Friday 24 January 2020

Muamba's astonishing recovery gives Bolton emotional lift for cup replay

Bolton 2 Blackburn 1

Tim Rich

There is one more hurdle for Bolton's footballers to overcome before they can approach the rest of the season with anything like a feeling of normality -- tomorrow's return to White Hart Lane.

It was very easy to forget that Bolton were in the middle of an FA Cup quarter-final when Fabrice Muamba collapsed, and tomorrow night that game has to be replayed.

Owen Coyle's players will sit in the same dressing-room they left before their young midfielder fell to the turf, his heart stopped. They will face the same opposition for the same prize, a Wembley semi-final, but the emotions and the team talk will be very different.

Coyle's team talk at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday was brief and to the point. David Wheater, the unexpected scorer of both of Bolton's goals that took the club out of the relegation zone, said that the tributes paid to Muamba, especially the sight of placards held up by fans that spelt the player's name, "gave me goosebumps". He was not the only one.

In the London Chest Hospital, where the 23-year-old has made an astonishing recovery, they provided Muamba with a television so he could watch 'Match of the Day' with his family. Normally, Bolton versus Blackburn -- however parlous the two clubs' league positions -- would not be the first item on the programme's schedule. These, however, are not normal times.

Whether Muamba and his family will want to watch tomorrow night's game is another matter. "You are right, going back to White Hart Lane will be harder," Coyle said. "But the positive thing is that Fabrice is getting better. If he had not been, it would have been a different conversation we would be having. You have got to understand what is involved."

It took Liverpool 18 days to play again after the Hillsborough disaster. This was very different -- thanks to the astonishing display of medical care nobody died at White Hart Lane -- but for the footballers the victim was closer to home.

"In the early part of the week, until we knew how well Fab was doing, nobody wanted to play football," said the Bolton defender Sam Ricketts. "From very early on, the lads weren't sleeping. There were a few, who even when they were asleep, had flashbacks to the things they had seen on Saturday.

"It wasn't until we knew Fab was doing so well that we could start to erase those memories. It has been such an emotional drain. With what it can do to your body being so low and then coming out to such a high, a couple of the lads have been ill with relief." (© Independent News Service)

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