Match analysis: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Bolton Wanderers 2

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As well as tormenting Sheffield Wednesday’s backline in the opening 25 minutes, Bolton Wanderers were in danger of turning off the Thai consortium interested in a possible £30 million takeover of the Owls.

As well as tormenting Sheffield Wednesday’s backline in the opening 25 minutes, Bolton Wanderers were in danger of turning off the Thai consortium interested in a possible £30 million takeover of the Owls.

Stevie May shows his frustration

Stevie May shows his frustration

Stuart Gray’s troops were thoroughly outplayed, deserved to be two goals down and looked unrecognisable from the team who played so impressively a week earlier at Nottingham Forest. It was so one-sided that you could have forgiven the members of the Thai group who attended Saturday’s clash for heading early for the Hillsborough exit door.

But, despite their sluggish start, Wednesday regrouped quickly, pulled a goal back through Chris Maguire’s 28th-minute penalty and should have snatched a point in the closing stages but for an incorrect official’s decision.

In added-on time, Stevie May bundled the ball over the line after Atdhe Nuhiu’s venomous shot struck the crossbar, but the Scotland international was ruled offside by the assistant referee. TV replays suggest the striker was onside and even Bolton boss Neil Lennon, in a refreshingly candid, honest interview, admitted the decision went in their favour.

Lennon said: “I thought he was onside. We got away with one there. You’ve got to call it as you see it. I am not going to pull the wool over people’s eyes.”

Nuhiu and Claude Dielna were denied by the woodwork in an enthralling finish but Gray was left fuming over the decision to chalk off May’s close-range strike.

“Stevie May is a centre forward, he’s checked his run and he’s actually behind his man when Atdhe shoots,” he said. “He’s not even level. He’s slightly behind the defender.

“We’ve been punished by a poor decision. It’s disappointing because decisions like that are costly.

“I’m told Neil [Lennon] agrees that Stevie was onside but that doesn’t make me feel any better because we have nothing from the game.”

May’s effort should have stood but ultimately Wednesday only have themselves to blame for suffering a fifth loss in their own backyard. Their tentative start cost them big time.

To compound their woes, substitute Sam Hutchinson was sent off following two bookable offences in the space of 11 minutes. His second caution was for a rash-looking challenge on Josh Vela.

Gray said: “Sam has got to realise he’s not a kid anymore. He’s got to have a bit more experience and nous.

“I can’t fault his enthusiasm but he’s got to learn you have to be careful once you’ve got a yellow card.

“We got back in the game with the penalty and it was hard enough playing Bolton with 11 men, but then with Sam getting sent off it was very, very difficult.”

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Enthusiastic Sam just wanted to make an impact, says team mate Palmer

Nobody can dispute the fact that Gray has transformed the Owls into a disciplined, solid outfit. They have not kept 14 clean sheets by accident. It is down to hard work on the training ground that they have one of the meanest defences in the division.

However, they conceded two sloppy, uncharacteristic goals versus Bolton. For the opener, Jacques Maghoma was caught in possession deep inside his own half by Josh Vela and Liam Feeney neatly fired a right-foot shot past by Keiren Westwood.

Bolton’s second was arguably even worse from Wednesday’s perspective. Darren Pratley capitalised on Dielna’s hesitation, latching on to Emile Heskey’s flick-on before drilling in his fourth goal in six matches. It was all too easy.

“We started so poorly and then we gifted them a second goal so we gave ourselves a bit of a mountain to climb,” said a frustrated Gray. “We got caught in possession around our 18-yard box for the first.

“Then the midfield man has made a run and our midfield have not tracked the runner and suddenly Claude has made an error and they’ve got in.

“We found ourselves 2-0dow n and chasing the game.

“It’s a shock to me because it’s unusual for us to give goals away like that. It’s not as though they were worldies. They were cheap goals and it seemed to rock us, which is understandable.”

The truth is the Owls struggled to match Bolton’s physicality and gave the ball away cheaply at regular intervals. On a tricky playing surface, Bolton coped much better with the adverse weather conditions and it took Gray’s men far too long to combat their 3-5-2 formation.

Gray said: “We didn’t win enough second balls in the first half, got caught in possession and we got punished for it.

“Bolton went with four centre-backs. They’re a big, physical side. They went with more height. They bypassed the midfield and we got bullied and bossed in the first 25 minutes.

“They are a good experienced side who knew how to kill the game off.”

As the contest wore on, Wednesday improved. Maguire’s penalty came against the run of play and a day after his 26th birthday. The spot-kick, which was awarded after David Wheater upended Atdhe Nuhiu, gave them hope of mounting a comeback.

Owls right-back Liam Palmer said: “We weren’t good enough in the first half. Their system allowed them to dictate the play and it took us 10 to 15 minutes to get to grips with that. We need to wise up as players. We can’t wait until we are two goals down before we start playing.

“We made a couple of individual errors and Bolton caught us cold. The second half was better but we left ourselves with too much to do.”

Wednesday rallied after the interval but it took a fine save by their player of the season, Keiren Westwood, to prevent Craig Davies from restoring Bolton’s two goal cushion.

Westwood underlined his class yet again by producing two superb stops to keep out Davies downward header and then Pratley’s sweet volley. Bolton skipper Matt Mills also hit the crossbar as Bolton failed to find a killer third.

Wednesday nearly made Bolton pay for their profligacy in front of goal only for Lewis Baker to be thwarted by a wonderful last -ditch challenge by Mills. Then, after May’s controversial disallowed goal, Dielna’s long-range thunderbolt was superbly pushed on to the woodwork by Andy Lonergan.

“We got back into it with the penalty and then had three good chances to get that equaliser - the Stevie May one doesn’t look like it’s offside after watching it back on the video,” said Palmer. “Lewis Baker nearly got one and so did Claude but it wasn’t to be. The keeper made a top save. It is a disappointing result.”

Gray said: “Credit to the boys because they stuck at it. I just knew at half-time kicking towards our fans we would have a good chance. We had a right go in the second half.

“We kept going, even with 10 men. I thought two or three times it was going to come. It just wasn’t our day in front of goal. It was the woodwork twice and the official’s decision that probably cost us a point.”

The Owls have scored a meagre seven times in 13 league matches on their own turf this season. They have picked up a 14 points from a possible 39 on offer at Hillsborough. Until they turn Hillsborough into a place to fear, a top-six finish will be out of their reach.

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Dom Howson’s Final Verdict on Sheffield Wednesday 1 Bolton Wanderers 2

Wednesday: Westwood 7; Palmer 6, Loovens 6, Lees 6, Dielna 5; Maghoma 5* (Helan 69), Lee 6** (Hutchinson 69), Semedo 6*** (Baker 78), Maguire 6; Nuhiu 6, May 5. Substitutes: Buxton, Mattock, Lavery, Kirkland.

Bolton: Lonergan 7; Mills 8, Wheater 7, Dervitte 7; Feeney 7, Danns 6, Vela 8, Pratley 8, Ream 7; C Davies 7* (Gudjohnsen 90), Heskey 8. Substitutes: Bogdan, Moxey, Spearing, Trotter, Wilkinson, Walker.

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