Date: 24 January 2009
We’ve all attended matches that began with high expectations, and the Cherries took an early lead, but at some point everything turned sour and we went home feeling utterly miserable. Well, this was an afternoon that proceeded in the opposite direction. Expectations were at an all-time low at 3 o’clock for a variety of reasons: the curious decision of the chairman to promote the caretaker manager after just two games in charge, both of them defeats; the much-trumpeted return of a player (I refuse to use the “L” word) who was unfit at 34 years of age and was now two years older (and had never been a prolific goal scorer anyway); and the employment of no fewer than three home debutant loan signings, displacing and demoralising our own squad players.
As the match kicked off, our concerns could only increase. To make room for the loanees, Molesey and Igoe had been shunted into unfamiliar positions (central midfield and left wing respectively); Jalal and Partington had been relegated to the bench; and promising youngsters Pryce, Preston and McQuoid had been excluded from the squad altogether. The packed visitors’ stand banged their drum (incessantly!) and sang their hearts out, inquiring of the - slightly larger than of late - home crowd whether we didn’t have a song to sing. Apparently not; especially after the debacle of the ninth minute when - in Wycombe’s first clear attack - a back pass was mishandled by our unwanted and unwelcome loan goalie, and a close range tap-in appeared to have been - just - scrambled off the line only for the assistant referee to confirm that this was, indeed, a goal. 0-1 down within ten minutes, and every Bournemouth supporter thinking that surely neither Jalal nor Pryce would have made committed a blunder! (Not that this can be proved either way.)
Six minutes after that goal, Pearce cleared Wycombe’s second apparent goal-scoring opportunity off the line, and then - at the other end - Igoe came close to scoring for us but his shot soared high over bar. I glanced at my watch again; only one minute had passed since the last time I looked. This was going to be a long afternoon! But many matches have a turning point, and surely players and fans on both sides would agree that, for this one, it came in the 23rd minute? Bartley was fouled thirty yards in front of the goal at the ‘open’ end. A free kick was awarded and a Wycombe player was booked. Pitman stood patiently while there was some dispute amongst the Wycombe players, and fans thought of the names of past players (Anderton, Stock…) we’d have liked to see standing in Brett’s boots at this minute. Fletch stood on the edge of the area, close to the goal, unmarked, to Brett’s left. Headline writers, who’d had a flurry of excitement when Fletch got within centimetres of a Thomson cross right on the goal line with only two minutes on the clock, picked up their notepads and eyed him again. But if they did, they missed one of the best goals you’ll see at the Court all season. Pitman didn’t pass to Fletcher as expected; instead he powerfully slammed the ball straight down route one and into the top corner of the net, bringing all the Bournemouth faithful - and not so faithful - out of their seats. The Wycombe defenders had scarcely moved. Game on; as was confirmed when the scoreboard, which had taken ten minutes to update after Wycombe’s goal, was this time updated instantly!
It fell to Pitman, today, to handle all dead-ball situations, including corner kicks on both sides of goal (of which I lost count). This, at times, resulted in him running from one corner flag to the other when two corners were awarded in quick succession! And, without any crazy semaphore signals, every single one looked like a potential goal-scoring opportunity. So it was that, on the half hour mark, a corner taken in the southeast corner of the ground, with a little help on its way from Igoe, found Pearce’s head at the far post and put us 2-1 up. In fact, Igoe himself had two more chances to put the game beyond Wycombe’s reach before half-time, for one of which he had only the keeper to beat but shot too weakly. We could by now have been 4-1 up, while Wycombe’s game was deteriorating to our usual standards. The fourth official - despite no injuries nor substitutions - somehow calculated that three goals meant three added minutes before the break. In the end, both teams were time wasting, simply wanting the opportunity to re-group.
Our previous two managers evidently used to ask for “more of the same” at half time, even if we were losing, so we guessed Eddie wouldn’t make any significant changes. And indeed we started the second period as we’d ended the first, totally dominating the play. The only change was that Thomson - the loan signing on the right wing who’d been very quiet in the first half - suddenly got a lot more involved. Players appeared to have been instructed to pass to him whenever they got the chance. Indeed, in the first minute he won us a corner. A little later, a superb run from Bartley ended in a pass to Thomson, and this time he won us a throw-in. And in the 63rd minute this tactic finally paid off. Thomson received the ball, put in a good run himself on the right flank, beat one player and appeared to have run out of space when he put in what looked like a cross that, evidently with the help of a deflection, somehow turned into a goal. It probably wasn’t quite what he intended, but we were happy to take it.
For the rest of the match we expertly defended our lead. Even the referee appeared to be on our side for once, at one point blowing his whistle just as the ball came swinging towards our goal from a Wycombe corner, though none of us had spotted any infringement. Fletch helped out in defence as needed; Pearce helped out in attack. Wycombe looked nothing like a promotion side, and their fans (those who weren’t singing “What the f*ck is going on?”) began to drift away. Wycombe used up their substitutions early but we saved ours till late. We ended up with Garry on for Wiggins; Partington just in front of the centre backs to shore up our defence; Pitman on the right wing; and Goulding and Fletcher up front. The great thing was that we never put all the players behind the ball; we kept pushing forward. And this was the attitude that won us the match. At the end, the players were happy to accept the fans’ cheers, and even the stewards seemed to be in an improved mood allowing us, for once, to make our way home past the visitors’ stand. As we reflected on the match we felt more relief, and temporary good cheer, than eternal confidence or optimism. But at the least we ended up hoping Eddie would follow the example of his predecessors and appoint the same starting eleven for the next match; Guyett and Hollands would simply have to await their chance. We also hoped Eddie wouldn’t be tempted to take on any more loanees before the end of January.
I guess I should say something about the Fletch Factor. To be honest, he looked no more likely to score a goal than ever. But in his favour he looked pretty fit - and surprisingly slimmer than he left us two years ago; he performed a useful role defending Wycombe set-pieces; and in attack he certainly kept Wycombe’s defenders distracted, which gave Pitman, Thomson and Igoe a clearer sight on goal. This, of course, is the advantage of playing two strikers, in both home and away games (Eddie please note). And no doubt Fletch did something for team morale too - at least for those members of the squad who knew him last time round.
Man of the match? For once, I have no hesitation; I’d chosen him before the sponsors (a rare occurrence this) confirmed my selection. For being the only one of Roach’s protégés to make the starting line-up, for running his socks off and still taking on Wycombe defenders right up to the 94th minute, for holding the ball up as necessary, for some beautifully taken corner kicks, and of course for THAT goal: arise, Sir Brett!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):