Date: 14 October 2006
Having watched the Cherries' first match under the caretaker managers, it was now my 'privilege' to watch the first match under the new 'permanent' coach (though why do I feel he won't prove as 'permanent' as O'Driscoll?). However, throughout the game, it wasn't Brighton vs. Bournemouth that kept coming to my mind, but Croatia vs. England three days ago. Firstly, the players had used every opportunity, in press announcements recorded on the Web, to express their support of the new boss in grovelling terms. Secondly our players seemed to be trying just a little too hard, presumably to impress the new boss, and their performances were adversely impacted as a result. And thirdly, having heard all the pundits on Wednesday declaring that 3-5-2 was now officially dead, had been rejected by managers with any sense ten years ago, and would never be attempted again by Steve McClaren, I was surprised to see Bournemouth line up - yes - 3-5-2. And when we switched to 4-4-2 at half time, not in response to anything in particular that was happening on the pitch but just to show we can, it started to feel like we'd hired Sean O'Driscoll Mark 2.
Of course, it's too early to judge the new manager, because he's hardly had time to get to know his squad yet. Clearly the appointment hasn't exactly been greeted, by fans, with boundless enthusiasm; so Bond has a point to prove to them anyway. The first thing we noted was that he was at least willing to acknowledge the fans, responding instantly to cries of "Bondy, Bondy, gissa wave". And he's a manager who likes to wear smart suits; it appeared he'd bought a new one specially for the occasion. He also likes to get into the technical area, and he passed messages to several players as the game progressed.
But what of his tactics? Was 3-5-2 (and the subsequent switch to 4-4-2) his choice? What about the player selection? He confessed responsibility for the latter. He had made the decision to play Maher and Hollands in preference to Cooke and Foley because he'd heard Millwall were a "physical" team so we didn't have room for lightweights. (He didn't use the word lightweights of course!) Well, this seems a weak argument, based mainly on rumour anyway; and, as it could probably be used of most matches at this level, it makes one wonder whether Cooke and Foley have any future now. The approach didn't really work. Foley's pace, and his important role as a goalscorer last season, will be missed - and indeed would have proved useful today. And Cummings is no replacement for him at all as a taker of corner kicks. Meanwhile, Cooke has been improving so much recently that it would have been good to see him play behind the strikers today, if only to enable Hayter to get further forward. Hayter was playing very deep - on one occasion even being spotted in the left full back position!
What of other players? Well, Best got a lot of the ball, but couldn't seem to hold it up long enough to penetrate Millwall's defence. Especially as the only other out-and-out forward was Fletcher, whose pace again let him down (as to be honest you'd expect with a player involved in his 500th game for the club). Holland had a very good game in patches, and at one time I was considering him for 'Man of the Match', but in the end the constantly-improving Anderton's skill and experience - especially as demonstrated in passes and set pieces - won him the award for my second mach in a row.
The game was very pacy, especially early on, but with both defences strong and the finishing touch missing on both sides. Bournemouth had their scoring chances - through Best, Anderton, Cummings and Hayter - and even Young attempted a fluky shot (?) with a bicycle kick in the second half. But, in the event, it was virtually the last kick of the first half that sealed the result. During a period, ironically, of Cherries' dominance, Haynes broke away and shot towards Bournemouth's goal. Stewart reacted well to save the shot but spilt the ball, unfortunately, into the path of Hackett, who unhesitatingly shot into an open goal. 1-0, and Millwall's third win in a row under their own caretaker management.
And finally: Millwall fans are a strange breed aren't they? Some spent the match trying to wind up the police by running into the corner section of their own stand, even though this achieved nothing and presented no threat to visiting supporters. Others, even more curiously, played with the ball whenever it was kicked into their stand, refusing to give it back. No action was taken against them. But Millwall also have some sensible fans of course, and after the match some were kind enough to say that a draw would not have been unfair.
The starting line-up (with my scores out of ten) was :