Date: 9 February 2008
We set off to Luton wondering how the Cherries’ fan base, let alone the team, would deal with the apparent disaster of dropping ten points - the penalty for going into administration - just when we seemed to be getting a string of results together and maybe even about to escape from the relegation zone. The first clue came in the Exiles’ pub at lunchtime, when the best banter ‘rival’ fans could manage was a soulful “Our administrator’s better than your administrator!” From the time we arrived at the ground, however, it became obvious that Bournemouth’s fans were determined to do their part to lift their team. Clearly the low roof over the away stand helped, but the ‘noise for the boys’ was fantastic, and - throughout the first half at least - was met with a stony silence from Luton’s supporters.
But what of the team? How would they react to their situation? Would they, for the fans’ sakes, put a brave face on things? Or would they be totally demoralised? Not at all. From the start they played, as a team and as individuals, like there was no tomorrow (perhaps there isn’t), causing a ‘neutral’ to remark that he’d never ever seen Bournemouth show such flair. (The last time he’d watched us play was a couple of months before O’Driscoll left.) The team were determined to carry on the way they left off the previous week, having beaten Forest 2-0. The line-up was unchanged, which obviously helped, except for the two wingers who swapped places every ten minutes or so, confusing the fans but - more significantly - confusing Luton’s full backs, which was no doubt the intention. They found, in particular, Gradel to be a handful to deal with. The line-up was again 4-4-2. Having played most of the season with a 4-1-4-1 system, it seems somewhat ironic that no sooner had Tessem arrived (arguably the best player we’ve seen making up the ‘1’ in front of the centre backs) than Bond decided we didn’t need that role. This was almost certainly because Gowling and Perrett have improved so much that they don’t need additional support anymore, as was clearly evidenced today. Gowling put on a great performance, at one point in the first half keeping us in the game with three excellent clearances in a single five minute spell; and Perrett is showing much improvement too. All this meant that Tessem remained firmly on the bench, the only unused substitute apart from Pryce. Even Partington got a run out for his first-team debut deep into injury time, in preference to him.
So the fans dominated and the team dominated, but that in itself doesn’t earn any points. We didn’t need, however, to wait long for the first goal. Within a quarter of an hour Vokes, from a good position on the edge of the box behind the Town defenders, had managed to slot home his third goal in seven days. This is particularly embarrassing for the Exile who just 8 days previously had forecast that Vokes wouldn’t score again this season! Within a minute, and before the celebrations had died down, Kuffour - from a much more difficult angle - had shot past several defenders to double the score. At the time it actually looked a bit like an own-goal, but we were at the farthest end of the stadium and seated not much above the level of the pitch, so what did we know?!
The best goal of the match was unquestionably Gradel’s 25 to 30 yard strike almost on the stroke of half time. The applause for him switched to applause for Cummings who, after having appeared to run off an injury, had needed to be substituted by Jason Pearce with only seconds of the first half remaining. Fortunately, as he walked off past the Bournemouth fans, we could see this was ‘only’ a bloody gash, probably looking a lot worse than it really was, so hopefully he’ll be back in action again ere long. Pearce more than adequately filled his boots for the rest of this match.
The second half appeared to begin disastrously, when a ball trickling towards Stewart looked so stoppable that no-one’s heart so much as skipped a beat. But somehow it ran under him and rolled into the net. 1-3! A pessimistic Exile (no further clues should be needed) was heard to mutter “We’re going to lose this.” Fortunately he was wrong. The Luton fans actually found their voice for the first time in the match, but Stewart made a great save within a minute or so to demonstrate that he wasn’t the least bit fazed by his uncharacteristic ‘howler’; and our domination continued. Now Bournemouth were attacking the goal in front of their own fans, so we could admire every shot, especially a very clever ball from Kuffour on the turn that smacked against the crossbar. It would have been a wonderful goal if it had gone in, and within ten minutes Kuffour had indeed scored his second. It was a messy affair, the ball going in at the third attempt, but who cared? Kuffour was much improved in a week, and even more so since the early months of the season. We were 4-1 up and, this being the final score, we were off the bottom of the table. (If only we hadn’t seen those ten points docked, we’d now be out of the relegation zone.) We went home rejoicing, while the Luton fans slouched away muttering something about having no fit centre backs. Excuses, excuses!
The starting line-up (with my scores out of ten) was :