Date: 23 August 2008
Earlier this week, England coach Fabio Capello was criticised for playing Gerrard wide left in a 4-4-2 system. Capello’s response - the next day - was that it wasn’t 4-4-2 at all, it was 4-3-2-1; and Gerrard was supposed to be playing alongside Rooney just behind the lone striker. It was worrying that no-one watching the match, including commentators or pundits, had picked up on that. It makes me reluctant to criticise Bond’s choice of an unusual 4-2-3-1 system today, lest he say that wasn’t his intention at all. And I know Bond must read my match reports; how else can I account for the fact that the two players I awarded 5/10 to at Aldershot (Ward and Igoe), both failed to start today?
So, about this 4-2-3-1. After the first match of the season, when Bond was criticised for playing Pitman wide left, he explained that this was because his only left-footer, Hollands, was injured. Today Hollands was - against all expectations - available to play again, so he was played where? Down the centre! Meanwhile, Bartley had appeared unsuited to a right-wing role at Aldershot, the boss had spent all week extolling his virtues in the centre of the park, so he was deployed today - on the left wing! Why Hollands and Bartley couldn’t simply have been swapped, no-one understood. In fairness, Bartley did his best and was involved all over the park as needed, featuring in many of the attacking advances and dropping back as necessary to support the defence. On the opposite wing was newcomer Wagstaff (though he and Bartley swapped places at the start of the second half). He impressed me. Still getting into his game admittedly, but working well and also willing to spot a gap and fill it. Such as whenever Cummings went up to take a corner kick (his and Anderton’s corners were dreadful today; Pitman’s, in the second half weren’t much better). Then Wagstaff would drop back (from right wing to left full-back!) to cover for him.
Pitman, poor chap, was on his own upfront. When Guyett (a defender) went off injured early in the second half, and was replaced by Sappleton (a striker), the crowd thought, “Will Bartley at last play in the centre?” Yes - because Cooper dropped back into defence! “Will we at last see two up front?” You’re kidding, right? Pitman simply dropped back to left wing, Wagstaff returned to the right, and now Sappleton was on his own up front.
All this discussion of tactics, throughout the match, was because the game itself was so sterile. We had slightly more possession than Exeter in the first half, but too much tendency to lob hopeful balls up-field to no-one in particular. (Never a team to learn anything useful at half-time, in the second half we did this even more!) The Exeter keeper wasn’t tested in the first half. In fairness neither was ours. There was one tremendous shot from deep which would have given Pryce no chance, but it went wide anyway.
Bournemouth support was poor. It’s OK to blame the holiday season in general, or the Bank Holiday in particular, but this didn’t prevent Exeter bringing a large and very vocal crowd of supporters with them. They, of course, were jubilant at the end; while many Bournemouth fans unsurprisingly booed the Cherries off the pitch. There had been jeers throughout; many aimed at Cummings who on current form isn’t even worth whatever we’re paying him - let alone the extra he foolishly tried to demand!
The one goal came during a rare period of attacking play from Bournemouth around the hour mark. Exeter counter-attacked, and Hartley managed to put a shot just inside the far post at the open end of the ground. Now that we were chasing the game, we made an almost immediate substitution. Newcomer Lindfield came on for Anderton, and we were at last playing two (Sappleton and Lindfield) up front. Just a shame that they’d never previously played together and hadn’t even met 24 hours earlier! Very late in the game Igoe came on for (my) man-of the-match Wagstaff. (Oh dear! Is our squad that small? Exeter listed 35 players in their squad on the matchday programme cover.) But the score remained 0-1.
The starting line-up (with my scores out of ten) was :