GARY Bowyer hopes Junior Hoilett receives a warm reception when he returns to Ewood Park tonight, insisting there are no hard feelings about the way the Canadian departed Blackburn Rovers.
Bowyer worked with Hoilett in the Blackburn Rovers youth set-up after the winger arrived from Ontario as a teenager and has never been in any doubt about the ability the 23-year-old possesses.
Hoilett had emerged as one of the star players of Rovers’ first team and a fans’ favourite in his last season at Ewood, but the club’s efforts to tie him to a new contract eventually proved to be in vain.
Despite then manager Steve Kean saying on at least one occasion that he expected Hoilett to sign a new deal ‘within 24 hours’, the player delayed for several months.
Hoilett scored seven goals that season but Rovers were eventually relegated from the Premier League.
It spelt the end to any hopes of keeping the player, who opted to join QPR at the end of his contract – although Rovers received an initial fee of £3m in compensation.
Hoilett suffered a second successive relegation last season, as QPR dropped out of the top flight, but is expected to line up on the wing for Harry Redknapp’s side tonight.
Bowyer understands why Hoilett made the decision to quite Rovers.
“That’s football,” said the Rovers boss. “That’s what happens when you get relegated from the Premier League.
“He is a Premier League player in my opinion so he made the decision to go and join QPR, who were then in the Premier League themselves.
“I fully understand that.
“I hope the crowd give him a good reception, because he deserves it. I think they will.”
Hoilett could not break the deadlock in QPR’s 0-0 draw at home to Rovers back in December but Bowyer is well aware of the threat he will pose.
The 5ft 8in Canadian made 92 appearances for Rovers after loan spells with German sides Paderborn and St Pauli, as he waited to be granted a work permit to play in the Premier League.
“I’ve known Junior since he was 14 or 15 years of age, he was probably the same size then as he is now!” Bowyer laughed.
“He’s a fantastic talent and did ever so well here for us. He went to a lot of effort to play in our first team, I think he went to Germany twice then he got his opportunity.
“I think in the season we went down he was the shining light with his performances and his goals.”
QPR will also have talented forward Ravel Morrison in their line-up tonight.
The 21-year-old on loan at Loftus Road from West Ham after being tipped for an England call-up earlier in the season.
Morrison has a reputation as a difficult player for managers to handle but was once in the Manchester United youth set-up with on loan Rovers defender Michael Keane.
“He’s a special talent, you could see that from when he was coming up through the Academy when he was 10 years old,” said Keane.
“I think his attitude of not really caring on the pitch helps him because he tries things that most other players wouldn’t try and more often than not they come off for him because he’s that good.
“He’s a really nice guy. The Championship is a little come-down for him but he’s still playing as well as he did at West Ham and you can see he’s going to have a great career. He’s proven he’s good enough to play in the Premier League.
“We’re going to have defend really well against him and be organised to, make sure he doesn’t get on the ball otherwise he could damage us.”