Report: Bolton Wanderers 1-0 Sheffield United
Wanderers kicked off the 2016/17 Sky Bet League One campaign with victory over Sheffield United at Macron Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The deadlock was broken with just seven minutes of the first half remaining, with Jay Spearing volleying home in spectacular style from 20 yards.
And despite being forced to play the final stages of the clash with ten men after Darren Pratley was stretchered off, they managed to stave off a late onslaught and pick up all three points.
There were full debuts for four of Bolton’s summer signings with Mark Howard, Chris Taylor, Mark Beevers and Lewis Buxton all in from the off at Macron Stadium.
Other recruit Jamie Proctor meanwhile took his place amongst the substitutes, while former Whites academy graduate Chris Basham lined up against his old employers for the Blades.
At a gloriously sunny Macron Stadium, proceedings got underway and it was clear to see from the outset that both teams were going all out with a number of tackles flying in from every direction.
Jay Spearing enjoyed two opportunities inside the opening moments meanwhile, with his two dangerous free-kicks into the mix causing chaos for the Blades at the back.
The visitors meanwhile somehow managed to spurn a golden chance, with Chris Hussey finding Leon Clarke at the far post who put his powerful header wide of the mark with only Howard to beat.
Wanderers then found themselves having to defend against some pressure from United, with Billy Sharp coming close for Chris Wilder’s men as they rallied to force an opener.
Although Phil Parkinson’s side were looking dangerous on set-pieces, the visitors’ strength was visibly their pace on counter attacks with Bolton being forced on the back foot numerous times.
Halfway through the first period meanwhile, Darren Pratley tried his luck from 20 yards after bringing the ball down with his sights firmly on goal, but George Long was equal to his drilled effort.
An injury to John Brayford with half an hour on the clock ensured that play was halted, with the defender receiving treatment while both teams took the opportunity to take on much-needed water in testing conditions pitchside.
With 38 minutes on the clock however, the deadlock was broken and it was done so in style as Spearing volleyed home from 20 yards out with Long given no chance in the Sheffield United goal.
A goal which the midfielder will no doubt want to watch over and over again, the visitors were visibly stunned and as the clock ran down to half time, struggled to get out of their own territory.
Wanderers were hungry for more and with five minutes of injury time indicated at the end of the first period, they looked to add to their tally with the Blades on the back foot but were unable to as the referee blew his whistle for the break.
With no changes for either side at the break, the game restarted and following a few spurts forward, Bolton then had to withstand some pressure from the Blades as they looked for a route back into the clash.
Clarke was first to gain a sight of goal for the visitors inside the opening stages of the second period, but he was unable to control the ball at the far post and saw his header drift harmlessly wide.
Pressure that wasn’t exactly unexpected from the Blades, they did see a Matt Done header from a matter of yards out somehow clear the crossbar just short of the hour mark.
Sharp then proceeded to find the net from close range shortly after, but the assistant referee’s flag had already been long raised.
Moments later saw the first substation of the game, with Mark Davies replacing Taylor for Wanderers.
And Bolton almost had a second with 63 minutes on the clock, only for Pratley’s close range header to be somehow palmed away by Long.
The atmosphere was certainly building inside Macron Stadium as the Whites pushed to extend their lead, with the home fans willing their side to put the game beyond doubt as it entered its final quarter.
Proctor was then handed his debut for the club with 20 minutes remaining and almost made an immediate impact, only to see an ambitious effort from 12 yards whisk past the post.
The final result certainly wasn’t a foregone conclusion however, with United still giving their all as they looked to level the scores.
A key figure for Wanderers throughout the afternoon, Pratley then suffered an injury with seven minutes to go which saw Bolton reduced to ten men having already used all of their substitutions.
A blow for the Trotters, there was no time to dwell as there was still football to be played although the visitors certainly had the upper hand with their man advantage.
It was all hands to the pump for Bolton, with Wilder’s side throwing everything forward in a bid to break the hosts’ resolve late on.
With six minutes of time indicated due to Pratley’s injury, Wanderers were penned into their own box and were having to put bodies on the line to keep their lead intact.
But try as they might however, United couldn’t find a way through and it was an opening day victory for the Whites.