x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Present is bright for Bolton

In a dramatic denouement, Sam Allardyce's return to the Reebok Stadium was an occasion when ambition was rewarded, even in adversity.

Bolton's matchwinner Stuart Holden, second left, celebrates with Fabrice Muamba, on floor, after Bolton's opener yesterday. Clive Brunskill / Getty Images
Bolton's matchwinner Stuart Holden, second left, celebrates with Fabrice Muamba, on floor, after Bolton's opener yesterday. Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

 

Bolton Wanderers 2 // Blackburn Rovers 1

Bolton Muamba 65’, Holden 88’
Blackburn Diouf 87

Red cards M Davies (Bolton)
Man of the match Stuart Holden (Bolton)

BOLTON // Nostalgia is not what it used to be. A meeting with their most successful manager in the past 50 years could have provided a reason for Bolton Wanderers to wallow in the past. Instead, they can be glad they have escaped it. The present is far more pleasant.

 

Because, in a dramatic denouement, Sam Allardyce's return to the Reebok Stadium was an occasion when ambition was rewarded, even in adversity. Bolton are more progressive without the man who established them in the Premier League and in a game changed by a red card, they were both the recipients and the beneficiaries.

Perversely, Mark Davies's dismissal benefited the Wanderers. Thereafter, Fabrice Muamba and Stuart Holden went on to score; that both are central midfielders is no coincidence. While Blackburn Rovers' gameplan was unremittingly negative, Bolton had a sense of adventure. Their players are granted a licence to raid forwards.

Indeed, Owen Coyle's boldness was epitomised by his initial decision to omit Muamba, the usual defensive midfielder, and select Mark Davies instead. The irony was that Muamba, who owed his place on the pitch to Davies's departure and the resulting reshuffle, brought the breakthrough.

"It was a huge decision to leave Fabrice out," said Coyle. "He's started every game for me since January. It would have been easy for him to sulk."

Instead, he scored, capping his 100th game for the club with just a second goal. When Sam Ricketts chipped a free kick into the Blackburn box, Ryan Nelsen met it. But his header fell to Muamba, who had the calmness to turn away from the sliding New Zealander and drill his shot in at the near post.

"Us defending like a bunch of old women," Allardyce said. "In the space of one minute and thirty seconds the game has turned on its head."

He was reflecting on a goal-line clearance from Kevin Davies, to deny Christopher Samba, as well as a penalty appeal, against Zat Knight for handball.

Yet the goal was also a consequence of the red card which came when, already cautioned, Davies led with a raised arm while jumping with Phil Jones for a header.

Before then, it equated to stalemate, with Bolton's onus on the attacking matched by Blackburn's emphasis on the defensive.

"Blackburn paid us a tremendous compliment with the way they set up," Coyle said. "I felt we passed the ball better with 10 men." His counterpart concurred. Allardyce added: "I'm sick they went down to 10 men now. We were better when we had 11 versus 11."

It took an uneven match-up to bring the action. Bolton, with a man less, scored a goal more. Muamba's strike came after Allardyce reduced his rearguard by introducing Mame Biram Diouf at the expense of the left wing-back Martin Olsson.

There was belated justification to the switch when, after neat play by Junior Hoilett, another substitute, and Jason Roberts, Diouf supplied the equaliser. Jumping a jig of joy, Allardyce did not join the growing numbers who refuse to celebrate against their old clubs.

He may have wished he had, however. Right from the restart, Kevin Davies won a flick on for the advancing Holden to connect with a beautifully strike.

"An exquisite volley," said Coyle. "The quality of the goal was there for everyone to see."

The consequences are significant, too. Bolton are back in the top six, a place they last occupied regularly under Allardyce. Now, however, there is no need to rewind the clocks at the Reebok.

sports@thenational.ae