Date: 20 December 2008
On the one hand, the portents weren’t good for this game. We’d been defeated by a non-league side midweek, the players could expect to be feeling demoralised as a result, and since then we’d lost three first-team players to suspension and one - the captain, no less - to injury. Meanwhile Bury were riding high, second in the table, only having lost once all season away from home and only having conceded twenty goals in total!
But these weren’t the only clues for the perceptive soul. Bury had lost this season to our two fellow-strugglers Rotherham and Luton. Our better results tend to be against higher-placed sides. We have a history of doing well when our backs are against the wall and we only have 16 available players in the squad. And that’s before you consider the affect my (and Peter’s) presence tend to have on a game! Peter says the team play better when he doesn’t wear his scarf; so he didn’t! The last time I saw the Cherries play was at Luton, thought by many to have been our best game this season to date. And ‘I’ do well against Bury: having seen us beat them twice in 2001, the second occasion being our very first league win at our temporary home in Dorchester; Derek Holmes’ debut game.
So with all those clues, we should have known it would be a shock 2-0 win to the Cherries, and we could have stayed away! I’m glad I didn’t though, as this was an excellent game of football. All our players seemed ‘up for it’, and Quinn had made significant changes to the starting line-up and formation, rendering the Bury manager’s trip to Blyth - to watch us on Tuesday - somewhat futile! Ward, Cummings and McQuoid had all been dropped from the starting line-up despite being available.
We lined up in a conventional, flat, 4-4-2. This is what the fans like to see. Connell (just back from injury) and Tubbs (cup-tied on Tuesday) played off one another as twin strikers: a refreshing change from recent tactics. And, as neither is likely to win a header, we played a more passing game so that the strikers would receive the ball on the ground. Behind them, in the centre of the park, Bartley was back and Partington was enjoying his first start. They played fairly ‘flat’, but showed the ability to work together - one, usually Partington, helping out in defence while the other, usually Bartley, ran forward as necessary. Bartley had a game of extremes: at times he appeared to be taking no notice of the play at all, losing concentration and having no idea where the ball was. At other times he’d work absolute magic and cover the whole pitch. (These must have been the only moments when the sponsors were watching, because they awarded him ‘man of the match’!) Igoe returned to the right wing for the first time since Kevin Bond’s days, despite saying it’s not his preferred position, and performed surprisingly well there. Preston, who’d only ever been on the bench once before today and then hadn’t been played, is a natural left-winger and looked very much at home there. With Igoe he succeeded in stretching the play, and both wings were utilised to good effect. More experienced players were happy to play Preston in regularly - but then several of them (Bartley, Partington, Garry) have had spells in the reserves and have played alongside him there. Roach was standing on the touchline coaching his three prodigies who had started this match (Tubbs, Partington and Preston) while two more (Pryce and McQuoid) sat on the bench awaiting their opportunity. Bradbury returned - for the first time in ages - to the right back position, and showed a lot of intelligence in putting in telling passes to strikers. Garry played the left back position rather differently, tearing down the wing as necessary and even crossing to the other side of the pitch on one occasion as he chased the ball. Guyett and Pearce looked accomplished in the centre back roles, and Pearce - who has always tended to shout instructions to those around him, even the first time I saw him play - seemed a natural choice for captain on the day. Indeed, with the performance being very much a team effort, the captain is the most worthy recipient of ‘man of the match’ on everyone’s behalf. Jalal had another great game in goal, being - with Bradbury - the most regular choice on the team sheet. He wasn’t tested too much in the first half, but really came into his own to make some stunning saves after the break.
The team played well from the ‘off’. We stretched the Bury defence; Igoe and, particularly, Preston were very influential throughout the first half. Bartley got at least one shot on goal and Tubbs had several. Preston could have scored twice close together, to make it an even more memorable debut for him; his best chance came off a cross from Connell on his right, which he couldn’t quite stretch far enough to reach. But at least he was in (almost) the perfect position. Eventually, at the seemingly perfect time six minutes before the break, it was Igoe who opened the scoring, taking advantage of a botched Bury clearance to slam the loose ball home. Although his shot was deflected by Bury defender Sodje, Igoe can take the credit because it was going in anyway. As if this wasn’t already the perfect end to the half, Partington then doubled the score by side-footing the ball past the stranded keeper having received it from Tubbs. Half time 2-0. When did we last score two goals at the open end of the ground?
The second half had more to do with defending, especially during a brief spell when Bury dominated. If they’d scored one goal they’d almost certainly have gone on to score another. But Guyett, Pearce and Jalal all performed brilliantly to keep the score at 2-0. Garry went off, possibly injured, but after such an excellent game one hopes not. Preston was substituted and went off to a deserved standing ovation. Bartley was substituted and received more muted applause. If the next match had been less than six days away the now-exhausted Connell would probably have been substituted. Sadly for him, right at the death he had the perfect chance to make it 3-0, running towards the North Stand with the ball, but he had no energy left and Bury defenders effortlessly relieved him of it. 2-0 the score remained.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):