The Thai consortium in the Sheffield Wednesday directors’ box could have been forgiven for walking out of Hillsborough at half-time, having first torn up their £30m takeover cheque.
The group of foreign businessmen, sitting with owner Milan Mandaric and chief executive Paul Aldridge in the club’s South Stand, were witness to a horrific opening by the Owls.
Before kick-off, all talk had been about head coach Stuart Gray’s side gatecrashing the play-offs following three successive Championship wins.
But resurgent Bolton Wanderers tore gaps in Wednesday’s defence, pinching the ball off Jaques Maghoma in the opening minute to allow Liam Feeney to stroke the ball home.
It was no surprise when the visitors doubled their advantage, former England striker Emile Heskey heading on for Darren Pratley to pounce, after left-back Claude Dielna dallied in front of a stunned Kop.
The Owls grabbed a lifeline when Adthe Nuhiu was hacked down inside the area by Matt Mills and Chris Maguire converted the penalty.
But the hosts looked vulnerable in defence and goalkeeper Keiren Westwood denied Craig Davies.
The Thai consortium have been in Sheffield to hold takeover talks with Mandaric, but the opening 45 minutes would have left them unimpressed.
At least they would have been encouraged by a second-half response that would have earned at least a point but for Stevie May seeing his ‘goal’ wrongly ruled out for offside.
The Scotland striker followed in after Nuhiu’s fierce effort crashed against the crossbar – defender Dielna also saw his long-range strike deflected onto the woodwork by goalkeeper Andy Lonergan – but his celebrations were cut short when the linesman flagged.
“We’ve looked at Stevie May’s goal and he was onside,” said Gray, with opposite number Neil Lennon also admitting the official got it wrong. “We’ve been punished by a poor decision. An official’s decision has probably cost us a point.
“We had a go in the second half and we had to push for the equaliser. Credit to the players for having a right good go.”
Loan signing Lewis Baker also went close to an equaliser only to be denied by a last-ditch block by Mills.
Wednesday’s attacking emphasis left gaps at the back and after Westwood raced out to deny Davies early in the half, the former Sunderland goalkeeper also kept his side in it with saves from Davies, Pratley and David Wheater.
To compound the Owls’ misery, substitute Sam Hutchinson – making his long-awaited return from injury – was sent off for two yellow cards after two sliding tackles on the soaked pitch.
The former Chelsea midfielder – who now has three red cards in 15 games for the Owls – was only making his fifth appearance of the season.
The 25-year-old will serve a one-match ban and misses the visit of Birmingham City a week tomorrow in his stop-start season.
“I thought the sending-off was harsh,” said right-back Liam Palmer. “The first booking, fair enough, it was an all-or-nothing challenge. If he gets the ball it’s a great tackle.
“Two fouls in quick succession came after that, but he has slid in for the initial challenge for the second one, with his back to the player when he has tackled him. I think the momentum of the pitch took him through.
“He will be gutted. He was sat in the dressing room and you could see on his face that he was gutted.
“He worked hard to get himself back, and he is a big player for us. To get sent off is disappointing for everybody.
“For the first tackle, I think he was enthusiastic. That’s the type of character he is, he wants to get there and win the ball, get us moving.”
Only Middlesbrough have a better defensive record than Wednesday in the Championship, despite Saturday’s shocking start. But Palmer admitted “it was just not good enough” and the Owls failed to combat Bolton’s direct style from the off.
“It was a disappointing result,” said the Owls defender. “The first 10 or 15 minutes was just not good enough and we gave ourselves too much to do.
“It was a two-goal lead and it was always uphill from there. The second half was a bit better, but in the end we just couldn’t get those two goals back. We were looking to kick on, but it just wasn’t to be.
“We had three good chances to get the equaliser, and then you never know if you can kick on and get the winner.
“I don’t think Stevie’s ‘goal’ was offside, I have had a look on the video. Then Lewis Baker’s chance got a good block, then from Claude at the end, the goalkeeper made a good save. We had chances to get the equaliser.
“As a team, we know we can’t not be at it. We rely on our good start in a game, the pressure, and it just wasn’t there.
“Their system allowed them to dictate the play, and it took us a while to get to grips with that.”