MARC ILES MONDAY MATCH VERDICT - Sheffield Wednesday 1 Bolton Wanderers 3
“MADE in Bolton” – a T-shirt logo suggestion for the Wanderers marketing department if and when our home-grown contingent becomes a regular feature of Dougie Freedman’s first team.
If anyone wanted to see the benefits of giving youth a chance, they need only open their ears in the second half at Hillsborough as local lads Oscar Threlkeld and Andy Kellett were serenaded from high up in the away end.
Opening your eyes did the trick too, with both youngsters pouring everything they had into one of the Whites’ best performances of the season.
This isn’t a case of being parochial. Had Londoner Tom Youngs had longer on the pitch or even Bulgaria-born Georg Iliev been given his chance out there, the support would have been equally unequivocal.
But now, more than ever, Wanderers need their fans to identify with them and there is no better way of achieving that than having them cheer on one of their own.
Freedman has been engaged in an ongoing battle over his youth policy, with fans unconvinced he was backing up his words with actions.
All along he wanted the same thing, the difference being is that he sets the bar and pays the consequences.
And so rather than turn the success of Bromley Cross’s own Andy Kellett or Farnworth’s Oscar Threlkeld into a stick to beat the Scot – how about using it as a benchmark for the other young players to reach, an incentive for them to double their efforts on the training pitches at Lostock?
Too much hard work and good money goes into the club’s conveyor belt for it to be ignored by the senior ranks, as it seems to have been in the not-too-distant past. But equally, that end product needs to be up to standard.
There have been disagreements, friction even, within the walls of the club about exactly where those standards should be set. But the evidence of the last couple of weeks, when Hayden White and Chris Lester have also seized their chance, illustrate the considerable benefits of making it work.
Wednesday were poor, their minds already on summer holiday, but the ruthlessness Wanderers showed in the opening half hour made this a hugely enjoyable experience.
Jermaine Beckford played up front alone but his pace on the shoulder of home centre-halves Oguchi Onyewu and Glen Loovens had them rattled from the first attack.
Sure, the Bolton striker seemed to spend more time offside than on – video replays show he was dealt a bad hand on a few occasions by the linesman – but his movement and link-play was great to watch.
Beckford sprung the offside trap for the opening goal, turning a cross back to Neil Danns to crash home ahead of Joe Mattock.
It wasn’t long before a second goal arrived. Mattock was again the guilty party as his mis-placed pass allowed Chung-Yong Lee a free run before the Korean’s scuffed shot caught Chris Kirkland off-guard and dribbled almost apologetically into the net.
It was the kind of afternoon where everything was going right at that stage. So when Liam Trotter turned on to Tim Ream’s throw to send a looping half-volley over Kirkland’s head from 25 yards, it seemed anything was possible.
Trotter deserves a change in luck. Unfairly pilloried in more troubled times by some fans, the on-loan Millwall midfielder has improved leaps and bounds in his last few outings and now looks much more comfortable in the team.
Beckford had one goal chalked out for offside before Wednesday gave themselves a thoroughly undeserved lifeline.
Mattock made amends for some of his mistakes with an absolute thunderbolt from the edge of the box, creating a little period of uncertainty before the break.
Adam Bogdan made one excellent save from Caolan Lavery’s swerving shot but any revival hopes faded after the break.
Wanderers should have put themselves way out of sight.
Kirkland denied Danns after Chung-Yong Lee has put him clean through on goal.
Chung-Yong then had a chance to make it four himself as Beckford and Rob Hall combined before the Korean’s attempted chip landed the wrong side of the crossbar. The arrival of Kellett and Lukas Jutkiewicz from the bench spiced things up in the end and made sure the contest did not peter out from Wanderers’ perspective.
Kellett so nearly created a fourth, dancing round two defenders before crossing low for Danns, who was denied by Kirkland’s legs.
The margin of victory should have been greater but the travelling fans seemed oblivious – giving a standing ovation as the massed hoards of home supporters headed for the exit.
That made for a rather embarrassing lap round the pitch for the Wednesday players at the end but heaven knows, at least they got one.
Being in the White Rose county clearly brings out the best in Wanderers – this was their fifth away win on the spin in Yorkshire, with Wednesday joining Barnsley, Leeds, Huddersfield and Doncaster Rovers on th’hit list.
But getting it right at home next weekend against Birmingham now becomes so important.
The last thing Freedman wants is for the fans to slump out into the streets on Saturday as so many Sheffielders did at Hillsborough.
If the Whites could have brought the curtain down on their season with this performance, they probably would have done.
In tapping into some local pride, however, perhaps the manager has found a way he can really raise the “Reebok” roof one more time next weekend.