Bolton 3 Sheffield Utd 2: Blades’ frailties in defence prove crucial as Wanderers edge exciting tie

Sheffield United's Caolan Lavery acknowledges the visiting fans' applause at full-time at Bolton (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage).
Sheffield United's Caolan Lavery acknowledges the visiting fans' applause at full-time at Bolton (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage).
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TO A manager once responsible for one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history, victory on a bitterly cold afternoon at a stadium less than a quarter full could perhaps seem like small beer.

Phil Parkinson’s reaction, however, when his Bolton Wanderers side scored a third – and, as it turned out, decisive – goal suggested this win meant every bit as much as that famous triumph over Chelsea as Bradford City manager.

Josh Vela rolling the ball past Aaron Ramsdale following neat play by Zach Clough to put the hosts 3-1 ahead was the cue for the 49-year-old to charge off down the touchline with his arms aloft.

At one stage, Parkinson seemed set to ape Jose Mourinho’s famous celebration at Old Trafford after Porto had triumphed in the Champions League only to check his run after 10 yards or so.

Chris Wilder’s body language in the away dugout as Parkinson then pumped his fists at the home fans sitting in the main stand’s lower tier also told its own story.

Hands deep in pockets and huddled against the cold under a woolly hat, the Sheffield United chief, suffering from a cold, cut a frustrated figure.

His Blades side would, a couple of minutes later, set up a frantic finale when Jack O’Connell cut the deficit in half by heading in a corner but, ultimately, this was to be a frustraing afternoon for the Yorkshire club.

Clearly, this was a Cup tie that mattered hugely to two men who, 30 years earlier, had shared digs as apprentices at Southampton.

Parkinson’s joy at going through was understandable. He knows all about the joy that the world’s oldest competition can bring from his time at Valley Parade and now Bolton have a potential shot at glory against one of the big clubs in the third round.

Just as importantly for a club whose owner admitted just last week that administration remains a possibility at the Macron Stadium, the financial benefits of a decent Cup run cannot be overstated.

“I would like one of the big guns,” said the Wanderers’ chief when asked about who he wants in tonight’s draw. “Not just because of the financial implications, but to see us test ourselves against a really good side.

“This was a really good tie between two good sides, as I expected it to be. At 2-0, we got ourselves in a great position and then at 3-1 the game should have been over.

“But Sheffield United came back and made it a bit edgy towards the end. The main thing, though, is we got through.”

On an afternoon of incredible comebacks in the FA Cup and Premier League, United simply gave themselves too much to do.

Goals were conceded at vital times, while at the other end the Blades spurned several excellent opportunities that could have changed the course of the tie.

Never was this more the case than when Stefan Scougall volleyed wide in the first half when the score remained goalless.

Paul Coutts helped create the opening with a deep cross from the left flank that found Kieron Freeman in plenty of space.

A cushioned header from the wing-back then provided the unmarked Scougall with a volleyed chance from six yards out that he somehow managed to put wide.

It was a poor miss and one that United were made to pay for on the stroke of half-time. Gary Madine, one of three former Sheffield Wednesday strikers on the pitch, made the breakthrough with a close-range finish after Lawrie Wilson had flicked a long throw into his path.

Bolton going ahead in such a manner was fitting, as set-pieces had provided their biggest threat in the first half.

The best of these came in the wake of Aaron Ramsdale pulling off two saves in quick succession to earn the hosts a corner that David Wheater forced goalwards.

Replays suggested the ball crossed the line before Reece Brown made the clearance, but the linesman would not be swayed by Wheater’s subsequent protests. “If that had cost us a place in the third round,” said Parkinson afterwards, “a lot more would have been made of it.”

It was a big let-off, but one the Blades could not take advantage of as, first, Madine opened the scoring and then Sammy Ameobi doubled Bolton’s advantage a minute into the second half with a stunning left-foot finish from 25 yards.

United regained a foothold in the tie just after the hour when Paul Coutts’s shot from the edge of the area took a slight deflection en route to the net, but Vela restored the hosts’ two-goal advantage with a lovely finish six minutes from time.

Jack O’Connell did raise hopes of a comeback to rival those of Bournemouth and AFC Wimbledon earlier in the day, but, ultimately, it was Parkinson dreaming of a big third-round tie come the final whistle.

Bolton Wanderers: Alnwick; A Taylor, Wheater, Beevers, Wilson; Thorpe (Osede 75), Spearing, Ameobi (C Taylor 80), Vela; Clough, Madine (Proctor 84). Unused substitutes: Turner, Buxton, Moxey, Anderson.

Sheffield United: Ramsdale; Brown (Duffy 49), Basham, O’Connell; Freeman, Coutts, Scougall (Sharp 84), Fleck, Hussey; Lavery, Clarke. Unused substitutes: Moore, Lafferty, Reed, Whiteman, Done.