Sheffield Wednesday match report: Bolton Wanderers 0 Owls 2 – Strikes from Steven Fletcher and Rolando Aarons boost the Owls’ play-off hopes
The Championship promotion race remains as intense as ever.
There is a distinct possibility the fight for a top-six finish could go down to the last day.
And Sheffield Wednesday have the play-offs firmly in their sights after a comfortable victory over second-from-bottom Bolton Wanderers.
Goals either side of half-time from Steven Fletcher and Rolando Aarons ensured the Owls completed their first league double over the beleaguered Trotters since 1983.
Victory moved Wednesday into the top half of the table, just three points adrift of sixth-placed Bristol City, and stretched their unbeaten league to 10 matches.
Owls boss Steve Bruce has worked wonders since taking over the reins, picking up 17 points from a possible 27.
It was not always aesthetically pleasing against a Bolton side in the thick of a relegation scrap.
But Wednesday rolled up their sleeves and did what they had to do to get the job done.
Financially-stricken Bolton, who face a High Court date with HM Revenue and Customs on March 20 over an unpaid tax and VAT bill, made a bright start. Wide man Craig Noone forced Keiren Westwood into a smart stop at his near post in the third minute.
After a sluggish opening, Wednesday almost capitalised on a slack piece of defending from Owls old boy Mark Beevers. His dismal clearance broke kindly to Fletcher, who was passed fit to play despite suffering an ankle/knee injury in Saturday's draw at Derby County, but the striker's low weak left foot shot was comfortably kept out by Remi Matthews.
With a swirling wind to contend with, both teams gave the ball away at regular intervals on a worn, playing surface.
It was a scrappy affair. Clear-cut chances were at a premium.
Barry Bannan, just hours after earning a Scotland recall, showed his set piece prowess in the 28th minute, whipping in a glorious free kick from the left which Fletcher met with a bullet header but Matthews was equal to it.
Bolton had a half-hearted penalty shout waved away after Michael Hector charged down Joe Williams fierce effort from the edge of the box.
Moments later, Wednesday loanee Aarons drilled a shot from 25 yards well wide.
Fletcher then put the Owls ahead on the stroke of half-time after a wonderful team move. Atdhe Nuhiu, returning to the starting line-up for the first time since Wednesday's FA Cup triumph at Luton Town in January, neatly flicked the ball into the path of Bannan and his clever through ball released Fletcher, who deftly lifted the ball over the advancing Matthews.
It was a second assist in the space of four days for Bannan.
In truth, Fletcher's well-taken strike was the only moment of quality in a drab, dreadful first half.
Bolton, seeking to complete back-to-back wins for the first time since August, looked devoid of ideas and quality in the final third. The hosts, whose players and coaching staff were paid February's wages just hours before this fixture, struggled to break down Wednesday's well-organised defence.
But there is at least better news off the pitch, with the Lancashire club on the brink of a takeover. Club owner Ken Anderson expects a consortium, spearheaded by Parminder Basran and Sharon Brittan, to buy his majority stake in the club and for the buyout to be finalised later this week.
Aarons, though, killed off Bolton's hopes of staging a comeback just before the hour mark by grabbing a second. He rifled a left foot shot past Matthews after racing on to Adam Reach's inch perfect pass.
The Trotters nearly pulled a goal back after Westwood flapped at a Gary O'Neil free kick but Sam Winnall, a second half substitute for Nuhiu, cleared Noone's strike off the line.
With 14 minutes remaining, Reach and the lively Aarons combined brilliantly down the right flank to set up a chance for Winnall but the forward's volley was turned away by Matthews.
Westwood, marshalled superbly by captain Tom Lees and Hector, produced a super saved in added on time to foil Clayton Donaldson as Bolton threatened to grab a late consolation.
But Wednesday held firm to record their 11th clean sheet in the last 18 matches. It was also their first victory at Bolton since Boxing Day 2012.
With nine matches to go, the Owls are flying and a late promotion charge is still possible.
Bolton: Matthews; Olkowski, Hobbs, Beevers, Connolly; O'Neil (Donaldson 66), Williams (Connellat 72), Lowe, Noone (Buckley 66); Ameobi, Magennis. Substitutes: B Williams, Taylor, Wilson, Wheater.
Owls: Westwood; Iorfa, Hector, Lees, Palmer; Reach, Bannan, Hutchinson, Aarons (Fox 87); Nuhiu (Winnall 57), Fletcher (Matias 84). Substitutes: Dawson, Pelupessy, Thorniley, Boyd.
Attendance: 13,624 (1,918)
Referee: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire)