United Reserves claimed a first league win under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer thanks to goals from Federico "Kiko" Macheda, Sam Hewson and Tom Cleverley plus a clean sheet by senior keeper Tomasz Kuszczak.
Macheda making the breakthrough at the end of a poor first half was significant; thereafter, Bolton were comfortably beaten at the County Ground in Leyland, scene of United's Lancashire Senior Cup triumph over Liverpool.
David Gray, a scorer in that final and in last week’s reserve league defeat at Wigan, filled in for James Chester as centre-back and skipper. Gray’s right-back berth was occupied by Rafael while Oliver Gill, an imposing centre-half in the Under-18s, made his reserve league debut at left-back.
The game started at a frenetic pace but the first real chance didn’t arrive until the 9th minute. With Bolton threatening to score, Kuszczak came off his line to dive at the feet of Temitope Obadeyi and when the ball broke to Nathan Woolfe, Richard Eckersley blocked the shot brilliantly.
That save was Kuszczak's only real action of note. Although he had to be on his toes to pluck the occasional header and cross out of the air, he was largely a spectator on this successful return from injury, despite the apparent pace and power of Bolton’s front pair Temitope Obadeyi and Ricardo Vaz Te.
At the other end, Cameron Stewart’s early deliveries from the right flank couldn’t find Macheda, who spearheaded a fluid 4-5-1 formation for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. But Macheda had more joy with service through the middle in the 22nd minute when he traded passes with Sam Hewson before driving a left-foot shot at Bolton goalkeeper Robert Lainton from the edge of the area. Cleverley was only just beaten to the rebound by an alert Wanderers defender.
Macheda made the keeper work again on the brink of half-time after creating an opening on the left with Gill and James. But while Lainton saved this one, he couldn’t prevent Kiko giving United the lead at the end of first-half injury time, moments after Bolton had taken the game’s first corner.
Jimmy Derbyshire cut inside from the left and when his shot took a wicked deflection off Bolton centre-back Chris Stokes and then bounced back from the foot of the post, Macheda used his quick feet to pounce and slot the ball home from six yards.
Still, Solskjaer and his assistant, former Bolton player Warren Joyce, had plenty to try and improve with their half-time talk. So too their opposite number Alan Cork.
Bolton won a string of corners just after the restart - one following a deflected Vaz Te shot - while United's first setpiece of this type saw Gill flick a header just off target. Another header enabled United to go 2-0 up after 53 minutes, with James nodding on Macheda's cross from the left for Sam Hewson to control with one touch and net with another from close range.
Cleverley scored United's best goal from a team and individual perspective in the 65th minute. Rafael and Derbyshire combined well on the right to feed Macheda and when he passed to Cleverley on the edge of the D, the midfielder rifled it into the top right-hand corner beyond the dumbstruck Bolton keeper.
Oliver Norwood entered the fray for Stewart and almost made it four to United when he linked up with Matty James and curled a sweet left-foot shot just over the bar. A double change by Solskjaer later saw Macheda and Derbyshire replaced by Antonio Bryan and another reserve league debutant Scott Wootton.
Three players were booked on the night by referee Mark Heywood - United's Hewson for deliberate handball, plus Bolton's Michael Burns and Robert Sissons who fouled the excellent Reds defender Eckersley.
United Reserves: Tomasz Kuszczak (GK); Rafael, Richard Eckersley, David Gray, Oliver Gill; Cameron Stewart (Oliver Norwood, 70), Matthew James, Sam Hewson, Tom Cleverley, James Derbyshire (Antonio Bryan, 78); Federico Macheda (Scott Wootton, 78). Subs not used: Gary Woods (GK), Evandro Brandao.