Tom Lees’ header in the second half was all that separated two poor teams on a night where Bolton’s lack of attacking incision bordered on the embarrassing.
At Millwall on Saturday Phil Parkinson had clung to an encouraging first half performance and some gritty defending as proof that his much publicised ‘clean slate’ had worked over the international break.
But here, in tedious monochrome, his players put in a performance which actually got more toothless the more attacking players were on the pitch.
Parkinson threw all but the kitchen sink at Wednesday in an effort to find an equaliser but barely got a chance of note. No wonder, then, some chanting was heard from high in the away stand which suggest fans want to see change.
Parkinson stuck with the 4-3-3 formation he used at Millwall but dropped skipper David Wheater to the bench – perhaps with the weekend’s derby against Wigan Athletic in mind – and reinstated Jack Hobbs to the defence.
Will Buckley was also taken out of the line-up in favour of Yanic Wildschut, the Dutch winger who still has plenty to prove in the eyes of most Wanderers fans.
The cavernous Hillsborough can be an intimidating place when in full voice. But here, housing a midweek crowd stunted by the wretched weather, the time of year and the game’s availability on Sky Sports’ controversial red button, it was a shadow of its former self.
This was a Premier League game a couple of decades ago yet the dearth of quality football on offer made such halcyon days a distant memory.
Groans and moans echoed around the stadium with each mis-placed pass, of which there were plenty from the home side.
Wanderers slowly felt their way into the game without creating any noteworthy chance. Sammy Ameobi forced Cameron Dawson to scamper across his goal on a couple of occasions but the humdrum delivery from set pieces summed up a poor spectacle.
On the plus side for Bolton, Pawel Olkowski looked bright down the right flank, producing some of the better service into the penalty box. Joe Williams also buzzed around, still looking more comfortable in a more advanced midfield role.
Wanderers looked genuinely comfortable as they restricted their hosts to shots from distance for a drab 45 minutes but they lacked urgency in an attacking sense, making the whole game feel like a training exercise. Had they found something at that stage, you would not have banked on the Owls producing a comeback. Instead, momentum disappeared completely by the time play restarted.
There was an air of added expectation around the ground as Wednesday brought on home favourite Fernando Forestieri at the break. The Italian has been a thorn in Wanderers’ side before in the Championship and he instantly added some invention to the Owls’ attack.
It was from a tidy exchange between Forestieri and Barry Bannan that Wednesday won a corner on 58 minutes, whipped in by Joey Pelupessy and headed into the net with aplomb by Tom Lees.
Any experienced Wanderers watcher will tell you that conceding the first goal is not good news these days. In fact, it has been 74 games since a Bolton team has gone on to win after going behind to the opening goal of the day.
Tension lifted among the home fans. The band began to play.
Wildschut had a penalty appeal turned down by ref Gavin Ward – the Dutchman’s only real input on the night.
Williams raided down the right, looking for a way back into the game, and produced a fine cross which slid invitingly across the six yard box. Josh Magennis was the sole Bolton player in the penalty box, and even he was four or five yards behind the ball.
Parkinson responded by putting on two strikers, Christian Doidge and Clayton Donaldson, his team now looking more like 4-2-4.
It took 77 minutes for Wanderers to create what you would term a clear-cut chance. A Wednesday corner broke down on the edge of the box, Doidge and Donaldson exchanged passes, and the goal opened up. The less said about Donaldson's finish, the better, but as the ex-Blades striker starred accusingly down at the Hillsborough turf, the home fans’ banter had already begun.
Wednesday could have made it two with five minutes left, Lucas Joao lifting a shot over the bar moments after he arrived on to the pitch.
By that time the first real notes of dissention towards Parkinson were emerging from the travelling fans. One wonders if that will continue into Saturday’s derby against Wigan Athletic?
Adam Reach also drilled a shot inches wide of the post as the home side began to exert their authority, rather than shutting up shop, in the final stages.
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