Date: 22 March 2008
Well, we had cold winds, rain, sleet, and even hailstones as we sat (or stood, or jumped up and down trying to keep warm!) watching this game. It’s very unusual in March for me to need gloves as I’m sitting at the match, let alone walking from my car to the pub. But I did, because this was more like Christmas weather than Easter. I received a text from a friend bemoaning the fact that she was riding along in a car through a hailstorm. Needless to say, sitting in said storm without any roof over my head, I was unable to feel much sympathy for someone watching it from the safety, warmth and comfort of her car!
And all that to see us lose 1-2. I can’t even claim our ‘consolation’ goal made up for it, because virtually all Cherries’ fans missed it! There was a mini-riot going on in the neighbouring stand at the time. Having gone 2-0 down a minute earlier, it seemed to us that the action off the pitch was mildly more interesting than the action on. So we failed to see Gradel (who else?) cross to Kuffour, and Kuffour slot the ball home.
To explain the riot: the actions of the stewards and the police were, to say the least, heavy-handed today. Very minor offences (often hard to identify) would result in a single fan being attacked by an angry mob of stewards. We saw one fan brought to the floor and held down. When another fan tried to photograph what was going on, a steward confiscated his camera. We lost count how many supporters were dragged struggling out of the ground, but it must have been quite a lot because by half time you could hear them singing very loudly out in the street. This would actually have been a calm match, with little or no incident off the pitch, all aggression literally damped down by the elements, were it not for the proactive bullying by these officials. At least one can say the two sets of fans were treated equally: the incident that prevented us seeing Kuffour’s goal involved only Gillingham supporters!
We lined up 4-4-2 despite only having three defenders; Bradbury, curiously, was stationed at right-back. He didn’t play well there. But later, when we changed the system, he didn’t play well in midfield either. Forde had another poor game between the sticks, and must take some responsibility for both Gillingham goals. He managed to get himself stranded as the first one went in ten minutes into the game; and failed to stop a close-range shot in the 27th. Then everything seemed to happen at once. Following Gillingham’s second, Kuffour’s goal came within a minute; and a knock to Pitman - forcing a substitution - came with two minutes of that.
Tessem replaced Pitman, but was obviously never going to play wide. So now we lined up in a system that, prior to the match, several fans had thought would be preferable anyway, given the lack of defenders: 3-1-4-2. Cooper moved to the centre of defence, flanked by Gowling and Pearce. Gradel and Bradbury played wide, but couldn’t be called wing-backs as they didn’t have a defensive role. Shoring up the defence was Tessem’s responsibility, stationed on his own just in front of the back three. But his distribution was dreadful and he was totally lacking in pace too; gone was the gifted player who’d turned out at Cheltenham in January and to whom I’d given the Man of the Match award then. With the aged Bradbury and Tessem looking so poor, supporters started calling out for the youngsters (who’d performed so well mid-week in a reserves match against experienced Bristol City players) to be given a chance. Bond, of course, ignored this suggestion - as he always will, which is why Bournemouth will never achieve anything under Bond, however gifted the squad. (Very, very late in the game, Partington came on. But he replaced Bartley, and that was hardly what the crowd were calling for.)
But despite these weak links, we played our best football after adopting this system. We dominated much of the second half and came to feel that if only we’d started this way (though maybe with Pryce in place of Forde, so that we hadn’t given away two soft early goals) we may have come away from this match with something. Our best period of play came in a five minute spell during the second half. Firstly a Vokes header, off a Gradel cross, hit the crossbar. Then, we actually had the ball in the net following a corner kick, but the ‘goal’ was disallowed for offside. Next, we were awarded a penalty which Gradel took (too) quickly, and missed; as all the while there was yet another disturbance kicking off in the stand immediately behind the goal. And finally, an on-target low shot, by Kuffour from Bournemouth’s right, was stopped by the Gillingham keeper. On another day perhaps all these chances would have resulted in a goal and we’d have won 5-2! But no, it ended 1-2; leaving the possibility that we could be relegated within a week.
The starting line-up (with my scores out of ten) was :