Date: 12 January 2008
Despite checking the Cheltenham weather forecast on both Friday night and Saturday morning, I was totally unprepared for the sight as I approached Cirencester. The fields were white, side roads were blocked with some apparently abandoned vehicles, and cars were coming towards me still covered by thick layers of snow. Would the match be called off? By the end of injury time, many Bournemouth fans were probably wishing it had been, and that we’d either stayed at home or - better still - remained in the Exiles-designated pub where free sandwiches had been laid on; as many as we could eat!
The loan signings had returned home so our squad was almost back to bare bones. But we did have one new face: Jo Tessem, whom I only heard of on the way to the game but who proved to be the most deserving man-of-the-match for some time. He exuded intelligence, always spotting the clever pass and - at least nine times out of ten - delivering it right on target.
Tessem played in the holding role in front of the back four, in Bond’s now very familiar 4-1-4-1 system. The two previous incumbents of that role, Cooper and Hollands, played slightly further up field. But not much further up field, because - as always - the strategy was to build attacks via the wings not via route one. On the right, this worked well; Young was totally rejuvenated after his ten days’ rest and he got forward into very advanced positions on that wing throughout the ninety minutes. On the left, the system worked less well. Pitman seemed determined to scotch all rumours of a transfer to Wolves by fumbling around for 80 minutes, demonstrating that he’s not currently fit for League One let alone Championship football. Ten minutes from the end he was replaced by Vokes, who took up the centre forward position, with Bradbury switching to the right wing and Kuffour to the left. This looked a lot better, and Vokes in particular looked very fit; but in fairness, it’s easier to pace oneself over 10 minutes than over 90!
Elsewhere on the pitch, Stewart had a quiet game. Once in the first half, it required Perrett to clear off the goal-line to keep Bournemouth in the game; and once in the second Stewart wandered too far out of his goal but fortunately the resulting Cheltenham shot was off target. For the rest of the time, though, he was reliable enough. At the other end, serious Bournemouth attacks on goal were few and far between, the most memorable shots coming from Cooper and Kuffour in the first half, and from - er - Cooper and Kuffour again in the second!
Bournemouth totally dominated the first twenty minutes or so of the match, but always lacked the final touch. The second half was more evenly balanced - i.e. both sides were as poor as each other. To be honest, we’ve rarely played a worse team. When three minutes’ added time was indicated at the end of the ninety, the score was still 0-0. Then Cheltenham got a free kick - but it was cleared for a corner. And in the ninety-second minute we failed to defend a set piece and Cheltenham scored the only goal of the match. Cue total - er - silence from the Bournemouth stand, as we’ve seen it all before, so many times. No doubt Bond gave the team a subsequent rollicking for letting that last minute goal in, but really we lost the game in the first twenty minutes when we failed to make our advantage count. 2-1 to Bournemouth could have been the score. A draw would have been fairer. The last two outings to Whaddon Road have seen the home side win 1-0; maybe next year they’ll make it three in a row. We’ll almost certainly be playing Cheltenham in League Two. At least we’ve got the sandwiches to look forward to.
The starting line-up (with my scores out of ten) was :
Young (7), Gowling (6), Perrett (7), Cummings (6);
Kuffour (7), Cooper (7), Hollands (6), Pitman (6);