Bolton 2 Blackburn 1
Bolton paid tribute to Fabrice Muamba in the best way possible by claiming a victory over Blackburn that lifted them out of the Barclays Premier League’s bottom three.
Two first-half headers from centre-half David Wheater, the first brace of his career, were enough to repel Blackburn’s rally after Steven Nzonzi had pulled one back after half-time.
Securing back-to-back wins for the first time this season was a fitting conclusion to an emotional week at the Reebok Stadium, following the cardiac arrest suffered by Muamba in an FA Cup tie at Tottenham seven days ago.
That results elsewhere also went Bolton’s way added extra gloss on a day that the home fans started and finished by singing Muamba’s name.
Any fears Coyle had about the reaction of his players to the emotions of the day would have been dismissed by the positivity in the ground before kick-off.
From the moment a montage of the past week was played on the stadium’s big screen through to the pre-match handshakes, loud applause and chants rang out in honour of Muamba, who remains in intensive care but whose situation is so much better than it might have been.
Bolton fed off the home crowd’s enthusiasm, with Martin Petrov a particular threat down the left.
The Bulgarian hit a blistering 25-yard drive that was beaten away by Paul Robinson in the opening stages, while Trotters striker David Ngog was also causing a nuisance of himself.
But it was just as Bolton paused from breath after the early frenzy that they enjoyed a sizeable piece of luck. Television replays showed Wanderers defender Gretar Steinsson had clearly ended Junior Hoilett’s charge into the box illegally, but referee Andre Marriner did not have the same view and waved play on.
One superb Tim Ream clearance later and Bolton found their stride again, and soon grabbed the goals the occasion demanded.
Petrov’s cross provided the chance, his delivery inadvertently flicked on by Nzonzi for Wheater to head in at the far post for his first Premier League goal since August 2008.
Seven minutes later the towering centre-back was celebrating another.
This time the delivery came from Ryo Miyaichi’s superb corner, which flew perfectly onto the head of the Bolton man who made no mistake with a thumping finish.
Defending crosses was clearly not a strength for Blackburn as within minutes of the restart Ngog rose to meet one from Petrov but flashed it over the bar.
Bolton also should have scored when Miyaichi picked Davies out from the right, but, unmarked and only six yards out, the midfielder glanced his header wide.
That would have been bad enough even if Blackburn had not already scored, but Nzonzi had found the net rather too easily after Bolton goalkeeper Adam Bogdan failed to impose himself on a packed penalty area.
Bolton immediately looked to restore their two-goal cushion and a Petrov corner found Darren Pratley all on his own, only for the midfielder to miss the target.
It was the trigger for a sustained Blackburn assault on the Bolton goal, which almost brought them an equaliser as Aiyegbeni Yakubu bundled narrowly wide.
Bolton survived the late onslaught, however, to claim a poignant win and three crucial points.