Date: 11 April 2009
This isn't the first time I’ve commented that the lunchtime visit to the pub was the best part of the day, and that it was all downhill from there on, but never has this been more true than today. Even before considering the match itself, the evidence is overwhelming.
First, the pub - The Mitre - was truly excellent. They accommodated a large, unexpected, crowd of Exiles without complaint; the manager took the trouble to come to our table and discuss individual orders; manager and staff made us genuinely welcome and said they hoped to see us again next season; and the selection of beers was good too! Second, travel was difficult with there being no trains through Wimbledon and no tubes on the Northern Line to High Barnet. My own journey was more than three hours door-to-door, not what I’d expect for a London game. Those who’d come by car reported that they’d fared little better. The three mile drive from the M25 was complicated, and then it was hard to park. And third, the ground - Underhill - was dreadful. It just couldn’t accommodate our numbers, even though we’d booked tickets in advance so they knew we were coming. Stewards and police gave conflicting instructions - one saying “wait by this gate it will be opened shortly” and another saying “don’t wait by this gate” - until they ended up breaking their own rules by directing us onto a yellow-painted “don’t stand here” area! I’ve never known such an uncomfortable place to watch a game: trying to stand on tiptoe to see most of the ground, still missing out on one corner, and having people tapping one of my shoulders every few seconds asking to move past me - sometimes several at once. Why can’t people just stand still for the duration, and try and enjoy the match?
So, admittedly, it would have taken a very good game to make up for the travel difficulties and poor accommodation. And a very good game was not what we got. Barnet weren’t great, and we dominated them throughout the first half with nothing to show for it. But in the end they were good enough to beat us courtesy of a ‘soft’ Paul Furlong goal, virtually their only shot to be honest (Jalal had a quiet game), a header from close range early in the second period. This was Furlong’s 200th career goal, so he took off his shirt to celebrate, and then dutifully went to the referee to collect the booking he’d asked for!
Perceptively, Eddie - or “Ernie Howe”, as Ian Hendon had named him in the matchday programme (not the best of friends then, Ian!) - had said before the match that Furlong would be the greatest threat. Eddie made two changes to the previous week’s team - Bradbury for Molesley (apparently the result of sickness) and Goulding for Fletcher (evidently being rested in preparation for Monday’s match) - neither of which benefited us at all. We missed Molesley badly; Bradbury who replaced him was very poor with his distribution; and this change forced Feeney onto his less favoured left flank (at least for the first half). We also ‘missed’ Fletch (though he was still in the squad to boost morale) in the sense that Goulding was badly off form today: never quite having the pace, missing sitters, and being especially disappointing in a one-on-one with the Barnet keeper in the first half. If he’d tried some trick then, and it hadn’t come off, we’d have forgiven him. But he tried nothing: he just strolled the ball to the feet of the goalie. Of course, all this bodes well for Monday: Molesley and Fletcher should be able to start, and in any case the stats show we are the second best performers in our league against teams in the top half of the table, and they don’t come any higher than Brentford!
Pitman had some shots which you’d have bet on him to put away on any other day. Bradbury hit the roof of the net ten minutes after kick-off. Pearce saw a header cleared off the goal line. How different might the game have been if any of these had gone in? At half time, though we felt we’d missed some great chances, we didn’t feel we were out of it, though we realised it would be literally all “up hill” in the second period. Eddie made a few tactical changes, particularly after the goal. And we ended the match with very much an attack-oriented system: Guyett, Fletcher and Bradbury providing a three-pronged front line with Igoe not far behind them. But 0-1 was the final score. The good news is that Eddie’s impressive record, never losing a match by more than one goal under his management, was extended to 17 matches. And, with Grimsby and Chester also losing, time is running out for those just behind us. So our survival chances were actually better at the end of the day than at the start, though it didn’t feel that way at the time!
Why oh why is it that for all the talk of the value of the “twelfth man”, Bournemouth seem to give their best performances when there are only a hardy few to see them, and so often disappoint when the support is exemplary? They couldn’t have asked more from us today. With 1200 Cherries supporters turning up (almost as many as the home fans); with each of us facing appalling travelling conditions; with some of us taking several hours each way over our journey; and with many of us standing in very uncomfortable conditions and straining to see the match at all; we deserved better than this. We really did.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Cooper (7), Garry (8), Pearce (7), Wiggins (7);
Bradbury (6), Robinson (7), Hollands (6), Feeney (7);
Pitman (7), Goulding (5).