Date: 2 January 2010
Well my father predicted 2-0 for today’s result, and he was right, but I don’t think he expected it to be Northampton who’d come out on top. This was a disappointing match all round. And for once Howe made some decisions that, in the light of day, proved to be poor ones. Faced with the absence of Cummings, he decided that rather than ask Garry or Bradbury (or even youth left-back Holmes) to play in that position, he would in fact change the whole system. So, instead of one player having to adjust to a new situation, they all had to do so! And the outcome was disastrous.
The day had already begun badly. With buses replacing trains in the Southampton area it had seemed a good idea to drive to the match. But the Wessex Way was inexplicably closed by police, no diversion route was suggested, and most cars were opting simply to sit in a two-lane traffic jam all the way from Ringwood to Ferndown. I got round that, and arrived at the ground to find the sun in our eyes. But then there were some good omens too: Robinson, Garry and Igoe had all returned from injury and were available to start. So the only question was, who would play at left back?
Answer: no-one would! Partington, Garry and Pearce lined up as three centre backs; Bradbury and - surprisingly - Hollands (OK, he’s left-footed, but…) as wing backs. Hollands has never looked more out of sorts. It was a right old muddle, and Northampton couldn’t believe their luck. Exploiting our lack of full backs, winger Gutteridge coolly slotted the ball into our net, totally unchallenged, within five minutes. It was Igoe who suggested a change immediately: volunteering to swap roles with Hollands. So Hollands was now alongside Robinson in central midfield, which was fine, but we were still stuck with three (or five?) defenders who just didn’t know who was supposed to be marking what. So Gilligan, totally unmarked, slammed the ball home from some distance to put the Cobblers 2-0 up on the quarter hour mark. At last, we reverted to the system we know well: 4-4-2, with everyone except Hollands (left-back) now playing in a familiar position. But it was a case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted. The game was already lost and there was no coming back now.
And still Howe had another atypically bizarre idea up his sleeve. On the half hour mark, just as the team were finally getting into their stride, he brought on Fletch for Connell. So, a striker was to be the scapegoat for a defensive cock-up, was he? Connell unhappily ran straight down the tunnel without staying to watch the rest of the match, and the substitution - for once - didn’t help at all. Fletch simply took on his opponents: pushing them, pulling them, hanging on to their shirts, even grabbing one poor guy round the throat at one point. If he was in an attacking position, he took on Northampton defenders; if helping out in defence, he took on their strikers; but always the man, not the ball. It’s remarkable that he was only booked once. And talking of players who were not at the best, Igoe - despite his willingness to give it a go - and Bradbury both had off days; while Feeney - of whom we’ve come to expect so much lately - had arguably his worst ever game in a Cherries shirt.
Did we have any shots at goal? Well, I only counted three in the first half: two soft shots from Pitman, both saved, and one from Bradbury - late in the half - that sailed over the bar. In the second half, it was even worse: only one close range shot from Pearce, when time had almost run out, and that went straight into the keeper’s arms too. Prior to this, we’d awaited the emergence of McQuoid; he’d made a big difference on Monday and maybe he could do the same again. But Howe completed a trio of poor decisions by leaving him on the bench when Igoe went off, and bringing on Goulding instead. And by now the sun had gone down behind the Main Stand and the temperature had dropped steeply; so Cherries’ fans were as fed up as they could be.
Pearce would, I guess, be a contender for Man of The Match; as would the sponsors’ choice, Garry. But for me, for the second match running, Partington was the only player who totally emerged with credit. OK, he’s not the finished article, but he never stopped giving it everything. He was asked, in the course of this match, to play in three different positions: initially as one of three centre-backs; later, while Garry was temporarily off the pitch having a bloody nose treated, Fletch attempted to hold the ball up on his own (!), Pitman dropped into midfield and Partington played as one of two centre backs; and for the rest of the match Partington himself played in midfield. He also made a few excellent passes during the course of the game. He was totally exhausted by the end, but still fighting for every ball. If Feeney, Connell, et al had shown similar spirit we might still have clawed something back from this game. But in the end fans sloped away frustrated and frozen, the only redeeming fact for me being that the journey home was uneventful.
The team finally settled on the following line-up after the second Northampton goal had gone in, but by then it was too little too late (I've given the players marks out of ten):