Manchester United were a tribute act that still contained one of the original members. A retreating Bolton Wanderers allowed them such scope that Sir Alex Ferguson's side were often in a 4-2-4 formation that would have made spectators nostalgic. The sense of heritage may have been particularly inspiring for Paul Scholes, who turned in a low ball from Wayne Rooney on the verge of the interval.
The midfielder is now averaging a goal a game in the Premier League this season, although that is a flippant statistic since the scorer has just come out of retirement. There could be another deluge of tributes to a remarkable footballer, but no one can pretend he is ageless. Ferguson was mindful of practicalities when giving the 37‑year‑old a deep‑lying role in midfield.
It was to United's benefit that Scholes, at a critical moment, still could not keep himself away from the opposition's goalmouth, an area that must hold sentimental appeal for a veteran who has had such happy times there. He is one of the great footballers of modern times, but there was plenty of evidence that he will struggle to live up to his reputation. His display in the first half was strewn with mistakes.
The errors came despite the comfortable possession he enjoyed as Bolton kept their distance. If Ferguson wanted him back in action it was an indication that the manager cannot afford to leave any pocket of talent untapped. After the chastening campaign in the Champions League, most supporters anticipated that the team would have to scramble their way through the programme. With Ferguson in charge, United have instead been doing rather well.
It is quite feasible that the Premier League title will be retained regardless of the fact that the net outlay is modest compared to that of Chelsea or Manchester City. Anyone with a fondness for football should be glad that Ryan Giggs, a substitute against Bolton, and Scholes are in action, but the next phase of United's reconstruction and the associated expenditure are thereby delayed.
No fan of the club can have objected too much at the weekend. It is true as well that a person of Scholes's status has had an impact on other players simply by going about his everyday life at United. The goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, who made his debut only a year ago, recognises the continuity and influence that someone such as the midfielder can bring. While Scholes has an aversion to microphones, his life speaks eloquently for itself.
"He does not make a lot of noise," said Lindegaard, "but you can feel his presence. He is always the first out for training; he was like that before he retired and now he does it again. The way he does things is something to live up to. That is how you are supposed to be. That experience gives us something to look at and see how to be in this situation. People forget how inexperienced I am in this game. When times are tough or when they are good, you look at Scholesy and see how he is handling it, what he's doing, how he deals with the pressure.
"He thinks before he speaks. He doesn't say a lot. But he is one of the most respected guys in the team and when he does open his mouth it goes silent everywhere else. People are listening. It is definitely the case that the players idolise him. He has been in the game for so long. Nobody knows United as he does. He has given us a bit more to bounce back after a lot of ups and downs."
Nonetheless, Ferguson will be careful when identifying which matches might suit Scholes. Few demands were made of the midfielder on Saturday since it was not Bolton's intention to press United. There was a prolonged spell when it scarcely mattered who was nominally anchoring the team in the centre of the pitch. It seemed a waste of the innate mischief in Scholes, which can wreak such havoc, that his initial duties were sedate ones.
United were dreary in that spell. When they got a penalty, following Zat Knight's foul on Danny Welbeck, Adam Bogdan dived to his right and saved Rooney's attempt in the 22nd minute. That was more of an inconvenience to the hosts than a blow. After Scholes had scored, there was a goal from Welbeck, who finished after the ball had been knocked his way by Rooney but hurt himself in the process. Michael Carrick then beat Bogdan with a fine 25-yarder that raised the tone of the match.
Owen Coyle's side lacked the centre‑half Gary Cahill, who is moving to Chelsea, but Tim Ream, a defender with the MLS club New York Red Bulls, is expected to replace him.