Date: 11 March 2006
One tries desperately to think of anything good to say about this game, or even a player that was particularly worthy of praise. For more than half the match the small group of Bradford fans (who were, nonetheless, very vocal amongst a disappointing overall crowd of 5700-odd) were able to sing "We're sh*t, and we're 1-0 up!" Which sums it up really. Neither team inspired, neither deserved any points out of the game at all, and the goal was a disgrace from a defensive point of view. We had packed Bradford's box with all our outfield players for a Bradford corner, which meant that they of course packed it with their available outfield players too, and still no-one was able to stop a powerful header from Bradford's Stewart. Interestingly odds of 40-1 had been offered against him scoring the first goal - despite his great height - so some punter may be laughing now.
This came three minutes from the end of a dismal first half, and was scored in front of the North Stand. The half had been disappointing from a Bournemouth point of view because of an unfamiliar midfield line-up. Because O'Connor and Cooper were on the bench, not yet fully match fit following injuries, and Foley was playing in the centre of the park alongside Browning, we were employing two reluctant wingers: Cooke and Rix. The latter in particular looked uncomfortable in this role; he even had to ask another player where he should stand at the kick-off, and he seemed totally unclear about what a winger is supposed to do, roaming infield again and again.
This was dealt with from the start of the second half. Cooper was brought into a back three, and full-backs Purches and Hart were turned into wing-backs and given licence to get further forward, which they did. Sadly Purches stood unmarked on the touchline for much of the half, waving for the ball but rarely receiving a single pass - to his frustration and that of the fans. The Browning - Foley central partnership continued. (Just how many players has Browning partnered in that position since arriving at the club four years ago? C Fletcher, Stock, G O'Connor, Tindall, Hayter, Purches, Coutts, Rowe, Spicer, Rix and Foley come to mind. Any advance on 11?) The two reluctant wingers were spared further blushes: Rix left the field and Cooke moved into the 'hole' behind Hayter and Rodrigues. As we pushed more and more for the equaliser, Cooke moved further and further up the field until he was effectively the third striker - and was then somewhat inevitably replaced by Pitman.
All this time a number of the Bradford players were play-acting. Wilbraham appealed to the referee every time a Bournemouth player came anywhere near him, and should by rights have been booked for doing so. Goalie Ricketts made a huge fuss about every challenge, and especially one by Browning, and late in the game lay on the ground for an amazing length of time despite the howls of derision from the North Stand behind him. It was during this break in play (which on its own seemed a lot more than the paltry four minutes added on by the fourth official at the end) that we made our third substitution: O'Connor for the hugely ineffective Rodrigues. This was not as defensive as it may seem - because O'Connor took over Purches' place as right wing-back, Purches took over Griffiths' place as right-most man in the back three, and Griffiths intriguingly took over Rodrigues' place at the left hand end of the forward line. Our players attacked for the last few minutes of the match as though their lives depended on it, but still couldn't hit the target.
Things could have been a lot worse: Gareth Stewart had made a wonderful diving save in the third minute of the first half, and if Bradford had scored then who knows what the final score might have been? But things could also have been a lot better: Bradford's 'keeper couldn't seem to catch the ball to save his life. Whenever tested, he fumbled badly. We should have exploited that; but sadly didn't.
The starting line-up (with my scores out of ten) was :
Purches (6), Griffiths (7), Howe (7), Hart (7);
Cooke (6), Browning (7), Foley (6), Rix (5);
Hayter (7), Rodrigues (5).
Purches, Cooper, Howe;
O'Connor, Browning, Foley, Hart;
Pitman, Hayter, Griffiths.