Date: 15 March 2008
I usually find that the early part of a match day provides clues as to how the game will turn out. A bright, dry, warm day with a straightforward journey to the ground and maybe an appetising lunch, and the omens for the game are good. Well, on that basis, this was going to be a dreadful afternoon. For years I used to turn left out of Pokesdown station and head to the chippy; until it closed permanently. Then I took to turning right to another chippy, till it starting to shut early. These days I head from the central station and attempt to grab something at the chippy in Holdenhurst Road, except that this week that was inexplicably closed. I headed on, and the rains started. I joined a long queue at the caravan outside the ground hoping for sausage and chips, but by the time I reached the front they’d run out of both, so it was burger or nothing. By now the rain was coming down in sheets, so I looked for some cover under which to eat my burger. The only awning was by the ticket office, and this is also the preferred gathering spot for all the smokers, so I had to breathe in their fumes as I ate a lunch I didn’t really want. Finally, now drenched, I went into the East Stand thinking I’d treat myself to a cup of coffee, but only one person was serving - with a queue that was clearly going to take beyond 3 o’clock to clear. So I abandoned that idea.
After all that, should I have given up? Well, for once the ‘omens’ were misleading. It wasn’t the best of games but it did produce a satisfactory result with some good individual performances. We had an unsurprisingly poor home attendance, which the very vocal Yeovil contingent had no hesitation in pointing out, but soon had something to cheer. We lost the toss and played towards the North Stand for the first half; and within ten minutes Hollands had started an attack, passed the ball wide to Gradel, and then rushed forward to collect the ball again after a Gradel shot/cross was stopped. So he finished the move he’d started, with a goal. 1-0, and cue very visible excitement and relief on the part of all the players, who clearly really wanted this game.
We had numerous corners throughout the match, all taken exactly the same way with a short ball followed by a cross. To be fair, this has produced good results since we started doing it, but a better team than Yeovil could surely have capitalised on our predictability? Anyway, just after the half-hour mark, there was one such corner. The ball from Cummings appeared to have over-shot the area, but Pitman was in an outside left position ready to send it straight back to connect with Vokes’ head. 2-0. We sat back more than I’d have liked from then on, but it worked and this remained the score.
We kept our 4-4-2 formation until the 89th minute. Yeovil chopped and changed, using all three substitutions early, while we just stuck with the starting eleven who were doing well. Eventually we made just one substitution: Kuffour, as always, came off; and McQuoid fitted in just behind Vokes in a 4-4-1-1 system, though there was only injury time left to play and he only got a couple of touches. Elsewhere on the field, Pitman got a rare start because of Bradbury’s absence, and you could tell he ‘thinks’ like a striker because his best interplay was with the forwards, not with Cummings behind him. The right wing worked more successfully; anyone who got the ball, even on the left, seemed to pass across the field to Gradel, who’d clearly been working on what was previously the weakest part of his game: holding the ball up. This would, again and again, enable Cooper to overlap him and get into a striking position from which, a couple of times in the second half, he managed to get in a shot. All our players seem to have good and bad days, but Cooper was the most improved since the previous match I’d seen, two weeks previously.
Bartley had another strong game in midfield, and helped out in defence whenever Cooper went forward. Bartley himself didn’t get forward as much as usual, but maybe didn’t need to with Cooper and Pitman doing so on the wings. Hollands captained the team well, trying to sort out any situations where the referee got involved. But the absence of a captain’s influence in defence meant that, somewhat surprisingly, the least experienced defender - Pearce - in addition to some stunning defensive work beginning with a sliding tackle in just the second minute of the match, also visibly organised his three defensive colleagues, who didn’t seem to mind at all. More irritating was the way Forde argued with Cummings several times.
Forde was definitely our weakest link on the day. If the match had ended at half time I’d only have awarded him 4 out of 10. He seems to have a defender’s background rather than a keeper’s, because again and again he chased down attacking Yeovil players rather than sticking to his spot. He wandered far from his goal, not just along route one but into wide positions - mainly on the left, hence the arguments with Cummings. And Forde’s goal kicks left a lot to be desired. He’d throw the ball into the air and kick from beneath it. Time and again the resulting ball would shoot very high but not cover much of the length of the pitch. Again, a better team than Yeovil could easily have exploited this weakness. But he did play better in the second half. Maybe Pryce (who is unquestionably a better goalie than Forde) gave him some tips at half time! After he came back out, he kept his position better, and his goal kicks improved too. Then twelve minutes before the end, he kept us in the game by tipping a Yeovil header, which was clearly on-target, over the bar; even those fans who didn’t think he should be playing were forced to applaud. This may have boosted his confidence, because within a minute he managed a spectacular save from yet another goal-bound header. Our second 2-0 at home in a row was thoroughly deserved, even if it’s unlikely to have any significance in the long run, and it might have been 2-2 were it not for those two late actions by Forde.
The starting line-up (with my scores out of ten) was :