Un­likely hero Wheater gets Bolton out of drop zone

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports News - PAUL WIL­SON at the Ree­bok Sta­dium

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.”

Guardian ser­vice

Pho­to­graphs: Reuters and Getty

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.

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