Paul Scholes made a memorable return to Old Trafford, scoring the opener as Manchester United beat Bolton to move level on points with Manchester City.
United carved out a number of first-half chances, with Adam Bogdan saving Wayne Rooney's penalty.
But Scholes, 37, who recently came out of retirement , struck before half-time when he tucked in Rooney's cross.
United were careless at times, but Danny Welbeck poked in before Michael Carrick settled nerves from 20 yards.
Although the result never seemed in doubt, there were times in the second period when a more effective attack than Bolton's may have made this a closer encounter.
Yet after back-to-back Premier League defeats, United will be happy to put pressure on their city rivals, who face a trip to Wigan on Monday.
Bolton's defeat means they remain in the Premier League's bottom three and now face tough games against Liverpool and Arsenal at home, where they have been least effective this season.
Scholes's strike was United's 50th league goal of the season - his first since August 2010 - and it came at an opportune time following a succession of chances for the hosts.
Bogdan was inspired in goal at times, not only saving Rooney's penalty, but also further efforts from the England striker and his team-mate Welbeck.
His penalty save, after Zat Knight tripped Welbeck, was superb, diving to his right to claw away Rooney's firmly struck effort.
DID YOU KNOW?
Paul Scholes has scored in each of the last 18 Premier League seasons
Mark Davies also cleared off the line and Bolton did well to survive intact, playing without the departing Gary Cahill, who is on the verge of signing for Chelsea .
But just as United fell into a lull as half-time approached, it was Scholes who sparked the game into life to continue a fine week for veterans coming out of retirement after Thierry Henry's goal for Arsenal on Monday.
Scholes, 37, had been relatively quiet up until that point on his first start since 22 May 2011, save for a whack on Mark Davies, but he was lurking at the back post to tuck in Rooney's cross after David Wheater had blocked Nani's centre.
It was his first goal for 32 matches since scoring on 22 August 2010 against Fulham, and it proved that on his second game back, a break from the game has done little to blunt his expert sense of timing.
The midfielder was later replaced, and similar to their second-half display against Manchester City last Sunday, Sir Alex Ferguson's side slid into periods of sloppiness with David Ngog guilty of not punishing them when he fired over from close range.
Rooney could not turn in Antonio Valencia's cross but only a desperate block by Rafael da Silva stopped Martin Petrov's shot, and the Brazilian also cleared Gretar Steinsson's looping header off the line.
While there was a goal between the two sides, it was far from comfortable for United but their fraying nerves held together when Welbeck latched onto Rooney's attempted through ball, although it looked like Wheater got the touch, and poked past Bogdan for his eighth of the season.
Unfortunately for United, Welbeck seemed to hurt his knee in stretching for the ball and they will hope he is fit for the trip to Arsenal next Sunday.
Carrick then collected Ryan Giggs's square pass to advance and almost passed the ball into the net from 20 yards to seal the victory.
Darren Pratley went close for Bolton late on, but there was no doubt who the evening belonged to and, as Scholes's fitness improves, the decision to return to playing could prove an inspired one.
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Live Text Commentary
Full Time The match has reached full-time.90:00 +2:24
Effort on goal by Tuncay Sanli from just inside the box goes harmlessly over the target.90:00 +2:04
Samuel Ricketts fouled by Rafael Da Silva, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Adam Bogdan.90:00 +0:57
Darren Pratley has an effort from just inside the box that misses to the left of the target.89:45
Antonio Valencia crosses the ball, Shot from close range by Javier Hernandez misses to the right of the goal.88:44
Wayne Rooney takes a inswinging corner to the near post, clearance by David Ngog.87:22
Free kick taken by Adam Bogdan.87:22 Substitution
Substitution Martin Petrov goes off and Tuncay Sanli comes on.87:22
The referee blows for offside against Antonio Valencia.86:24
Free kick awarded for a foul by David Ngog on Rio Ferdinand. Anders Lindegaard takes the direct free kick.85:25
The ball is sent over by Martin Petrov, Rio Ferdinand makes a clearance.82:47
Assist by Ryan Giggs.82:47 Goal scored
Goal! - Michael Carrick - Man Utd 3 - 0 Bolton Michael Carrick scores a goal from long range to the bottom left corner of the goal. Man Utd 3-0 Bolton.82:23
The ball is crossed by Antonio Valencia, blocked by Samuel Ricketts.81:13
Centre by Antonio Valencia.80:26
The assistant referee signals for offside against Wayne Rooney. Indirect free kick taken by Adam Bogdan.79:51 Substitution
Substitution Darren Pratley is brought on as a substitute for Fabrice Muamba.79:12
The ball is crossed by Ryan Giggs.77:40 Substitution
Substitution Javier Hernandez comes on in place of Danny Welbeck.73:55
Wayne Rooney provided the assist for the goal.
Goal! - Danny Welbeck - Man Utd 2 - 0 Bolton Danny Welbeck finds the back of the net with a goal from inside the area to the bottom left corner of the goal. Man Utd 2-0 Bolton.68:18 Substitution
Substitution Joe Riley comes on in place of Chris Eagles.68:18 Substitution
Substitution Ryan Giggs replaces Paul Scholes.68:18 Substitution
Substitution Ji-Sung Park replaces Luis Nani.68:04
Gretar Rafn Steinsson takes a shot. Clearance by Rafael Da Silva.67:31
Martin Petrov takes a outswinging corner from the left by-line to the near post.66:42
Corner taken left-footed by Martin Petrov.65:29
Corner taken by Luis Nani from the left by-line played to the near post, clearance by David Wheater.65:23
The ball is crossed by Luis Nani, blocked by Gretar Rafn Steinsson.64:06
Foul by Luis Nani on Mark Davies, free kick awarded. Martin Petrov delivers the ball from the free kick left-footed from right channel, clearance by Michael Carrick.62:19
Chris Eagles takes a shot. Rio Ferdinand gets a block in.62:05
Martin Petrov takes a shot. Blocked by Rafael Da Silva.61:55
The ball is delivered by Gretar Rafn Steinsson.61:04
Antonio Valencia delivers the ball, Wayne Rooney has an effort at goal from close in which goes wide left of the target.58:45
Jonathan Evans gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on David Ngog. Direct free kick taken by Samuel Ricketts.57:58
The ball is swung over by Antonio Valencia, Zat Knight manages to make a clearance.56:04
Luis Nani gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on David Ngog. Chris Eagles crosses the ball from the free kick right-footed from right channel, clearance made by Rio Ferdinand.55:12
Wayne Rooney produces a right-footed shot from the edge of the area and misses to the left of the goal.53:19
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Luis Nani played to the near post, clearance made by David Ngog.52:45
The ball is crossed by Antonio Valencia, save by Adam Bogdan.51:15
Chris Eagles delivers the ball. Michael Carrick fouled by David Ngog, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Anders Lindegaard.49:55
Effort on goal by David Ngog from deep inside the area goes harmlessly over the bar.49:04
Centre by Gretar Rafn Steinsson, clearance by Luis Nani.48:28
Paul Scholes is adjudged to have handled the ball. Free kick crossed right-footed by Samuel Ricketts from left channel, Rio Ferdinand makes a clearance.47:05
Luis Nani takes a outswinging corner from the right by-line played to the near post, Headed effort from inside the area by Patrice Evra misses to the left of the target.46:07
Danny Welbeck takes a shot. David Wheater gets a block in.45:54
Shot from just outside the box by David Ngog goes over the target.45:01
The referee gets the second half underway.45:00 +1:41 Half time
Half Time The ref blows to signal half-time.45:00 +0:07
Wayne Rooney sends in a cross,45:00 +0:08
Assist on the goal came from Wayne Rooney.45:00 +0:08 Goal scored
Goal! - Paul Scholes - Man Utd 1 - 0 Bolton A goal is scored by Paul Scholes from close in to the bottom left corner of the goal. Man Utd 1-0 Bolton.38:42
Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Adam Bogdan makes a save.36:56
Unfair challenge on Luis Nani by Nigel Reo-Coker results in a free kick. Wayne Rooney has a direct shot on goal from the free kick, save by Adam Bogdan.35:25
Rafael Da Silva produces a cross.35:11
The ball is crossed by Luis Nani, clearance by Zat Knight.34:51
The ball is sent over by Antonio Valencia, clearance by Gretar Rafn Steinsson.34:30
The ball is delivered by Rafael Da Silva, clearance made by David Wheater.34:08
The ball is crossed by Chris Eagles, save by Anders Lindegaard.33:54
Martin Petrov takes a shot. Blocked by Antonio Valencia.33:02
Rio Ferdinand concedes a free kick for a foul on David Ngog. Direct free kick taken by Martin Petrov.31:36
Antonio Valencia delivers the ball, Fabrice Muamba makes a clearance.31:03
Corner taken by Martin Petrov from the right by-line, save by Anders Lindegaard.30:54
The ball is crossed by David Ngog, Patrice Evra gets a block in.30:46
Samuel Ricketts crosses the ball.29:35
Effort from outside the penalty box by Wayne Rooney goes wide left of the goal.28:53
Michael Carrick crosses the ball.27:53
The ball is crossed by Antonio Valencia, Adam Bogdan makes a comfortable save.27:40
Short corner taken by Antonio Valencia from the right by-line.27:25
Danny Welbeck takes a shot. Adam Bogdan makes a save.26:36
Shot by Paul Scholes from a long way out goes over the crossbar.25:55
David Ngog challenges Michael Carrick unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Michael Carrick.25:29
Effort on goal by Wayne Rooney from inside the penalty area goes harmlessly over the bar.25:22
The ball is crossed by Antonio Valencia.24:23
Chris Eagles has an effort at goal from outside the area which goes wide right of the goal.23:37
A cross is delivered by Rafael Da Silva, clearance made by Zat Knight.22:18
Foul by Wayne Rooney on Zat Knight, free kick awarded. Samuel Ricketts crosses the ball from the free kick right-footed from left channel.21:34 Penalty
Placed penalty taken by Wayne Rooney saved by Adam Bogdan. Man Utd 0-0 Bolton.20:41 Booking
Booking Zat Knight receives a caution.20:31
Penalty awarded for a foul by Zat Knight on Danny Welbeck.19:05
Corner taken short by Antonio Valencia.17:27
Effort from outside the area by Mark Davies goes wide right of the goal.17:14
Nigel Reo-Coker sends in a cross, clearance by Patrice Evra.16:33
Outswinging corner taken by Luis Nani, Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Blocked by Mark Davies.16:10
Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Samuel Ricketts gets a block in.14:47
The ball is delivered by Luis Nani, save made by Adam Bogdan.14:25
Corner taken by Luis Nani from the right by-line.14:06
Corner taken right-footed by Luis Nani to the near post, clearance by Fabrice Muamba.13:50
Antonio Valencia delivers the ball, Zat Knight manages to make a clearance.13:22
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Rafael Da Silva by David Ngog. Free kick taken by Michael Carrick.8:29
Fabrice Muamba takes a shot. Michael Carrick gets a block in.7:51
Paul Scholes gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Mark Davies. Samuel Ricketts delivers the ball from the free kick right-footed from left channel, clearance by Jonathan Evans.7:07
Jonathan Evans produces a cross, Headed effort from inside the area by Danny Welbeck misses to the left of the target.6:49
The ball is swung over by Antonio Valencia, Samuel Ricketts gets a block in.6:31
Centre by Antonio Valencia.5:33
Unfair challenge on Danny Welbeck by David Ngog results in a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Rafael Da Silva.4:55
Luis Nani crosses the ball.4:14
Luis Nani decides to take a short corner.3:50
Outswinging corner taken right-footed by Luis Nani played to the near post, Fabrice Muamba makes a clearance.3:39
Danny Welbeck takes a shot. Save by Adam Bogdan.2:38
The ball is swung over by Michael Carrick, clearance by Zat Knight.1:49
Gretar Rafn Steinsson crosses the ball.1:01
Effort from the edge of the box by Luis Nani goes wide of the right-hand upright.0:00
The game kicks-off.
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