Bolton 1 Sheffield United 0: Opening day blues for new boss Chris Wilder's Blades

Billy Sharp tussles with Darren Pratley
Billy Sharp tussles with Darren Pratley

They came, they saw and really should have conquered.

But Chris Wilder's reign as Sheffield United manager instead began with a defeat as Bolton Wanderers secured all three points at the Macron Stadium.

John Fleck impressed on his Blades debut

John Fleck impressed on his Blades debut

Jay Spearing's goal, scored during the closing stages of a first-half the visitors had largely dominated, proved enough to settle this hard-fought League One fixture between two clubs fancied to mount promotion challenges.

Bolton, who grew in stature after the break, finished the afternoon with 10 men when Darren Pratley succumbed to injury after three changes had been made.

But, try as they might, an equaliser eluded United and their 4357 strong travelling support during six frantic minutes of added time.

Spearing's strike was perfectly executed but flattering on a Bolton team which had spent most of the first-half trying to keep United at bay. The midfielder, a graduate of Liverpool's youth academy, powered the ball past a helpless George Long after finding himself in space 20 yards from goal.

Leon Clarke had United's best first-half chance with this header

Leon Clarke had United's best first-half chance with this header

Although United's marking left a little to be desired, they still had every right to feel aggrieved. Leon Clarke, Billy Sharp and Chris Basham had earlier come within a whisker of edging them into what would have been a deserved lead.

The second-half, to begin with at least, unfolded in much the same fashion. United, tough in the tackle and extremely tenacious, did most of the running while Bolton looked to exploit their physical prowess. Pratley, Phil Parkinson's captain, nearly did exactly that when he met Dean Moxey's long-throw but Long produced a superb save to divert his glancing header wide.

As the contest wore on, so United's play became more ragged. Whether it was a symptom of their urgency, Bolton's power or a combination of both was unclear. But Wilder will certainly have wanted to see a little more quality in the final third.

Despite including six debutants in their starting eleven, United took only six minutes to discover some rhythm.

Bolton, with Gary Madine spearheading their attack, proved a handful from set-piece situations during the opening exchanges. But, after seeing Long force his way through a crowd to punch clear early on, it was Wilder's team who created the first clear cut opening of the game. Clarke, like Madine a former Sheffield Wednesday centre-forward, met a deep centre at the far post but miscalculated his angles and directed a header wide.

It was a disappointing miss for a player who scored 18 goals for Bury last term. But it also served to suck some of the wind out of Bolton's sails. Moments later, Chris Hussey made good progress down United's left flank and whipped a dangerous low ball across Mark Howard's six yard box. Try and he might, though, Sharp could not get a touch. The same fate befell Clarke midway through the first period when, after David Wheater had produced a superb tackle to deny Basham, Mark Duffy tested Bolton's resolve.

Whatever their off-the-pitch problems, no side managed by Parkinson ever rolls over without a fight.

So, after surviving United's pressure by the skin of their teeth, Bolton began to land a few blows as the interval approached. Not least on John Brayford who required treatment after receiving a hefty knock to the head as United repelled another long ball into Long's penalty area. Nevertheless, Speaing's 37th minute effort still came against the run of play.

An audacious attempt from Madine underlined Bolton's threat but Wilder's charges continued to look the better team. Howard, previously of United, produced a decent reaction save to push Matt Done's header over the crossbar before Sharp hit the target only to be ruled offside.

Long excelled himself to thwart Pratley although, by now, Bolton appeared a much more conhesive unit than before.

Pratley's exit, after Parkinson had made his third substitution, handed United a numerical advantage. But Bolton's nerve held.

Bolton Wanderers: Howard, Buxton, Moxey, Beevers, Vela (Davies 60), Taylor, Spearing (Trotter 77), Madine (Proctor 70), Pratley, L Wilson, Wheater. Not used: Amos, Osede, Trotter, Walker, Woolery.

Sheffield United: Long, Brayford, Hussey, Fleck, O'Connell, Basham, Sharp, Done (Adams 66), J Wilson, Duffy (Scougall 66), Clarke. Not used: Ramsdale, McNulty, Wright snr, Coutts, Wallace.

Referee: R Joyce (Teesside).