Bolton fight the enemy within

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Wednesday 4 Bolton Wanderers 2

If New Year is a time for reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of the past, this match demonstrated exactly why Bolton go into 1996 eight points adrift at the foot of the Premiership. This was their season in microcosm: attractive football and ceaseless endeavour dashed by their own defensive frailties.

Bolton's well-known failings tempted Wednesday to experiment with just three at the back, and for a while that looked like dangerous over-confidence. Too often they seemed to be relying on the missing fourth defender to pick up the inventive Sasa Curcic, allowed to roam free in the "hole" behind his strikers.

John McGinlay was twice put clear only to shoot in haste, first tamely into Kevin Pressman's arms and then over the crossbar. Then Gerry Taggart rattled the bar from Scott Sellars' beautifully flighted free-kick and Curcic was caught marginally offside after beating Pressman.

It took a goal against the run of play to break Bolton's New Year resolution, and it came from a moment of inspiration by Chris Waddle. He seized on a loose ball on the half-way line and his pass released David Hirst, who found Darko Kovacevic unmarked in the six-yard box to head his first goal for Wednesday.

The Yugoslav added a second on the stroke of half-time, Waddle this time dispensing with the middle man to release Kovacevic with an incisive 30- yard pass. But Bolton's spirits never flagged and, five minutes after the break, Curcic found space on the edge of the Wednesday box, glanced up and placed a rasping shot into the top corner.

Bolton's revival hopes were quickly punctured by their slack defending. Sellars brought down Andy Sinton for Hirst to restore the margin from the penalty spot, and the Wednesday striker doubled his tally on the hour after substitute Greg Strong allowed him to regain possession and sidefoot past Keith Branagan.

So when Taggart converted Sellars' corner in the 77th minute it was already too late for Bolton - as perhaps it now is for their survival prospects.

Sheffield Wednesday (3-4-1-2): Pressman; Atherton, Walker, Nolan; Stefanovic, Waddle, Sinton, Degryse; Whittingham; Hirst, Kovacevic (Bright, 72). Substitutes not used: Hyde, Sheridan.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Green, Stubbs, Taggart, Phillips; Sneekes, Todd (Strong, h-t), Curcic, Sellars; McGinlay (De Frietas, 75), Blake. Substitute not used: Davison (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland, Dorset).