Bolton Wanderers’ biggest game of the season ended in bitter disappointment at Bramall Lane with Billy ‘Fat Bastard’ Sharp scoring twice. In a response to the criticism thrown his way by a plastered Gary Madine earlier in the week, Sharp took 2 of the 3 chances that came his way to settle a game dominated by the league leaders, with Bolton fans having to wait until almost the 90th minute before seeing their team muster a shot on goal.
The game began acrimoniously as the fans learned that top scorer and focal point of the Blades anger, Gary Madine, was absent from the squad and replaced by the hapless Conor Wilkinson.
The news filtered through that the former Sheffield Wednesday man was ill but the cynics among us, myself included, sensed the occasion had perhaps turned his head.
The likelihood of Sharp scoring in this game was very, very high given Madine’s comments and the abuse he received from the fans and, naturally, he did so after 12 minutes.
The striker pounced on a missed through ball by Mark Duffy to bury a shot off the post, cue a pathetic attempt at riling the fans from Sharp and a brief murmur of noise from the rather docile Blades faithful. However, they led and deservedly so.
Wanderers were still in the game though and while they didn’t create chances they didn’t look like conceding again in the first half. The only other moments of intrigue were two nasty challenges by Sharp and midfielder John Fleck, the latter could have warranted a red card with Tom Thorpe forced off injured. Dorian Dervite came on to the horror of the Bolton fans but the team saw out the 1-0 score line until the break.
Would Bolton come out fighting in the second period?
Not on your life.
What followed was shambolic display of football from the away team with long balls hoofed up to Adam Le Fondre, again anonymous in this system, and the home team easily able to break down the defence.
Sharp had one close range header amazingly saved by the returning Mark Howard, in for the ill Ben Alnwick, before Parky saw fit to change one of the strikers and hopefully change the game.
As I have said, Le Fondre had been anonymous in the match up to this point but he is still our most potent goal threat. This fact, coupled with the dire performance of Wilkinson, should surely have meant that he stayed on, but of course this wasn’t the case.
To me this shows that he isn’t a Parky player and rightly or wrongly he won’t change his system to suit him, even though it could be highly beneficial. Chris Long replaced him and the dross continued.
This was in no small part to the ludicrous amount of long balls hoofed up to the front two where one of them was 5ft 9 and the other couldn’t win a header all day. This tactic simply doesn’t work and it pains me to see it. Max Clayton then came on for Wilkinson whose
removal would have been met with a similar reaction to Liam Trotter’s at Coventry had he not applauded the fans as he came off. It was a nice gesture if only to protect himself from criticism.
While all this was going on Sheffield United brought on former MK Dons attacker, Samir Carruthers, and it was he who would help decide the game. After a skewed Mark Howard kick invited pressure from a throw-in deep in our half, Carruthers received the ball and jinked past David Wheater, falling to the ground and earning a penalty from referee Mike Dean.
I must admit, I thought it was the right decision at the time, but the replays showed that he had dived and conned the ref, a decision that eventually cost us as Sharp stepped up to score, but I feel the game had already gone.
The game concluded with Sheffield looking the more likely to add to their lead with Bolton’s only half-chance coming from Clayton. It was a poor performance littered with errors and players not putting in a shift.
The tactics simply did not work, if there were any tactics, and something needs to change before Tuesday’s game to get us back on track. Frankly, we have been playing badly and getting away with it for a while.
Maybe this defeat was the wakeup call that we needed.