Date: 20 February 2010
My stated wish for ‘third time lucky’, as far as Saturday afternoons is concerned, turned out to be a pipedream. The expectations of both sets of fans were summed up by the fact that only 4500 turned up for this match, including less than a bus-load from Macclesfield. The cloudy, rainy conditions suited us in the East Stand, but didn’t suit either set of players - with the playing surface being very slippery. A pretty dire game resulted, apart from the final 20 minutes when both sides fancied their chances of grabbing the points.
Eddie named the same team, in the same positions, as the previous Saturday. And this time he stuck (quite rightly) with the back four throughout - and didn’t try any silly experiments with back threes or wingbacks. The only change in formation was up front where we ended the match with three forwards; but then, with two of the three outfield players on the bench being strikers, that was somewhat inevitable. All our back four had a good game. Wiggins showed why he’s worth retaining if possible, trying really hard - at times perhaps too hard. Bradbury had a much better game than last week, making some good moves, his distribution having evidently improved - and he was also responsible for the assist that led to our goal. In midfield Robinson had a good day and McQuoid had improved over the previous week but tired too quickly. Feeney still can’t seem to get anything right and far too often he allowed the ball to go out of play - though it’s hard to say how big a part the playing surface had in that. As for Hollands, who seems to have been alternately brilliant or rubbish, he oscillated between both personae today: he would put in a brilliant pass and seconds later do something really stupid.
It wasn’t a good first half. I thought Macclesfield had too much of the possession. We had a few efforts on goal - Pitman volleyed over the bar, McQuoid had an opportunity for a header but missed, Pitman shot wide - but in most cases the chances were squandered because they took the players by surprise. The crowd showed their dissatisfaction by heading off for half-time teas rather earlier, and in greater numbers, than usual.
At half time Connell replaced Fletcher, Eddie perhaps having an eye on the next game (on Tuesday). Connell’s arrival on the scene was not met with much enthusiasm by Cherries’ fans, perhaps because memories of Dagenham were still raw. Unfortunately such pessimism can be self-fulfilling, and Connell got flustered. He often got himself into good positions, but his shooting would be wild and inaccurate and the crowd showed their displeasure. So there was a downward spiral of performance and reaction. We had one purple patch starting about five minutes into the second half, curiously exactly the same time as the previous week, when there were numerous chances, falling to Connell, Pitman, Bradbury, Hollands or Robinson. The best chance of the half was probably somewhat later, when Pitman hit the crossbar. But unfortunately in the midst of all this Macclesfield scored a breakaway goal. Wiggins needlessly gave away a free kick, which found Brown’s head and went in at close range. 0-1. The time: 62 minutes.
Connell went on to (somewhat) silence his critics with a goal off a Bradbury cross five minutes from time. In fairness it was a good goal, and got the crowd to their feet. But only time will tell whether this was sufficient to give Connell’s confidence a much-needed boost. The attitude of the crowd was summed up by the fact that the subsequent naming of Connell as the sponsors’ Man of the Match was greeted with howls of derision; after all, his goal was really the only thing that had gone right for him all afternoon. And if he was unpopular with the crowd, he was even more so with Macclesfield’s manager, who adjudged him to have pushed a Macclesfield defender just before his goal - and complained so vociferously that he got sent away into the stands!
For the last part of the match we saw some very entertaining football indeed. But, not for the first time this season, there was the feeling that it was too little, too late. We need to play like this for all ninety minutes. The draw only pushes us one place down in the league - to third - but allowing for games in hand we no longer look like contenders for automatic promotion, and it would seem that the dreaded playoffs beckon.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Bradbury (8), Bartley (7), Pearce (7), Wiggins (7);
Feeney (5), Robinson (7), Hollands (6), McQuoid (6);
Pitman (6), Fletcher (6).