Venus ends Shilton's resistance

THE PLAY-OFFS: Wolves and Reading take an early advantage in the race for a Premiership place while Second Division rivals end all square
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The Independent Online

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2

Bolton Wanderers 1

A First Division play-off semi-final which often resembled a private duel between two former England colleagues, Steve Bull and Peter Shilton, was eventually settled in Wolves' favour by the unsung Mark Venus at Molineux yesterday.

Only once did the striker with more than 250 goals get the better of the keeper with nearly 1,000 League appearances to his name. But after Jason McAteer's equaliser, Bolton were promptly breached again by Venus and can think themselves fortunate to be going into Wednesday's second leg just one goal in arrears.

A measure of Wolves' superiority was a corner count of 19-1 in their favour. Don Goodman also shook the visitors' crossbar in either half, the second instance coming 40 seconds before the 78th-minute dismissal of Bolton's Neil McDonald for a second bookable offence. His exit was the signal for renewed pressure by Wolves, yet Shilton, who will be 46 in September, stood firm.

Bruce Rioch had given Shilton his first starting appearance in 19 months because of injury to Keith Branagan. Wolves supporters' initial irreverance - the ritual chorus of "Who are yer?" - quickly gave way to the wittier taunt of "Where's your mortgage gone?" Shilton laughed them off, and set about justifying his manager's gamble.

He made his first outstanding save as early as the sixth minute, diving to divert David Kelly's shot away from goal and the onrushing Robbie Dennison. Kelly suffered at his hands again before Shilton denied Bull, who had sidestepped Gudni Bergsson and shot with characteristic venom, with agility that belied his age.

Bull finally found the target with a near-post header from Dennison's cross in the 44th minute, although even then Shilton put a hand on the ball. Bolton, restricted to long-range efforts, were level 75 seconds into the second half, McAteer's mis-hit drive from 22 yards sailing over Mike Stowell after Wolves had been mesmerised by Alan Thompson's trickery.

Graham Taylor's team regained the initiative in the 51st minute. A corner by Gordon Cowans was headed goalwards by Goodman, whose knack of finding the woodwork for once deserted him. With the ball almost beneath the bar, Venus, the left-back, rose to score a potentially invaluable goal.

McDonald, having upended Mark Rankine for the second time, was duly banished by Mr Wilkes, an excellent referee. Bergsson then headed off the line from Bull's header, although the final word went to Bolton's veteran last line of defence as he sprung to his right to keep out a drive by Cowans. It might be folly to bet against a Wembley reprise for Shilton on 29 May.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Stowell; Andy Thompson, Shirtliff, Richards, Venus; Goodman, Rankine, Cowans, Dennison; Bull, D Kelly. Substitutes not used: Law, Wright, Jones (gk).

Bolton Wanderers (5-3-2): Shilton; Green, Stubbs, Bergsson, Dreyer, Phillips; McAteer, McDonald, Alan Thompson; McGinlay (Coyle, 71), Paatelinen. Substitutes not used: Lee, Davison (gk)

Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucester).