With a total of eight FA Cup triumphs between them and a statue of the late, great Nat Lofthouse standing guard over the ground, it was no surprise to see these two teams treat this competition with the utmost respect.
But, as Chris Hussey admitted, manager Chris Wilder was in no mood for courtesy after watching his Sheffield United side knocked out at the second round stage by Bolton Wanderers.
Despite confirming that trying to secure promotion, not organising another march on Wembley, is United’s main priority this term, Wilder still insisted they would be doing their utmost to progress before yesterday’s visit to the Macron Stadium. Although he will have been pleased by his players’ commitment, not for the first time in recent weeks their finishing and attention to detail left much to be desired.
“The gaffer has told us that we don’t just want to be the best team, we want to be the winning team,” Hussey said. “I thought we did enough to achieve that but, unfortunately, our final ball let us down.”
United, missing influential names such as Jake Wright and Ethan Ebanks-Landell due to a combination of injury and ineligibility, certainly created enough chances to have earned at least a replay. But with Stefan Scougall wasting two and Paul Coutts overhitting his delivery as they pressed for an equaliser late on, it was League One rivals Bolton who booked a place in tonight’s draw.
Phil Parkinson’s side, who were a threat from set-pieces throughout, exploited Wright’s absence when a long throw was flicked on by Lawrie Wilson for Gary Madine to turn home at the far post. United’s goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, who had earlier denied the centre-forward with two superb saves, was powerless to prevent Sammy Ameobi from doubling Bolton’s advantage moments after half-time. Coutts reduced the deficit from distance as United, who had earlier seen Scougall twice fire wide, put the outcome back in the balance. Although Jack O’Connell powered home a fine header during the closing stages to set-up a dramatic finale, Josh Vela had already restored the hosts’ two goal advantage.
“It’s a big disappointment to go out,” Hussey said. “Our all-round work was good but, far too often, our final ball let us down. I was a culprit too. The league is our bread and butter so we’ve got to put things right in that.”
the start of a trend
Only one place and point separate United and Bolton in the table. Despite that close proximity, though, they are two very different teams. United’s push for Championship football has been built on a razor-sharp attack which, even after its recent stutter, has now scored 32 goals in its last 12 games. Bolton, with their precarious finances causing all manner of problems behind the scenes, are built on a rock solid defence. The latter won the day here although, given their overwhelming superiority in terms of possession, it would have been interesting to see how United might have fared if Billy Sharp and Mark Duffy had started the fixture. Wilder, who left both men out as a precautionary measure when Harry Chapman damaged an ankle on the eve of yesterday’s game, certainly felt the visitors had failed to make the most of the opportunities they created. Something which, despite seeing Coutts become the first visiting player to score against Bolton in over six hours of football, he made clear afterwards.
“We’ve got to make sure we are more clinical in those situations,” Hussey said. “In open play, I thought we were the better side but, as the gaffer left us in no doubts about afterwards, it’s what happens in and around both boxes that counts. We need to get back to being ruthless.”
Scougall was uncharacteristically charita ble when he glanced a header wide following a delightful move involving Hussey and Reece Brown before inexplicably failing to hit the target after meeting Kieron Freeman’s cushioned header. It proved a costly miss because, soon after, Madine opened the scoring.
aaron has got ability
Wilder does not like losing. So, after watching United suffer their second straight defeat following Tuesday’s set-back against Walsall, it was no surprise to discover he had used his post-match inquest to deliver some timely reminders about the importance of being spiteful in both penalty areas. But, although it will be no consolation, other aspects of United’s performance will privately encourage the 49-year-old and his coaching staff. United made five changes to their starting eleven and Bolton just one. So the fact they pushed Parkinson’s men so hard suggests, when the battle for automatic promotion hots-up, Wilder’s squad boasts more strength in depth. Ramsdale’s display underlined why United have such high hopes for the young goalkeeper too. The teenager, making only his second senior start, was unable to deny Ameobi when the on-loan centre-forward dispatched a wonderful long-range strike into the back of his net. But Ramsdale, a Steelphalt Academy graduate and England youth international, made three memorable saves in quick succession before Brown hacked David Wheater’s effort away to safety midway through then first-half. Replays later confirmed it had crossed the line.
“Aaron’s done really well out there,” Hussey, preferred to Daniel Lafferty at wing-back, said. “He’s a really talented young ‘keeper and he’s got some great lads, like Simon and Longy (George Long) to learn from. If he keeps on working hard, he’ll get even better. We felt comfortable with him out there.”