Match Report: Sheffield United 2, Bolton Wanderers 0

Blades v Bolton

Blades v Bolton

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Another performance bristling with skill, power and purpose saw Sheffield United seize control of the race for promotion from League One.

Billy Sharp scored twice as Chris Wilder's side moved seven points clear at the top of the table following a deserved victory over Bolton Wanderers.

The manner of the win - Phil Parkinson's team, despite their perilous financial situation, is stuffed to the gills with talent - will please United's manager and his coaching staff no end. More importantly, however, it opened up a 10 point gap between themselves and the visitors who dropped to fourth.

Bolton, who boast games in hand on both second placed Scunthorpe and Fleetwood Town in third, caused some problems - especially before the interval - but, in truth, had no answer to their opponents' industry and fluency.

Responding to Gary Madine's bizarre criticism of his captain earlier this week, Wilder described Sharp as the best player in the division before this match. That opinion will not have changed by the sight of Sharp, League One's leading goalscorer, claiming his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season during the opening exchanges of what proved an absorbing game.

There was still work to do when Mark Duffy and John Fleck carved apart a Bolton rearguard which, having previously been breached on only 25 occasions, is the competition's best. Sharp, though, was coolness personified; sweeping a low drive towards the far post which crossed the line after hitting the inside of upright.

If United thought Bolton would crumble, they were mistaken. A series of crosses into the box caused more than a few headaches before Sharp pounced again.

Bolton will have been desperately disappointed with the circumstances which led to his second-half penalty; Mark Howard making a a complete ricket of a simple clearance which left David Wheater with little option but to bring Samir Carruthers down.

Sharp will dominate the headlines and quite rightly so. But the United substitute, introduced just past the hour mark, also deserves a mention in dispatches following his excellent cameo.

The first surprise of the afternoon actually came before kick-off when Parkinson decided to omit Madine from his matchday squad. The former Sheffield Wednesday striker did travel - he was spotted strolling around the pitch, flicking through a programme, before the game - but failed to make the starting eleven or the bench.

Parkinson, a good friend of Wilder's following their days together as young players at Southampton, appeared to inform Madine of his plans before retreating back to the dressing room.

Whatever the reason behind his thinking, it appeared to work as Bolton made a positive start before Paul Coutts saw a ninth minute shot deflected behind for a corner. That nearly led to the second when Jake Wright, who has never scored a league goal in his career, scooped just over the crossbar.

Dean Moxey cleared a James Hanson header off the line and, as the ball spiralled through the area, the United centre-half tried his luck on the volley before heading back to the half way line. Four minutes later, the hosts took the lead in wholly predictable fashion.

Sharp found himself in acres of space deep inside Bolton territory before picking his spot and slotting home past his former colleague Howard. The goalkeeper, recalled following Ben Alnwick's erratic performance at Bradford City last week, did his best to narrow the angle but United's captain was not to be denied.

Bolton dug in well and, with Parkinson directing operations from the technical area, fought their way back into the contest. Nevertheless, six minutres before the break, a wonderful opportunity presented itself for United to stretch their lead. Kieron Freeman burst down the flank and cut inside after spotting Duffy's surge forward.

His pass would have been perfect had the midfielder checked his run rather than continuing towards the six yard box and Bolton survived.

United attempted to seize control of the second-half with Hanson, whose ability in the air caused all manner of problems, cushioned the ball into Sharp's path but he dragged wide. A lovely interchange involving Freeman and Sharp ended the the ball being scrambled clear as United applied some concerted pressure.

Freeman was involved again soon after when, having been released by Fleck's superb pass, he just failed to find Hanson lurking on the penalty spot. Howard did well to react when Sharp, who had escaped his marker, tried to convert with his back to goal.

In the 70th minute, United did extend their lead. Howard made a hash of a routine clearance and when Wheater brought down Carruthers, referee Mike Dean had little option but to point to the spot. Sharp, standing in front of The Kop, paused, glanced at one corner and duly slipped the ball into the other.

Carruthers, who had earlier hit the side-netting following a lovely piece of individual skill, was excellent as he staked a serious claim for a starting role.

Sheffield United: Moore, Fleck, O'Connell, Basham, Sharp (Ebanks-Landell 90), Wright, Coutts, Hanson, Freeman, Duffy (Carruthers 64), Lafferty. Not used: Long, Lavery, Done, Wilson, O'Shea.

Bolton Wanderers: Howard, Moxey, Beevers, Vela, Osede, Morais, Henry, Wheater, Thorpe (Dervite 44), Wilkinson (Clayton 66), Le Fondre (Long 64). Not used: Solomon-Otabor, Alnwick, Trotter, Wabara.

Referee: Mike Dean (The Wirrall).

Attendance: 27,165.