treatment, United made it two on 68 minutes. Giggs played a perfectly-weighted ball inside from the left for the marauding Darren Fletcher, who raced to the edge of the box.
The normally unselfish Scot this time ignored the supporting Nani and struck a left-foot shot that Jaaskelainen could only parry into the path of Berbatov, and the Bulgarian - coolness personified - tucked away the rebound.
It was fitting that Fletcher and Berbatov combined to score the clinching goal since the pair were, by a distance, United's best players on the day.
Berbatov was in his element, and added further gloss to the scoreline on 78 minutes, finding the net with an audacious flick off the outside of his boot following good work by Nani to conjure space to cross from the left.
Nani was the provider again four minutes later, stitching up poor Ricketts again before squaring for the substitute Gibson. The Irishman's sidefoot shot went in off the underside of the bar.
The emphatic scoreline provided a reply to Chelsea, who thrashed Aston Villa 7-1 earlier on Saturday, and ensured Bolton's goal difference worsened to the extent that they dropped a place, falling below Wolves to 15th in the Premier League table.