Date: 6 February 2010
Liam Feeney, in today’s matchday programme: “The crowd here have been a massive part of what we have done. Our performances can show what the power of the crowd can do.” Unfortunately, the stats tell a completely different story. Our record away from home this season is better than at Dean Court. And even there, we perform better before a small number of travelling fans (e.g. Rotherham - 124) than in front of a large number (e.g. Aldershot - 1100). It’s starting to seem that the best way to support the Cherries is to stay away from matches! Today’s 5000 or so home supporters failed to instil any spirit into their team at all.
Eddie kept faith with the starting line-up that had won 3-1 in midweek, and no-one could fault him for that. The only change was that Bartley was (apparently) recovered from his calf injury, so he took over Tindall’s place on the bench. But the first bad omen was when Cheltenham won the toss and elected to play towards the open end of the ground in the first half, depriving us of the chance to attack the goal in front of the North Stand during the second period. I wondered at times whether our team realised that we were reversing our usual pattern, because we played most of the first half very deep indeed. For us in the East Stand, there were long periods in which the entire action took place to our left. The first half was dire though; virtually nothing occurred that is worth reporting. Both sides did a lot of hoofing and (random) heading, but ultimately Cheltenham had more than Bournemouth to be proud of. If a neutral had been informed that one of these sides ranked second in the league table they’d have guessed it must be the one that was playing away from home. Our only half-chances were a couple of Brett Pitman free kicks that landed safely in the Cheltenham keeper’s hands without the latter even needing to move. There wasn’t a single injury or substitution in the first half - let alone a goal - so even the one minute added at the end seemed generous.
Half time gave us chance to reflect. Feeney (the sponsors’ Man of the Match) and McQuoid had begun on the right and left wings respectively but swapped after 25 minutes because Cheltenham had evidently done their homework. Both wingers had played very deep. On the left this may be explained by the fact that Wiggins is a more traditional full back who doesn’t attempt to fly down the wing. On the right Bradbury had his worst game in ages and his distribution was particularly poor. Garry and Pearce were reliable as usual, and Jalal stayed alert - though neither he nor his opposite number was seriously tested.
One surprise when I’d arrived at the ground - sporting a woolly hat, scarf and gloves, all of which I’d needed when I left home - was how mild a day it was in Bournemouth. Off had come the gloves, scarf and hat - to be replaced by a cap because the sun was hovering irritatingly just above the roof of the main stand. But this was to change for the second half; though it was nice to complete a game in daylight for the first time since last autumn, as the sun disappeared below the roof the temperature plummeted. And what of the ‘temperature’ on the pitch? Well that stayed pretty much the same until Bartley came on. The crowd were at first unconvinced of the wisdom of our first substitution, because McQuoid - who was sacrificed - was playing well, and was young enough to give a full ninety minutes and play again on Tuesday. This also meant Hollands had to switch to the left wing, a position in which he never plays especially well in my experience. Surely Bartley for Hollands would have made more sense? Anyway, Marvin immediately set the game alight; tackling, challenging, working wonders with the ball, playing as though he really wanted us to win. In no time I was thinking that, despite his late arrival on the scene, Bartley was a contender for Man of the Match. But tragically he only lasted 27 minutes by which time he'd pulled a calf muscle, gone down in agony, needed treatment, foolishly tried to play on even though he couldn’t walk let alone run (almost certainly doing himself more damage in the process), and then given up.
Meanwhile Connell had already entered the fray in place of Fletcher. But this wasn’t a one-for-one swap: he’d come on with complex instructions for the other players. We were to switch to a back three (Bradbury, Garry, Pearce); two wing-backs (Robinson and Wiggins); midfield of Bartley and Hollands; and Connell in the ‘hole’ behind Feeney and Pitman. This was a convoluted way to avoid Hollands having to play on the wing, by not having any wingers! It seemed to work reasonably well, though, so it must have been practised in training. When Bartley was forced off, only Thomas and Goulding remained on the bench. So Goulding had to take Feeney’s place up front; Feeney took Robinson’s place at right wing-back; and Robinson returned to his position alongside Hollands, back where he’d started at 3 o’clock!
But none of this impacted the match either favourably or unfavourably. We had occasional half-chances, and so did Cheltenham, but nothing to write home about. Close to the end, Wiggins put in a cross (or was it supposed to be a shot?) from the left, that landed at Pitman’s feet on the far side of goal - somewhat to his surprise - and he side-footed the ball just wide of the upright. It had been a golden opportunity to score but it had all happened too quickly. In added time (there were four minutes in this half, but then there had been a lengthy period in which Bartley had been prostrate, as well as five substitutions), Pitman attempted one more powerful shot from distance. For once it did test the keeper, but the keeper won the test. It would have been a good time to score, gifting us an undeserved victory. But a lot of Bournemouth fans would have missed it, because the stands had been emptying for some time.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Bradbury (5), Garry (7), Pearce (7), Wiggins (7);
Feeney (6), Robinson (6), Hollands (6), McQuoid (6);
Pitman (6), Fletcher (6).