Former Owl Gary Madine got the only goal as Bolton surprised the home side with an attacking and confident performance for the first half hour. After a poor start and changes to personnel United improved and Leon Clarke missed a one on one. In the second half, United were the better side but only managed to create a couple of clear chances with George Baldock denied by Ben Alnwick and then somehow Clarke scooped over at the death. Bolton slowed the game down and did what they had to in a classic away performance. In truth, it was a sub standard performance by United against a poor side. Manager Chris Wilder on reflection was wrong to make changes to the side and paid the price as we were chasing the game.
Bolton began the game with a few meaty tackles and were in the ascendancy early with Madine winning two headers and Henry winning the loose ball to lead to a half chance for Le Fondre. United came out and had a half chance as Duffy took his time to jink past two men but his cross was half cleared and Fleck’s flicked volley looped high and wide. Still, the away side had began well and poor mistakes from O’Connell and then Lundstram gave the Wanderers possession. They won a series of free kicks and corners without seriously troubling United but had won the early skirmishes in midfield and Madine was proving a handful.
Indeed, the visitors took the lead after good initial build up down the left saw Robinson play a one two and without a challenge put over a delightful cross that cut out the whole United defence and with O’Connell stationery, MADINE met it and scored easily from close range. He celebrated predictably with glee in front of the Kop.
Robinson then nearly got in again before Le Fondre had an effort. Fleck was then booked for a late tackle before Wilder had seen enough and replaced Carter Vickers with Baldock; with Basham moving inside.
Baldock almost had an instant impact as he played in Clarke; got on the return but his shot lacked power and was palmed away in United’s first attempt at goal. Soon after they should have scored. Duffy’s through ball was perfection and Clarke beat the offside trap but he maybe had too much time and his shot hit the legs of Alnwick and deflected behind for a corner. It was a great chance for United to level.
The second half began in stop start fashion with few real chances either way. United were having more of the ball but had created little. A Clarke looping header was the only real effort before Madine actually had the best chance of the half with a low shot that Moore saved after the defence had let him get in too easily. Fleck was becoming more influential and the wing backs overlapping well but Bolton kept a good shape and the home fans began to get frustrated.
O’Connell headed well wide when well placed from a corner and then Donaldson replaced the ineffective Sharp. United had a good chance when the impressive Baldock came inside and had his first shot blocked and then his second looked all the world a goal but Alnwick saved superbly down low to finger tip behind for a corner.
The final roll of the dice was Carruthers coming on for Stearman as United went to a flatter back 4 with Lundstram just in front and Fleck, Carruthers and Duffy supplanting the front two. Bolton also made a number of changes. Baldock fired wildly over before Donaldson had a good chance but skewed his effort badly wide. The game continued to be stop start with the referee letting Alnwick take an age over goal kicks and wanting to speak to every player for no real reason after every foul!
There was 6 minutes of stoppage time to be played and United finally created some clear chances. A lovely ball from Basham played in Baldock whose centre looked perfect for Clarke to score but somehow, he scooped over on the stretch with the goal at his mercy. United kept coming and forced Bolton further back but a few shots were blocked and then Carruthers low shot went wide to signal a disappointing end to a superb 2017.