Coyle wary of emotional return to Tottenham
Bolton Wanderers 2 Blackburn 1: Bolton manager admits trip to Lane will be hard for his players after Muamba's collapse
The Reebok Stadium
Monday 26 March 2012
There is one more hurdle for Bolton's footballers to overcome before they can approach the remains of the season with anything like a feeling of normality – tomorrow's return to White Hart Lane.
It was very easy to forget that Bolton were in the middle of an FA Cup quarter-final when Fabrice Muamba collapsed, and tomorrow night that game has to be replayed.
Owen Coyle's players will sit in the same dressing room they left before their young midfielder fell to the turf, his heart stopped. They will face the same opposition for the same prize, a Wembley semi-final, but the emotions and the team talk will be very different.
Coyle's team talk at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday was brief and to the point. David Wheater, the unexpected scorer of both of Bolton's goals that took the club out of the relegation zone, said that the tributes paid to Muamba, especially the sight of the Nat Lofthouse Stand holding up placards that spelt the player's name "gave me goosebumps". He was not the only one.
In the London Chest Hospital, where the 23-year-old has made an astonishing recovery, they provided Muamba with a television so he could watch Match of the Day with his family. Normally, Bolton versus Blackburn - however parlous the two clubs' league positions - would not be the first item on the programme's schedule. These, however, are not normal times.
Whether Muamba and his family will want to watch tomorrow night's game is another matter. "You are right, going back to White Hart Lane will be harder," Coyle said. "But the positive thing is that Fabrice is getting better. If he had not been, it would have been a different conversation we would be having. You have got to understand what is involved.
"The fact he is getting better gives a chance for both clubs. Tottenham have been an absolute credit to themselves in terms of their medical staff who acted together with Andrew Deaner [the Spurs supporter and cardiologist], who came out of the stands to help.
"Because it is a live game, it is a chance to show everybody, worldwide, our thanks for the support they have shown. There is no doubt that Shauna [ Muamba's fiancée], myself and the whole family have felt that energy and goodwill towards Fabrice and I think that filtered through to him."
The sight of Manchester United's Javier Hernandez kneeling to pray before kick-off apart, the Premier League is not known for openly embracing religion. However, in the aftermath of Muamba's collapse, the common exhortation was to pray. When a man's heart stops for 78 minutes, there appears nothing else to do.
The appeal to prayer was repeated many times in the carpet of flowers, messages and shirts strewn in front of the players' entrance at the Reebok Stadium. This was a shrine to a man who was still alive, a symbol of hope and a reminder that, however they are pilloried for their salaries and their abilities are mocked on radio phone-ins, footballers are human beings.
It took Liverpool 18 days to play again after the Hillsborough disaster, an emotional goalless draw with Everton. By then Kenny Dalglish's footballers were desperate to get back on the pitch, if only to give vent to their anger. This was very different - thanks to the astonishing display of medical care nobody died at White Hart Lane - but for the footballers the victim was closer to home.
"In the early part of the week, until we knew how well Fab was doing, nobody wanted to play football," said the Bolton defender Sam Ricketts. "From very early on, from last Saturday until maybe Tuesday or Wednesday, the lads weren't sleeping. There were a few, who even when they were asleep, had flashbacks to the things they had seen on Saturday.
"It wasn't until we knew Fab was doing so well that we could start to erase those memories and start thinking of happier ones. It has been such an emotional drain. With what it can do to your body being so low and then coming out to such a high, a couple of the lads have been ill with relief."
Bolton: BOGDAN 5/10, STEINSSON 6, WHEATER 7, REAM 6, RICKETTS 7, REO-COKER 7, MIYAICHI 6, PRATLEY 6, M DAVIES 7, PETROV 8, NGOG 5
Blackburn: ROBINSON 7, MARTIN, OLSSON 6, HANLEY 5, DANN 5, LOWE 6, MARCUS OLSSON 7, PEDERSEN 6, FORMICA 5, YAKUBU 6, HOILETT 6
Scorers: Bolton Wanderers Wheater 28, 35. Blackburn Rovers Nzonzi 56.
Substitutes: Bolton Klasnic (Ngog, 79). Blackburn Dunn 6 (Formica, 65).
Booked: Blackburn Lowe, Marcus Olsson.
Man of the match Petrov. Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Bolton 53% Blackburn 47%.
Attempts on target: Bolton 6 Blackburn 4.
Referee A Marriner (West Midlands). Attendance 26,091.
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