Johan Elmander answered Owen Coyle's invitation to prove his value, coming off the substitutes' bench to put a misleading gloss on Coyle's first win as the Bolton manager. The Sweden international striker – Bolton's record signing – clinched the struggling Premier League side's place in the fifth round six minutes from time after Coyle had given him 15 minutes to make an impact.
Elmander, for whom former manager Gary Megson paid £8.2 million to Toulouse 18 months ago, has been seen as a player Coyle might be willing to offload but a show of commitment on the training field has seemingly earned him a another chance.
Kept out of the starting line-up by Ivan Klasnic since making his last start in November, Elmander's angled shot, beating the Sheffield United goal-keeper, Mark Bunn, at his near post for the second time in the match, gave him only his ninth goal in a Bolton shirt, his fourth of the season.
"He came here with a reputation he had rightfully earned and I've said to him I would give him a fair crack of the whip, regardless of agents ringing up," Coyle said. "It is up to him to show that he is a top player."
Against their Championship opposition Bolton looked painfully laboured, particularly during a dire opening 45 minutes. A similar showing towards the end of Megson's reign would have seen them leave the field to noisy disapproval. Kevin Blackwell's team could feel satisfied with their performance to that point. They arrived with a run of one defeat in 12 and had Henri Camera not spurned their best first-half chance, lofting the ball over the bar after Lee Williamson's pass had left him with only Jussi Jaaskelainen to beat, Sheffield United might have been asking some testing questions of Coyle's new charges.
Instead, it was Bolton who went ahead, Kevin Davies's pass finding space behind the United defence for Gretar Steinsson to exploit on the overlap, the full-back's shot creeping past Bunn at the near post.
From Blackwell's point of view it looked like sloppy defending but to Coyle the move represented a good response after he delivered some sharp reminders at half-time that he wanted more in terms of an attacking threat than long balls hit in hope.
"I felt we needed to move the ball a bit more, add some passing to our play, because we had been a bit one-dimensional," he admitted.
It paid off as Elmander took his chance. The tireless Davies, back to goal as ever, was again at the hub of the movement, flicking the ball to Lee Chung-Yong, whose first-time pass exposed Andy Taylor, the United left-back, for the second time as Elmander ran into space. His angle was as tight as Steinsson's had been but the finish was equally crisp.
"It is disappointing because at times you wouldn't have known which was the Premier League team," Blackwell said, his gloom compounded by a torn hamstring suffered by centre-back Marcel Seip in the warm-up, leaving him in urgent need of defensive cover following the sale last week of Matthew Kilgallon to Sunderland.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Cahill
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content