POST MATCH RAMBLE: Wednesday -v- Bolton

POST MATCH RAMBLE: Wednesday -v- Bolton

Recent speculation on a potential takeover of Sheffield Wednesday and with three successive league successes to boot has seen an uncharacteristically optimistic start to the New Year for the Owls who went into Saturday’s encounter with Neil Lennon’s Bolton Wanderers just four points off the play-off spots.

It’s been a bit of a surprise for most Wednesdayites to see the team nestling in the dizzy heights of 9th in the Championship so much so that most of us keep checking for nose bleeds, especially after last week’s convincing 2-0 victory over faltering Nottingham Forest in a game which really could’ve seen the hosts on the end a 4-0 or 5-0 reverse at the City Ground and it wouldn’t have flattered us in the slightest – we really were that impressive.

That more-or-less flawless showing in the East Midlands also saw extra reason for optimism due to the return of Joe Mattock and Sam Hutchinson on the Wednesday bench and the inclusion in the match-day squad of young Chelsea loanee Lewis Baker, who seems to offer real promise after rising through the Blues’ ranks.

The temporary capture of the England Under-21 international is a real coup for Stuart Gray who fought off competition from Middlesbrough and Saturday’s visitors to secure the 19-year Old’s services.


Heskey: Still got it

The Trotters themselves have proven to be particularly shrewd in the transfer market with the recent additions of veterans Emile Heskey and Eidar Gudjohnsen; both forwards who have proven Premier League pedigrees and experience at International level let alone in the second tier of English football.

In the pre-match warm up it was noticeable how remarkably fit and sharp the former looked following a two-year period away from the English game whilst playing his trade in Australia for the Newcastle Jets. The former England and Liverpool frontman would prove to be a tricky handful come 3 o’clock as he and the big presence of Craig Davies spearheaded the visitors’ attack as part of an effective Bolton system.

The 3-1-4-2/3-5-2 system employed by Lennon isn’t a common formation implemented in the Championship but was certainly one that went on to trouble us as we really couldn’t seem to get our heads around a set-up that was used by South American outifits like Chile and Colombia in the summer World Cup.

More closer to home, the likes of Manchester United have tried out this distribution of players due to the great amount of attacking talent they possess however despite the amount of width and attacking potency the 3-5-2 can encourage it has (as can be seen when watching the Red Devils on a weekly basis in the Premier League) a tendency to open up gaps in the defence third when the opposition are attacking due to how stretched the central three in the rear-guard can get.

A bright, clever attacking force would be required to be able to exploit these paces left, though, as well as a level of incompetency from the defence to let in the opposition. When done right, it can be an effective way of crowding the midfield and getting men forward as Wanderers proved at Hillsborough on Saturday.


Lennon; New tactics?

It was clear from the off our Lancashire visitors were looking to close us down when we had possession and we struggled to deal with the system used by Neil Lennon, as if we were startled by the way they’d set up. I’m not in the knowledge of whether the Trotters played in this fashion when hosting Leeds the week before at the Macron Stadium or if Stuart Gray hadn’t set us up properly to deal with the formation and capitalise on the weaknesses it would have.

It certainly took me by surprise how high we were being pressed by the visitors – sporting a green kit in support of the charity ‘Blesma’, which helps military personnel who have returned from conflict with the loss a limb(s) – and it paid its first dividend within 60 seconds of the start as Jacques Maghoma was caught in position allowing Liam Feeney to find the ball in space and from just inside the area finish low into the bottom corner of Keiran Westwood’s net.

A nightmare start to say the least bearing in mind the consortium of the proposed investors were in attendance seated next to Milan Mandaric, hopefully he didn’t turn round and try and reassure them things would pick up!

We failed to gather any sort of rhythm in our passing and we spent a fair amount of time chasing the ball rather than in possession of it and three-sides of Hillsborough was becoming increasingly annoyed with the way proceedings were developing.

In the week Lennon had stated we were a particularly impressive side at home, indicating the former Celtic boss hadn’t done his homework quite up to scratch but he certainly had done his research on how to frustrate the Owls when it came to matters on the field.

Not long afterwards we had an appeal for a penalty waved away as Chris Maguire’s volley from Kieran Lee’s corner deflected off Tim Reem via a suspected arm however our appeals lack any real substance and were out of desperation more than anything.

It did feel as if all we needed was an equaliser to get us playing again and in affect forget the first quarter of the game which would help us kick on and acquire the maximum points on offer in order to close the gap between ourselves and the top six.

Pratley Bolton

Pratley puts Bolton 2-0 up

However, the visitors from the North-West soon doubled their advantage to the delight of the traveling 1,000 fans as another defensive lapse saw us punished once more. A long ball forward from the half way line saw Heskey flick on perfectly for the forward run of ex-Swansea man Darren Pratley who skipped past the statuesque Claude Dilena before coolly finishing past Westwood in the cascading South Yorkshire snow at S6.

Thankfully we responded quickly enough this time to half the arrears as Jose Semedo found some room down the right-hand side to fire in a cross towards Atdhe Nuhiu who was felled by fellow giant David Wheater in an incident that went unpunished but fortunately the ball ran for Maguire who evaded Feeney who tripped the Scotsman who in-turn fired home the spot-kick and give everybody of a blue and white persuasion a lift just before the half hour.

With no real further chances of note before the break we went into the interval after at least weathering the hail/rain/snow storm a lot better than we had the Bolton storm in the first 25 minutes.

Maguire Penalty

Maguire; Putting Wednesday back in the game

We looked like a rejuvenated outfit in the second half with Maguire in particular looking as if he was prepared to take the game by the scruff of the neck in order to get the equaliser for the Owls. It was going to be quite a tricky test however with Bolton now prepared to stick ten men in between the ball and Andy Lonergan’s goal.

It was Maguire’s left wing ball into the penalty area that just evaded the reach of Nuhiu but got a nick off Dorian Dervite who directed the ball goal-wards but unfortunately into the safe hands of Lonergan. However, despite the miss it was encouraging to see our offensive intent in the second half and whatever harsh words Stuart Gray may have uttered at half-time was having an effect on our performance.

Bolton’s counter-attacking threat though wasn’t preparing to go away as Semedo got caught in possession in the centre of Wednesday territory allowing the impressive Josh Vela to drive at the hosts’ backline before slipping a nicely weighted through ball for Davies but the ex-Spireite hotshot was thwarted by Westwood who would go on to pull off a couple of important saves as the second period progressed.

Sam Hutchinson was soon introduced as the clock ticked the other side of 60 minutes, a welcome return for Stuart Gray and his side as I subconsciously thought getting Hutchinson to the last the final 30 minutes being unscathed would be just as big a result as clawing out a draw; the Chelsea academy graduate failed to see through the remaining embers of the contest thankfully not for fitness reasons though as will be later established.

Hutch Red Card

Hutch: Here today, gone 20 minutes later

Hutch is our best outfield player in my opinion and had it not been for his persistent injuries he wouldn’t be at this football club on a permanent basis. Despite my love for the lad you can’t help but feel he has a particular fondness of the colour yellow with his record of ill-discipline and in-turn with his return to the pitch he picked up a booking for an over-zealous challenge on Pratley right in front of Gray. No complaints although I felt Gray should’ve took the opportunity to have a word in Sam’s ear making sure he wouldn’t over-commit like that in the final stages.

Davies was against denied by Westwood’s exploits again not long after when Feeney plonked the ball straight onto the head of the Bolton number 28 however he couldn’t capitalise on immensely poor Owls defending as his, in fairness, powerless header was pushed wide by the Republic of Ireland stopper.

Westwood proved decisive again when he scrambled across his goal to tip Pratley’s awkward, pacey volley wide of the left-hand post. One that the former will have seen late as the ball zipped its way past a crowd of bodies in the home side’s penalty area.

Miraculous Wanderers defending then came to Neil Lennon’s rescue as Reem’s poor clearance when under pressure from Stevie May say the ball land for Maguire who drove into the open space into the penalty area before striking the ball across the penalty area where Mills inadvertently teed up substitute Lewis Baker whose eyes lit up with the goal at his mercy but Mills unbelievably recovered just in time to divert the ball over the bar for a Wednesday corner.

Nuhiu’s loose header on halfway then led to Hutchinson’s second yellow as neither Heskey nor Vela showed great interest in winning possession any time soon and Hutch’s over-enthusiasm for getting the ball lead to the midfielder’s downfall as he was ultimately shown his marching orders by Graham Scott.

At the time I was massively incensed by the decision as it was a committed challenge to win a free ball when, in reality, Josh Vela never looked too keen on winning it himself so the tackle seemed to only be contested by Hutchinson so is forceful contact on the ball portrayed as a bookable offence? That subsequent shrill blow of the whistle then following red card will niggle at me for a few days to come, ridiculous call in my mind.

Stevie May Celebrates

Stevie May; Denied

The officials weren’t prepared to keep themselves out of the action much after either as Nuhiu got free on the edge of the area from a grounded Mills before the big Austrian cracked a fierce left-footed drive back off the crossbar before May steamed in to nod home into the empty net, elation! Just as I began making my feelings known to the Bolton fans away to my right I noticed a sudden dubbing down of celebrations and to my disbelief the linesman’s flag was raised.

Naturally on tight offside calls I look straight at the referee’s assistant to check for clarification on whether or not our attackers were illegally positioned but in this instance I didn’t even glance in that direction; not necessarily due to my excitement on us netting so late on but because it genuinely didn’t cross my mind that it could’ve possibly been offside!

Dielna’s rasping drive brought out the best of Lonergan as time eroded rapidly when the Frenchman’s 30-yard screamer was tipped onto the upright by the erstwhile Leeds ‘keeper which only increased the agony of defeat that was perhaps inevitable following the offside call as it was evident lady luck wasn’t going to favour us that afternoon.

Claude Dielna

Wednesday almost Claude back a draw in the dying minutes

Bolton were nothing special but were impressive in how they got the basics spot on and knew how defend against the home team – expecting them to take the initiative and come at them before picking them off when they’d regained possession.

It was frustratingly effective from a Wednesday point of view but we’d shot ourselves in the foot from the start we had in the opening period meaning our increasingly concerning home form took another beating against a side that originally had the third worst away record in the league.

The second half showing was positive and we went tooth and nail at a Bolton net which at times was living a very charmed life but the Lancastrians’ ability to win every second ball due to their invasion of our midfield in the opening period contributed to a bitter pill to swallow for Wednesdayites and a first league defeat of the calendar year to endure.

A big couple of weeks is coming up in the January transfer window with a potential takeover meaning it could be likely for Stuart to bolster our squad in order to make an unlikely but possible push for those coveted play-off spots and at the least a top half finish.


Owls Alive

Twitter: @JonOwlzz and @OwlsAlive

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