A Billy Sharp brace ensured that Wanderers slipped to defeat against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday afternoon.
A goal in each half from the frontman reinforced the Blades’ position at the top of the table, in turn condemning the Whites to a first defeat in February.
Phil Parkinson made three changes from the side that battled back to earn a point at Bradford City last weekend as Bolton Wanderers crossed the Pennines once again for this top of the table clash at Bramall Lane.
Ben Alnwick, Gary Madine and Liam Trotter all made way for Mark Howard, Conor Wilkinson and James Henry, who was rewarded for his impact from the bench at Valley Parade.
Wanderers, backed by a 2,200 strong travelling support, commenced with the 3-5-2 formation which has served them well in recent weeks.
After a relatively quiet opening spell, the Blades won a corner which lifted the atmosphere when Jake Wright’s deflected shot went for a corner. James Hanson’s follow-up from the set-piece was subsequently cleared off the line.
James Henry had Wanderers’ first on target moment later but his effort from distance didn’t cause Simon Moore any trouble.
But Billy Sharp opened the scoring on 13 minutes with a tidy finish past Mark Howard after Mark Beevers was caught off balance in his attempt to snuff out John Fleck’s pass.
The Scottish midfielder found his name in referee Mike Dean’s note book for a late challenge on Tom Thorpe which left the Wanderers midfielder pole-axed.
Henry’s free-kick moments later went straight in the Sheffield United wall as Wanderers tried to get back into the game before the break.
Thorpe failed to recover sufficiently from his earlier knock and was substituted for Dervite with two minutes of the half remaining. Derik moved into midfield as a consequence.
The hosts were well on top during the opening stages of the second-half winning a series of corners with Wanderers finding it difficult to regain the tempo they had displayed towards the latter stages of the opening 45 minutes.
Sharp should have made it two nil just after the hour mark but Howard kept firm and blocked the striker’s effort.
Parkinson made his second change with Long coming on for Le Fondre just after the hour mark.
Max Clayton was the final substitute when he replaced Wilkinson shortly after.
The Blades were still well on top and were pressing constantly to extend their lead with Sharp a constant menace for the Wanderers backline.
With twenty minutes remaining, Sharp doubled his tally from the spot after Wheater had upended substitute Carruthers. The front man sent Howard the wrong way to reinforce the Blades’ advantage.
Wanderers seldom troubled Moore in the Blades goal and will now turn their attentions to back-to-back home games against Bristol Rovers and AFC Wimbledon to get their promotion charge back on track.