Date: 13 February 2010
For two Saturdays in a row I’ve awaited the start of the match whilst being regaled with stories about the Cherries’ fabulous midweek performance. And both times I’ve gone on to watch something dull, dire and undeserving of all the hype. What’s going on here? Do we always perform better on weeknights than on Saturday afternoons? (I’d need to consult the record books to find out.) It was less than twelve months ago that we had a wonderful time at Dagenham, a Tindall assist leading to a Molesley goal in the 93rd minute. The omens today were (in part) good: Tindall was on the bench again! But Molesley is a long-term injury, and this match proved to be nothing like the previous one. But then, that had of course been a weeknight!
We were amazed when we arrived at the ground to discover that in a such a short time a gleaming new stand has been erected on the site of the windy terrace where we stood last year. The wind and rain still blow in though, as the other three sides of the ground provide no protection, but at least it’s only from the front. It seems strange that the only side that doesn’t look like a Conference ground is given over to visiting fans. The fact that home terracing in places consists of just a few low steps, while the visitors have a high stand with a roof over their heads to echo any singing, gives the optical and aural allusion that visiting fans are in the majority. (Subsequent statistics revealed that we were in fact outnumbered 2:1.) None of this helped the result though.
Eddie was forced to make one change to the previous week’s starting line-up, as Garry was injured. Bartley came in at centre-back, a position he had played earlier in the season. Everyone was in fact in a position they’ve played recently, and on paper this looked better than the previous week’s finishing line-up, because it restored Hollands to the centre of the park alongside Robinson, which I think is his best position. Bartley, in fact, excelled. Not only did he work his socks off and play more creatively than I ever recall before, but he was our best defender. And twice - as last man - he provided goal-line clearances that kept us in the game. In fact, we didn’t seem so much to miss Garry today as to miss a second Bartley: someone who could be as speedy and imaginative in midfield as Bartley was at the back. Pitman got no service. McQuoid looked lightweight on the left wing and Feeney was marked out of the game on the right; they swapped wings for the last ten minutes of the first half, later swapped back, but that made no difference. Fletcher provided nothing either; he rightly gets plaudits for managing 180 minutes of football a week at his age, and there was certainly no sign that his body was flagging even at the end, but it was his brain that couldn’t keep up. He won almost everything in the air, but then placed it randomly. He didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength as Pitman at all. And on one notable occasion he ducked to allow a cross ball to go to the man behind him, evidently blissfully unaware that The Man Behind Him was a Dagger!
Both halves were scrappy. Both involved far too many hoofs into the air that sent the ball so high that it sailed over the rooftops. Dagenham deserved to win, and by more than a one goal margin. Again and again Bartley or Jalal - who made some excellent saves in the second half - kept us in the game. We had one purple patch between roughly the 50th and 55th minutes, and for the rest of the match Dagenham dominated. Howe tried the strangest of tactics: at one point in the second half Bradbury, no less, was employed as the middle of three centre backs - effectively a sweeper flanked by Bartley (right) and Pearce (left)! Meanwhile, McQuoid and Wiggins acted as wing-backs while Pitman slotted into the ‘hole’ behind Fletcher and Connell (who had arguably his worst ever game in a Bournemouth shirt). This seemed to leave us somewhat exposed at the back, and it certainly didn’t make things better. But then Howe seemed to have missed the point: it wasn’t defence that was our problem area. Despite Bournemouth chants of “1-0 to the referee”, it wasn’t Dagenham’s penalty that lost us this match. (Fletcher appeared to touch the arm of a Dagenham player in the 40th minute and Arber won the mind games with Jalal by sending him right when he should have gone left. In practice he’d have had a better chance of saving it if he’d stood still.) No, we lost this match at the other end where we lacked creative midfield and forward play. Brett sent one ball over the bar in the first half, and had a couple of soft shots on target. Hollands had a soft shot too; and Robinson shot more strongly just wide of the post once in the second half. And that was about it! There was really nothing to test Roberts in the Daggers’ goal.
Indeed we should be thankful to Roberts for providing the only real entertainment of the afternoon. He’s quite a character, and enjoys a good rapport with the Cherries’ fans. If we seemed to be directing comments at him, he’d cup his hands to his ears as though to encourage more of the same. A chant of “Who ate all the pies?” resulted in him lifting his shirt and inspecting his stomach as though to check whether this was true. The only song that didn’t exactly have him splitting his sides, was the cruel but topical “John Terry sh*gged your missus, John Terry sh*gged your missus, la la la la, la la la la!”
But we shouldn’t be dependent upon crowd humour to raise our spirits. We sloped away at five to discover that sleety rain (that the BBC website had promised wouldn’t arrive until midnight) had come seven hours early. So ultimately it wasn’t only our spirits that got dampened. And the worst of it is, having attended matches on the 6th and 13th I’ve already got my ticket for the 20th. Will I be third time lucky? I’m not holding my breath.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Bradbury (6), Bartley (8), Pearce (6), Wiggins (6);
Feeney (6), Robinson (6), Hollands (6), McQuoid (5);
Pitman (6), Fletcher (5).