Make no mistake about it, the crucial Premier League meeting between Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers was arguably one of the biggest games in Bolton’s history. Just a week after Fabrice Muamba’s tragic collapse on the White Hart Lane turf, the Bolton players were thrust back into action against relegation rivals Blackburn, a town 13 miles down the road.
Bolton manager Owen Coyle asked his players midweek if they were ready to play, perhaps feeling his side would want to go out and show the football world what their stricken teammate means to them. Indeed, Bolton came roaring out of the blocks, taking the lead inside half an hour. By half-time Bolton were two goals to the good, with David Wheater showing his strength in the air to score two vital goals for his side.
A second-half header from Steven N’Zonzi broke Bolton’s resistance slightly but Blackburn could not find that elusive second goal that would have seen them unbeaten in three games. In all, it was a fantastic performance from Bolton and a huge three points that saw them climb out of the relegation zone.
Credit must be due to the home fans as they sang their hearts out for 90 minutes and acted as a 12th man in Bolton’s hour of need. When the supporters held cards spelling out ‘MUAMBA 6‘ it was an image that will stay in the memory for a long time and could only have boosted Bolton’s players, a reminder that their colleague was with them in spirit despite being hundreds of miles away in hospital.
Bolton now travel to Tottenham Hotspur for the rescheduled FA Cup clash at White Hart Lane, the site of Muamba’s collapse. It is a tough ask for Bolton to travel back down to the very same place where they saw their midfield enforcer fall less than a fortnight ago. This will surely be on the minds of the players and staff, as well as the travelling Wanderers fans. Coyle will be aware of this and will make sure the players are focussed on the game and not the occasion as this will be the only way he will see his side progress to the semi-finals.
The Bolton players will certainly be buoyed by the progress Fabrice Muamba is making, as well as their fantastic result at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday and with Tottenham winning only one game out of their last seven, there surely cannot be a better time for Bolton to shine.
A win at Tottenham would see a trip to Wembley for the Bolton faithful, which will help ease a fraction of the pain suffered from having their young midfielder missing from the side for the foreseeable future.
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