Owen Coyle rediscovered his touch last night, or so it seemed as his team played brisk, precise football again and he celebrated in front of his fans at the end. The secret, though, was not what he meant to the Bolton fans, but to those of Blackburn.
There was always a plausible mitigation for Bolton's 2011 collapse. Owen Coyle's side, while built on steam, at least had a set of passable footballers to rely on. Stuart Holden, Lee Chung-Yong and Daniel Sturridge can each trap a football, allowing Coyle to create a team briefly celebrated as Gary Megson's opposite. With Sturridge back at Chelsea, and Lee and Holden injured, Coyle has had the wheels of his 2010 bandwagon removed. Without them, he has been unable to find any other source of direction or purpose, losing 20 from 25 league games.
Last night, though, Coyle finally found the missing ingredient, the necessary condition, the right stage, for a return to some better football: it was the most welcoming environment in top flight football memory.
Bolton, as John McCain might have predicted, were welcomed as liberators at Ewood Park last night. The Blackburn team spent the first half static, flaccid and clumsy. Mark Davies' goal came when Paul Robinson was prevented from claiming the ball by impeding defenders, as a throng of nine Rovers in the penalty area somehow allowed Bolton to find a route through them and into the net. The second goal was not much better, as Blackburn's right flank again generously stepped aside to allow Martin Petrov through them, as he crossed to Nigel Reo-Coker who scored.
Yakubu and Junior Hoillet showed enterprise in the second half, and at least seemed like footballers who had given consideration to the whereabouts of the opposition goal, but with nine behind them playing in a trance it was not enough. Blackburn, for the most part, played with the embarrassed passivity of an army hoping to hasten their general's surrender. But they looked like the fiercest Steve Kean die-hards compared the Blackburn fans. The banners, the rage, the chanting, the fly-pasts are all common, and have been all season, but this was something new: a derby game, in which the home fans' hatred was entirely directed upstairs.
Bolton might have been the opposition but they were not the enemy. Owen Coyle found himself welcomed at Ewood, and made himself comfortable.