Unlikely hero Wheater gets Bolton out of drop zone
MIXED IN with the genuine concern and heartfelt best wishes for Fabrice Muamba at Bolton on Saturday were the first few tentative jokes, more a sign of collective relief than any lack of respect, including one customised from an ancient template about the player’s disbelief at waking up to discover Fernando Torres had scored twice for Chelsea.
Change the identity of the scorer to David Wheater and you have an infinitely rarer occurrence but a much weaker punchline, for the former Middlesbrough defender is not in the side to score. A Wheater double to win three valuable points was a script no one would have dared dream up, though dreaming is what the Blackburn defence must have been doing in allowing a burly centrehalf without a Premier League goal to his name in four years to strike twice in seven minutes.
Both times Blackburn lost concentration at corners, which is one thing, but losing a player of Wheater’s size was much less pardonable.
The visitors were slightly unlucky with the first, when Steve Nzonzi’s clearing header flew straight on to Wheater’s forehead, though had no excuses for the second as the centre-half simply stood his ground near the penalty spot and nodded Ryo Miyaichi’s corner into the net.
That should have been that at the end of what Owen Coyle described with some understatement as an emotional week, but Bolton are no great shakes at defending themselves and managed to make the final half-hour unnecessarily tense by allowing Nzonzi to pull a goal back with a free header from Morten Gamst Pedersen’s long throw.
The Blackburn manager, Steve Kean, for whom the result was a disappointment after six points and two successive clean sheets in the previous two games, did not quite know which bit of bad luck to blame. The fact that Blackburn should have had a first-half penalty or that they found themselves in a game that the whole world seemed to want Bolton to win.
The outcome might have been different had Andre Marriner awarded a penalty for Gretar Steinsson’s foul on Junior Hoilett when the game was scoreless, and though Blackburn made enough chances to escape at least with a draw there was a lack of urgency. Blackburn’s next opponents are Manchester United and Kean will be glad to return to something approaching normality.
“The circumstances surrounding this game were difficult for everyone,” he said. “We want Fabrice Muamba to get better just as much as everyone else. We’ve been pretty good at digging out points from difficult-looking fixtures all season, but t he atmosphere seemed to get to us. We couldn’t match Bolton’s tempo. It was probably in the script for Bolton to win this one, I don’t think neutrals would have appreciated us getting in the way.”
Bolton will be doing just the same, though after climbing out of the bottom three they first have to negotiate the hurdle of a return to Tottenham to get the abandoned FA Cup tie out of the way.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Coyle said. “But nothing has been easy for the past week and nothing is more important than the person at the centre of it all. It is difficult for everyone but at the same time this is something that has brought the whole club together.”
David Wheater blasts a header to the Blackburn Rovers net to score Bolton Wanderer’s second goal at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday and, below, Bolton fans pay tribute to their stricken midfielder Fabrice Muamba.