Bolton 2-1 Blackburn: Daily Mirror match report
Published 21:34 25/03/12 By Mike Walters
After the hearts and flowers, flashbacks and sleeping sickness, comes the bunch of grapes.
Bolton players are planning to visit miracle-man Fabrice Muamba in hospital on the way to a haunting encore at White Hart Lane for their rebooted FA Cup quarter-final against Tottenham tomorrow night.
On and off the pitch, with the priceless garnish of three points, the Trotters unfurled a grand tribute to their cardiac patient in intensive care 214 miles away.
From the pulses of chanting Muamba’s name on four sides of the Reebok to the shrine extolling his fight for life outside the main entrance, the mosaic of cards in the Nat Lofthouse stand before kick-off and even subs wearing No.6 on their fluorescent bibs, the dignity reflected only credit on everyone at a famous old club.
When a match broke out amid the solemnity, Blackburn played their part as fall-guys compliantly, granting David Wheater the freedom of their penalty box to plunder his first Premier League goals since 2008. On the final whistle, Bolton manager Owen Coyle convened a public huddle to remind his shattered players of emotional challenges ahead.
And as Muamba’s team-mates emerged from one of the strangest weeks of their lives – as a bleak prognosis turned to an air of optimism – they admitted the toll of suspense had finally given way, in some cases, to exhaustion.
Two-goal Wheater revealed Muamba was being treated to a Saturday night screening of the testimonial in his name, saying: “We were told they were going to put a TV in Fab’s room on Saturday night so he could watch Match of the Day – and hopefully he could see we did him proud.
“It’s been a hard week – we like to have fun in training, but it’s not easy to do that when one of your mates is lying in hospital, and we know it will be difficult going back to White Hart Lane.
“The few days we had off at the beginning of the week were long, hard days. I was walking around like a zombie, everyone was.
“But now we know he’s getting better, we can go there and play for him as we did against Blackburn. I’ve known Fab for 10 years through the England set-ups, and he won’t believe I scored twice – I don’t think anyone can – but it wasn’t really the time for running around celebrating.
“Even in a local derby, going crazy over the winning goals didn’t seem right.”
Midfielder Darren Pratley, whose near-post header at Spurs nine days ago was an innocuous prologue to the ordeal which would soon engulf both sides when the Cup tie was abandoned, admitted: “If that can bring Fab a bit of enjoyment in hospital, the boys have done well, but it’s been the hardest week of my life.
“It’s been hard to sleep and you lose track of the days, so I’ve not even thought about going back to Tottenham too much.
“We would like to see him again when we are in London, but we don’t want to smother him.”
And defender Sam Ricketts spoke optimistically of Bolton securing a return to Wembley, where they were humiliated in the semi-finals by Stoke 11 months ago, and taking Muamba with them as a VIP cheerleader and poster boy for the NHS.
Ricketts said: “Once we knew Fab was improving we couldn’t wait for the game so we could show our support for him. From last Saturday until maybe Tuesday or Wednesday, the lads weren’t sleeping and there were a few who were having flashbacks to certain things they had seen on the pitch at Tottenham.
“With the fantastic progress he is making, we have to use that as motivation to produce another performance. It would be fantastic if we could go back to Wembley and he came with us.”
Only the coldest, meanest observer would deny Bolton their sunnier outlook after the unspeakable drama of Muamba’s cardiac arrest and the 78 minutes in which medics fought heroically to restore his pulse as a footballer’s life hung in the balance.
Only partisan Rovers fans would deny their neighbours’ relief at the increasingly positive bulletins from the London Chest Hospital or their bonus of climbing out of the drop zone with a hard-fought win which owed more to willpower than finesse.
And only the gods who spared Muamba’s life know how Blackburn failed to capitalise more on Trotters’ keeper Adam Bogdan’s scissorhands flapping than the Steven Nzonzi header which gave them hope of an undeserved point.