Date: 1 March 2008
The day began promisingly with dry and bright, though somewhat chilly, weather. By the time I got to Bournemouth the temperature was a few degrees higher and there was virtually no breeze. Add to that the good ‘omen’ that, the last two times I’d seen us play Hartlepool at Dean Court, we’d scored two goals on each occasion (7/5/05 and 13/10/02), and hopefully we were in for a good game. So when I saw the noted the lower than usual attendance, I wondered why others didn’t share my enthusiasm. But then someone reminded me that our attendances always suffer when Bournemouth and Southampton play at home on the same afternoon, and I remembered the huge number of Southampton fans who’d been on my train from Basingstoke.
Hollands was back in the team, but - as expected - he didn’t get the captain’s armband back, this remaining with the more experienced Neil Young. In fairness, although Young didn’t get as involved in tactical issues as Hollands would have done, he did - unlike Telfer, earlier in the season - at least help to calm the situation whenever one of our players was receiving a talking-to from the referee. Which was very often (as indeed it was for Hartlepool players too), Mr. McDermid being as fussy a ref as we’ve seen for some time. Strangely, having repeatedly blown his whistle for every slightest offence until the mid-way point of the second half, he suddenly changed tack and allowed the rest of the game to flow. It was almost as though there’d been a referee’s assessor somewhere in the stands, whom McDermid was trying to impress, and he’d gone home at this point!
Not only did Young perform a passable role as captain, but he played better than of late too - almost certainly because he can cope better at centre-back than at full-back. Alongside him, Gowling also raised his game; not only avoiding the silly mistakes that have seemingly been his trademark recently, but also acting as ‘last man’ and keeping us in the game with at least one very good block. The back four was completed by the inclusion of Cummings, who occasionally today showed glimpses of his ‘old self’ on the left wing; and Cooper, who - it must be said - was very disappointing. He didn’t seem to get anything right. This came as a surprise; the fans had welcomed his return as right-back and expected better of him, but for some reason there always seems to be one player who’s having a ’mare of a day, and today it was Cooper.
Behind these four stood Stewart. We've become very nervous about him, and recently there seems to have been at least one goal conceded per match for which he was to blame. But for forty minutes he had a better-than-usual game - until tragedy struck. We heard the crack as he went down - it sounded then like it might be a broken ankle - and after some prolonged discussion and examination he was stretchered off. He’s had more than his share of bad luck over the years, at one time putting it down to his “unlucky 13” shirt. But it seems “12” is no luckier for him. A huge applause greeted Pryce as he came on to take Stewart’s place. We’ve won every game Pryce has started to date (all two of them!) so, assuming he will now start every match until the end of the season, let’s hope he can keep this record up. He was never severely tested in the remaining fifty minutes of this match; partly because Young and Gowling protected him, but chiefly because Hartlepool weren’t terribly threatening in attack anyway. However, he did achieve a few clinical saves, which can have done his confidence no harm at all.
It was good to win this game by two clear goals; even if the three points are unlikely to be enough to save us from relegation this season and, by the time we’re next playing matches that really count, this goal scorer will almost certainly be playing for some other club. But full marks to Vokes for getting us off to a good start as his head met the cross from a corner kick in only the sixth minute. And we were two minutes into four minutes’ injury time at the end of the first half (mostly resulting from Stewart’s injury) when Vokes, again, picked up a loose ball after Bartley had distracted the Pools defender, and curled it coolly round the keeper. In the meantime, we’d seen Vokes hold the ball up often; and at times we’d wished that Gradel could do the same, because he’d get himself into a good crossing position, fail to spot anyone to cross the ball to, and attempt a speculative shot. One such shot was not far off the target, and another was actually on target, but chipped round the post by the Pools keeper. Kuffour had an on-target shot during this time too, which was also tipped wide, so by half-time we could have been 4 or 5 up. Nonetheless, we were content to be leading 2-0.
Those fans who’d been present the previous Saturday and seen us give away a 2-0 lead, remained unsurprisingly nervous. And, to be sure, we never looked very likely to increase our lead in the second half. However, unlike the previous occasion when Vokes had been on a hat-trick, he was allowed to remain on the pitch for the full ninety and try to get his third. This was no doubt partly because we’d been forced to substitute the goalie in the first half so we eventually ran out of substitutions. And in fact arguably the best chance of the half did indeed fall to Vokes. But he unselfishly played Pitman in, and Pitman misfired. In fairness, Pitman had done well to provide a good ball for Vokes in the first place, and then get himself into such a good position to receive it back again, all within a minute or so from the time he’d come on for Kuffour. Eventually we shored up the defence by dropping Hollands into a deeper position, adding Tessem and Pitman to the midfield, and leaving Vokes up front on his own as we prayed for the clock to tick away. And it did just that; 2-0 final score.
The starting line-up (with my scores out of ten) was :