Marc Iles big match verdict: Bolton Wanderers 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1
ONE step forward, half a step back, it is a testing time indeed to follow Bolton Wanderers.
Older fans will attest that the club has fallen on much harder times, but for a younger generation the last few years have been a first real test of faith.
All those Premier League days are still so very fresh in the memory. Convincing people there is nothing to be concerned about by taking a point at home to a side yet to win a game this season is no mean feat.
And yet that is exactly the situation Dougie Freedman finds himself in right now. Euphoria over the victory at Birmingham City proved shortlived, and once again his players wilted under the scrutiny of their own fans at the Reebok.
This was not the same Bolton Wanderers that had fought tooth and nail for a point at Blackpool, nor the one that had risen to the occasion in front of the TV cameras at St Andrew’s.
This was an insular Wanderers team playing inside itself once again. But, crucially, one with enough mettle to hold on to a point when it could easily have escaped them.
You don’t need to tell Sheffield Wednesday about the pressures of playing at home.
Hillsborough has become something of a bogey ground for them in recent years, and Dave Jones’s muscular, physical side look much more comfortable setting themselves up away from South Yorkshire for results just like this.
They won’t be slipping through the Championship trapdoor any time soon and few really expect Wanderers to remain in their current lowly position for much longer.
But improvement is not happening quickly enough for a lot of people, and as Freedman enters into his first full year in charge, it seems he has found himself in the same situation he inherited, nursing a team whose fragile confidence is preventing them from realising their full potential.
Wanderers stood up – just – to a physical battering against Wednesday, but it was in the creativity and finishing stakes that they struggled.
It was a big chance for the recalled Chris Eagles to shine, but he played for the most part as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
After scooping a good opportunity over the bar midway through the second half he was hauled off, looking visibly upset as he jogged towards the touchline.
It is quite a different story for one of Freedman’s other key men, Jermaine Beckford, who conjured a fine finish to open the scoring but then fluffed a much simpler chance in the closing stages that would have guaranteed three points.
His reaction, speaking after the game, was not of a man looking to dwell on the incident.
“It could have been a winner,” he shrugged. “Football is about chances. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. You have got to keep your head up and hopefully next game I will get a couple.”
Wednesday were equally, if not more, wasteful in front of goal.
Alex Baptiste gave them a helping hand with a mis-directed header that cancelled out Beckford’s 16th-minute opener, but the Owls could have been out of sight by the hour mark.
Adam Bogdan had shipped eight goals playing for Hungary last week before being dropped from the team to face Andorra.
All eyes were on his response which, luckily for Wanderers, was bang on the money.
The Whites stopper made first-half saves from Matty Fryatt and Reda Johnson and then got an assist from his post in denying the excellent Jeremy Helan shortly after the restart.
Michail Antonio also lashed a volley inches wide but Wednesday’s chief gripe will be how a second-half header from Jermaine Johnson was ruled out by referee’s assistant Sian Massey.
Beckford half-cleared a free kick to the edge of the box and when former Whites winger Johnson sent his effort back in on goal, Massey’s flag went up quickly for offside against his namesake Reda.
Matt Mills then made a fine block from Lewis Buxton in front of his own goal, and with 15 minutes to go it seemed the visitors might just break their winning duck.
The introduction of Chung-Yong Lee and then Rob Hall shifted momentum, however, and the latter had a big shout for a penalty turned down by referee Chris Foy when it appeared he had been felled by Buxton on the edge of the box.
Moments later, the young winger may have been lucky to stay on the pitch as he went flying into a tackle on the same man.
Tempers were starting to flare and so when Jose Semedo lunged into a challenge on Jay Spearing in the centre circle with one leg clearly off the floor, it was no surprise when Foy reached for a straight red.
On closer inspection, the Portuguese midfielder got some of the ball, but while the Owls announced immediately they would appeal, it would be a brave man to bet on his three-match ban being overturned.
Semedo left the pitch in tears – must be something about the Reebok – and left his side on the back foot for the rest of the game.
Chung-Yong had a brief glimpse of goal but saw his shot blocked. Wanderers poured forward late on and forced a flurry of corners.
In the end, it was Chris Kirkland who guaranteed a point for his side with two brilliant saves to push away two separate headers from Mills deep into injury time.
Had one crept by the former England man then the outlook heading into next weekend’s game at home to Ipswich would have been much, much brighter.
But such is the finely-balanced climate around the Reebok these days that the point just didn’t cut it for many of the fans.
Ultimately, until the points start to flow in front of home supporters both Freedman and his players are going to have to grin and bear it through a few more days like these.