Match Report: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Bolton Wanderers 3

Neil Danns slots the ball past Chris Kirkland
Neil Danns slots the ball past Chris Kirkland
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So Wednesday’s Hillsborough fortunes ended in the same way as they began - with defeat by a Lancashire team.

The Owls lost 2-1 to Burnley in their first home game and, of course, were beaten 3-1 by Bolton on Saturday.

In between there have been many ups and downs, but all the club’s and fans’ hopes of ending on a high were dashed by one of the weakest performances of the season.

Whereas the Owls gave the Premier-League-bound Clarets a run for their money, they were also-rans against the Trotters.

The challenge of competing against a side with a top-flight pedigree and a wage bill to match proved too much for a Wednesday outfit who missed their best players in vital areas and showed some familiar flaws.

They are going to have to tighten up when defending and find more quality in the attacking third if they are going to be more consistent next season.

It was an anti-climax on Saturday, and the scenes afterwards were the most low-key I can remember for the final home game of a campaign.

Only a few fans came on to the pitch after the final whistle.

Many others streamed away, and some waited in their places and wondered to see if the traditional lap by the players to thank supporters was actually going to take place, with doubt raised by an announcement:

“Thank you for your fantastic support throughout the season; enjoy your summer and we’ll see you in August.”

But the players and staff did come out.

Probably only a few hundred fans remained by then, lining the front of the three home areas.

It was all a far cry from the finales when there was promotion or relegation survival to be sorted out and an ecstatic invasion flooded the pitch.

Some team members wore white shirts with the message: “Thank you for your support.” Some were thrown to youngsters near the tunnel as the team left the field - a nice touch.

Earlier, fans were pretty tolerant of the efforts of a patched-up team with relatively little to play for - except for an outburst of booing when Bolton went 3-0 up inside the first half hour.

Stuart Gray had Glenn Loovens back, restored Joe Mattock to left-back, recalled Rhys McCabe and Caolan Lavery, and hoped that as a team Wednesday could cut out the sort of errors that contributed to them conceding 17 goals in the previous six games.

But things were as bad as ever on all three of Bolton’s goals.

For the first one, a simple headed pass freed an unmarked Jermaine Beckford in the box. When Beckford crossed Mattock should have attacked the ball and tried to clear it instead of attempting to shield it, unsuccessfully, as Neil Danns forced it home from close range.

For the second one, a wayward ball by Mattock sent Chung Yong Lee away and his shot was tame and straight at Chris Kirkland, who has made many important saves but on this occasion mystifyingly let the ball go past him.

For the third goal, Liam Trotter ran away from Lavery to chest a throw-in forward, and Oguchi Onyewu could have got closer to him before he volleyed an admittedly unstoppable effort from 30 yards.

In general, Wednesday’s passing, finals balls and crossing left something to be desired.

Although they were strictly second best in the first half, I did feel at half-time that that if they could somehow grab one goal it would be game on. They did have a go in the second half., but could not produce the quality that was going to loosen the visitors’ grip.

The energy and shooting of top scorer Chris Maguire - who was given leave to attend his grandmother’s funeral - were sorely missed throughout.

Wednesday also had none of their top midfield players in action in the engine room, with Sam Hutchinson suspended, Liam Palmer injured, Jose Semedo still out and Kieran Lee having to play at right -back.

But it was not all woe.

Kirkland brilliantly won a one-on-one against talented, attacking midfielder Danns early in the second half, and stopped a shot from him near the end, when Wednesday were having to throw men forward and Bolton could have scored two or three more on the break.

What a contrast it was for Mattock when he followed his misjudgements on the first two goals by belting home one of the best goals of the Owls’ season, home or away.

The ball travelled so fast that Adam Bogdan lost sight of it. The keeper said: “I saw him hit it. Then I saw it come out of the net! It was a great strike.” The full back did not celebrate, however - it was a just a consolation for him, after what had gone before.

Bolton played with only Beckford as a central striker but Danns and Lee broke forward to give him telling support, and the team were solid when defending. It was easy to understand why Dougie Freedman’s side have now gone undefeated in their last eight away games. He also has strength in depth - something that Wednesday maybe lack on the evidence of this display.

Gray was able to give right winger Jack Stobbs a run-out, with nothing to lose, as the game was slipping away.

The youngster could not really make an impact but did not look out of place, and made a half-chance when he headed down a cross at the far post.

Some of the players who toured the pitch after the game will have been making their farewells to Hillsborough.

But Stobbs is able to look forward. He said: “Shame about the result. but the proudest day of my life, making my debut - hopefully the start of many!”

Stuart Gray: “It looks like we’re going to need four goals to win any game. We’re gifting teams. Stray balls again put the opposition on the front foot. The disappointing thing is the reaction when you go 2-0 down. With 70-odd minutes to go, there’s still time, as we showed against Blackburn. Our quality on the ball should have been better.”