Hillsborough is the home of entertainment in the Championship.
Wednesdayites are enjoying the free-flowing, aggressive brand of football. They are seeing goals galore – nearly three a match – and watching their team win with style.
More than 20,000 Owls supporters turned up fully expecting another routine home win last night.
But Bolton had not read the script, belying their financial troubles with relentless endeavour.
They gave Carlos Carvalhal’s charges quite a scare and can count themselves unfortunate to have left South Yorkshire empty-handed.
Goals from Gary Hooper (2) and Fernando Forestieri ensured Wednesday sealed their fourth successive Hillsborough success, but they were made to work hard for it under the lights.
Carvalhal selected an attack-minded side, restoring Jack Hunt, Forestieri, Hooper and Atdhe Nuhiu to his starting line-up. Liam Palmer, Alex Lopez, Modou Sougou and Lucas Joao all dropped to the substitutes bench as Carvalhal elected to rotate his squad to cope with the second of three home fixtures in a week. His star-studded forward line ultimately made the difference.
Wednesday started on the front foot and Ross Wallace cut inside on to his favoured left foot and tried his luck from distance but Ben Amos was equal to his effort.
It is a difficult period in Bolton’s history. The Lancashire outfit are staring relegation in the face, having won just two of 27 league fixtures, and are in financial meltdown, needing to offload their top talent with the deadline to pay a £2million-plus tax bill looming on January 18.
The visitors struggled in the early stages to get a foothold and Hooper dragged a shot wide after racing on to Forestieri’s lovely through ball. It was a poor finish by the Norwich City loanee.
But the Owls’ pressure paid off when top-scorer Forestieri unleashed a rasping 30-yard drive which viciously moved in the air, giving Amos no chance. In 2016, Wednesday just don’t do tap ins!
Just as they did against Fulham last weekend, Carvalhal’s men switched off defensively and Bolton, under a transfer embargo until the end of the season after breaching Financial Fair Play rules, made them pay.
Wednesday failed to deal with Wellington Silva’s low centre and Madine pounced on their slack marking to score against his old club. In front of The Kop, his celebrations were muted. Madine made over 100 appearances for the Owls and featured prominently in their 2012 promotion-winning team.
Bolton’s leveller disrupted the hosts’ rhythm. In one of Wednesday’s better forward forays, Nuhiu planted a tame header straight at Amos after a peach of delivery by Wallace.
Liam Feeney curled a free kick narrowly over after Madine had made a nuisance of himself in the 42nd minute. The lanky attacker was proving quite a handful for Carvalhal’s defence. His intelligent runs and hold up play gave them something to think about.
On the stroke of half-time, Hooper spurned another fine opportunity, lifting over following good work by the industrious Forestieri.
Bolton – who left Owls transfer target Mark Davies out of their match-day squad – continued to look threatening after the break and Wildsmith cut out Feeney’s teasing cross.
At the third time of asking, Hooper got on the score-sheet, poking home his third goal in Owls colours from close range following a great move involving Nuhiu and Daniel Pudil.
Yet again Wednesday took their foot off the pedal and Madine should have nodded Bolton level only to be foiled by the agility of Joe Wildsmith.
Bolton didn’t have to wait long for their equaliser, with David Wheater looping a back header over Wildsmith following Feeney’s free kick.
The momentum had swung Neil Lennon side’s way. They were making a mockery of their lowly league position and Silva’s rasping low shot forced Wildsmith into a smart save at his near post.
It was end to end stuff as Hooper skewed wide before Madine agonisingly glanced Feeney’s pinpoint cross off target.
In Monday’s press briefing, Owls captain Glenn Loovens claimed opponents are afraid of playing them in their own backyard.
But Bolton showed no fear and Silva’s free kick drifted just wide, much to the relief of the home faithful.
Amos produced a good save to deny Wallace before Hooper brilliantly grabbed the winner. After racing on to Wallace’s neat pass, he cleverly knocked the ball past Wheater before lashing home.
In a pulsating finish, Bolton skipper Darren Pratley fired wide after a mazy run by the lively Silva and Madine was thwarted by Wildsmith while Amos produced an outstanding stop at the other end to prevent Hooper from completing his hat-trick in added on time.
Home is definitely where the heart is for the Owls right now as they stretched their unbeaten Hillsborough run to 12 matches. Bring on Leeds United!
Owls: Wildsmith; Hunt (Palmer 82), Sasso, Loovens, Pudil; Wallace, Bannan, Lee, Forestieri (Helan 79); Hooper, Nuhiu (Joao 63). Substitutes: Price, Semedo, Lopez, Sougou.
Bolton: Amos; Holding, Dervite, Wheater, Moxey; Feeney, Vela (Clough 84), Trotter, Pratley; Wellington (Woolery 90), Madine. Substitutes: Rachubka, Spearing, Danns, Casado, Ameobi.
Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire)