Belfast Telegraph

Muamba's appearance not enough to inspire Bolton against Spurs

By Ian Herbert

Bolton Wanderers 1 Tottenham Hotspur 4: Where there's life there's hope. The presence of Fabrice Muamba, muffled against the spring chill in a huge puffer jacket on the pitch last night, and occasionally leaping from his seat to gaze skywards at an opportunity lost, reveal that much.

He might yet play football again. "It's too early to say," his manager Owen Coyle said late last night. "But he is certainly going in the right direction. God willing he will. He is not just a team-mate but a close, close friend."

Yet while his is the recovery that football can give thanks for, the one Bolton Wanderers now hope for looks like it might take them right to the precipice and, quite possibly, beyond. Their capacity to defend lacked an elite quality last night and as their supporters drifted away near the end, no-one looked much up for the fight.

The profiteers were a Tottenham side whose manager, released from the ifs and buts of England, has suddenly rediscovered the elixir of counter-attacking success which had his side being talked about as potential champions this winter. Harry Redknapp took the applause, along with his first away win of 2012, and appeared to say that was him and England done now. "I didn't wake up on Monday morning and think 'What's happened to my life; I'm not England manager?'" he said. "That's how I am. It's saved me a decision to be honest because I'm very happy at Tottenham.

"I'm fed up of hearing my name mentioned now. I'm history with that job. I get very well paid, I've got a fantastic job. There are a lot of lads in the lower leagues who never get the chance. I don't feel as though anyone owes me anything. It's done, move on."

How Spurs will wish he had said that in February. With only Aston Villa and Fulham to come now for Tottenham and that slick counter-attacking style restored, fourth place in the Premier League is theirs to lose and Arsenal are only a point ahead in the third place which will assume great importance in Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. "Tight isn't it?" Redknapp observed.

Coyle reflected that "it is not a particularly nice feeling at the moment." A sign on the approach road to the Reebok marks the entry point to the "Bolton economic development zone", which the club will be calling on with two more performances like this. Coyle's team could have put daylight between themselves and Queen's Park Rangers and moved out of the bottom three but, from the terrace to the turf, it just did not feel like a night of drive and derring do. That signpost is erected on a road which commemorates the now defunct De Havilland propeller firm. Bolton had very little propulsion.

Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon did, mind you, in a messy first half which Tottenham dominated without leaving second gear. Luka Modric exposed the gulf in class when, in a moment of quite exquisite technical skill, he took Rafael van der Vaart's corner on his chest, allowed the ball a bounce and unravelled a dipping, swerving shot into the top right-hand corner. Coyle was angry about a clear handball by Sandro as he brushed into the box for the shot which brought the corner. His grief was compounded by Dedryck Boyata blazing over.

Kevin Davies' aerial threat began to deliver after the interval and from somewhere, Bolton found an equaliser, when David Ngog's backheel found Nigel Reo-Coker in space to ram the ball home. The flood was only briefly dammed. No sooner had an atmosphere materialised than lamentable defending turned the game. "A two-minute period cost us an awful lot," as Coyle put it. Bale engineered Spurs' second, breaking forward down the left and levelling the ball which Mark Davies, failing to track his man, allowed Van der Vaart a clear run to convert. Then the trick was flipped to the opposite flank.

Modric's gorgeous pass found Lennon, with Sam Ricketts lacking spatial awareness to foresee his run and cross, which Emmanuel Adebayor converted. Bale slid the Togolese through to round Adam Bogdan for the fourth. Coyle spoke of the the need to be "brave" now. They can harness the inspiration Muamba provides.

Man of the match Modric.

Match rating 6/10.

Referee M Dean (Wirral).

Attendance 22,349.

Belfast Telegraph


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