Date: 3 April 2010
The fact that the Cherries have been performing a lot better at home lately was evidenced by the increased crowd: 6239. Though I guess the fact that it was a bank holiday helped too. And what a great performance they witnessed, probably deserving a score of something like 3-1 or 4-1, and particularly exciting for neutrals - in the first half at least.
When the starting eleven was announced, there was some speculation as to how they’d line up. Neither Connell nor McQuoid was in the starting line-up, but Garry had returned from a short-lived injury and Cooper was with us again. Would Bartley play in defence and Cooper in midfield, or vice versa? It turned out to be Cooper in defence and Bartley in midfield. The bigger surprise was that instead of Feeney starting wide right and Hollands wide left, it was Robinson wide right and Feeney wide left; presumably based upon some homework as to Bradford’s likely line-up. The wingers soon swapped though, so whatever had been planned wasn’t quite working out. The trouble was, Bradbury showed no inclination to overlap the winger in front of him, whoever it was and however well they held up the ball. Nonetheless Bradbury was more than willing to get forward for set pieces so it’s not as though he’s forgotten his pedigree as a striker; maybe he just doesn’t have the pace anymore.
Bournemouth started brightly and just got better and better throughout the first half. Fletcher won quite a lot of balls in the air (we were attacking the ‘open’ end as usual in this half) but rarely managed to place them well, and indeed in one case he headed the ball so far away from goal that it looked as if he were defending it rather than attacking it! Bradbury hit the cross-bar with one shot, and that was probably our best goal attempt in the first forty minutes. Four minutes from the end of the half, Connell appeared on the touchline stripped and ready to come on. Who would come off? No-one looked injured and this was so close to the half time whistle that it seemed a strange time for a substitution. We were still speculating about this when Cooper passed to Feeney, who found Fletcher on the edge of the penalty area, who fed Pitman to Bournemouth’s right, who wrong-footed two defenders before putting in a classic curling shot with his left foot that went into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. 1-0. A wonderful team goal but with Pitman putting the icing on the cake. And before kicking off again, the substitution was made. It was one of the players involved in the goal: Cooper. Hopefully this was just a precautionary move.
So Connell came onto the left wing. For the rest of the game he got quite well involved, manoeuvring himself into good positions but, as so often, shooting wildly. (One Connell 'shot' seemed to be heading for the car park!) Feeney remained on the right, Robinson joined Hollands in the centre - where they’ve worked together well so often this season, Hollands tending to drop back when Robinson pushes forward - and the versatile Bartley dropped back into the centre half position alongside Garry. Bartley was phenomenal today, winning everything in midfield before becoming a vital cog in our defence. He worked hard, tackled cleverly, popped up almost anywhere on the pitch as needed, won the ball well and passed it very well indeed. Rarely has there been a more obvious choice for Man of the Match. Even the sponsors got it right today!
And this was to remain the line-up for the rest of the ninety minutes. Only that one substitution was made by Bournemouth. (And, for the record, none of our players received a card.) At one point Feeney appeared to have run out of steam and need to be replaced, but somehow after a few minutes he got a new lease of life. No-one was playing especially badly, though some of Wiggins’ passes went awry, and his ‘short’ corner kicks were dreadfully wasted opportunities. Jalal was having a quiet game - so quiet that when a very rare Bradford attack took place he was almost caught napping. Meanwhile, we continued to dominate, but without scoring again. As always in such situations, there was the fear that Bradford might score on the break, and around the hour mark they very nearly did just that - their player slamming the ball against the crossbar. But apart from this the best chances fell for us. Twice Feeney fed Pitman and the latter’s shot was either fluffed or saved. And once, very late on, Pitman returned the compliment and Feeney - though playing on the right now - somehow popped up on the left to shoot. For a brief moment, many in the crowd thought it was in. But 1-0 remained the score throughout the nail-biting three added minutes.
This, of course, would do nicely as, having returned to an automatic promotion slot already, if we just keep winning no-one can catch us. To give us a highly desirable safety net, now that we’re about to play Rochdale away (!), Rotherham obligingly lost today and so we’re five points ahead of them. Bury dropped out of the play-off places entirely (they must be gutted having occupied an automatic promotion slot for so long), and were replaced by Northampton. (Where did they appear from?) So now we only need to hold on for just over a month, and we’ve done it!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Bradbury (7), Cooper (7), Garry (8), Wiggins (6);
Robinson (7), Bartley (9), Hollands (8), Feeney (7);
Pitman (8), Fletcher (7).