Date: 1 May 2010
Like many Cherries’ supporters, I have of course seen the scoreline Cherries 4 Port Vale 0 before (on the 16th of October, 2004). But somehow I think today’s match will be remembered longer than that one. There was a near sell-out crowd of 9055, including 1300 Port Vale fans hoping their team would make the play-offs, and hence a party atmosphere from start to finish. But it was the Cherries’ fans who would eventually go away celebrating, while Port Vale will have to pin all their hopes on the final day of the season.
Early in the match I commented that if we could score one goal, in this atmosphere, we’d then start scoring for fun. So the final score would be either 0-0 or 5-0! I was almost right: sure enough we had to wait until early in the second half to open the scoring, but three more goals then followed.
The team lined up in their new shirts, released into the club shop only this morning. I hadn’t liked the design when I’d seen it on the website, but on the pitch it didn’t look half bad. No black stripes (unless you count the black pinstripes, coordinated with stripes on the shorts and socks), but at least there’s plenty of black overall - the sleeves and shorts both being that colour. We had the same starting eleven as the previous week, except that Thomas was in for Jalal, who allegedly had an ankle injury. As a result we had no substitute keeper available (a worry for a couple of minutes of the first half during which Thomas was prostrate, receiving medical attention!); but at least it meant that all available professional players (Molesley and Garry are injured) could take a place on the bench. I’d noticed that Jalal was absent during the warm-up, but this was confirmed when he strode onto the pitch in a dark suit to receive the Exiles trophy - from me! I would have asked him, as we walked off the pitch together, why he wasn’t playing - but he was immediately summoned back on to receive another award! To be honest, the matter-of-fact way in which players posed for one photograph after another, looking quite bored by the process and totally uninterested about what each award represented, was disappointing. But I guess it’s hardly surprising, given that their thoughts were focused on the upcoming game. Brett received more awards than anyone else; then the cheerleaders somewhat belatedly started their pre-match dance routine; but 3 PM quickly arrived and it was time for the game to kick off.
We started brightly enough - except for Dan Thomas who looked rather nervy. But then, he was joining ten players who were used to being together; and he is only 18, so there’s plenty of time for him to improve. In his favour, he has the right physique for a good keeper. Playing in this match must have been a wonderful experience for him, that he’ll always remember, and he can be satisfied with a clean sheet. Robinson and Feeney once again began on the right and left flanks respectively, soon swapping places to confuse the opposition; but elsewhere in the side there were no surprises. Cooper, Pearce, Hollands and Fletcher have all captained the side - so we weren’t short of leaders on the pitch! But the first half, while we easily dominated it, was relatively uneventful. Pitman hit the post once.
For the second half, while Thomas continued to look a bit jittery, the outfield players upped the pace and started to play really good flowing football. The desired breakthrough came within ten minutes. Wiggins took a corner kick where the North Stand meets the East. He bounced the ball on his head, then on his chest, then on his head again - and the crowd sighed and thought “this won’t come to anything.” Then instead of kicking goalwards he drove the ball along the floor to Bradbury - who stepped over it so that it reached Pitman, who drove it into the bottom corner of the net with his right foot. Wonderful stuff, clearly a practised manoeuvre, and the crowd went wild. Vale, not wanting to lose out on a potential play-off place, took a gamble and put four players forward. So we responded by going 4-3-3, with Feeney - though he was already showing signs of tiring - joining Fletcher (central) and Pitman (left-field) up front. When Connell appeared on the touchline waiting to come on, we therefore assumed he’d replace Feeney. But he replaced Fletcher, and we returned to 4-4-2. Of course, one week earlier, Connell had scored within seconds of coming on. Could he do so again? No, he waited two whole minutes before scoring this time! But seriously, it was a good goal: he received the ball, went as though to kick it one way, wrong-footed the Vale keeper and then chipped it. Cue a combination of cheers and laughs. We were playing for fun now, and everyone was having a good time.
Some players started to show off with clever footwork, but who cares? Vale still showed no signs of scoring and the ball spent most of the time in their half. Five minutes later, Connell made it 3-0 when he headed home from a Feeney cross. If he gets another goal next week, he could still be second highest scorer of the season. (Only about 20 goals behind Brett!) McQuoid now stood on the touchline and once again we guessed Feeney was coming off. But no, it was Bartley - who got a huge cheer (though not equal to the 100% standing ovation Fletcher had received eight minutes earlier), resulting in Robinson joining Hollands in central midfield as he’s done so many times before. McQuoid had obviously been noting Connell’s example, because after just four minutes he too headed home from a Feeney cross! Surprisingly, for someone so young, he hardly celebrated at all - but just professionally returned to his position ready for the restart. This is especially remarkable given that it was not only his first goal of the season, but his first senior goal, period. Cummings now came on for Wiggins, whom he’ll in any case need to replace next week as Wiggins' loan-period is over. We’d expect all three of these substitutes, with the starting eleven plus Jalal, to be with us next season. The unused substitutes (Guyett, Partington, Igoe and Goulding) will be less confident of that, though they’ve each played their part this season. The end of the match was now in sight, and supporters started to gather ready for the inevitable pitch invasion. Police and dogs surrounded the away end, so that Vale supporters couldn’t get involved. No additional time was announced. An incident near the open end caused the referee to blow his whistle, but supporters misunderstood it and started to flood onto the pitch. The referee, sensibly, blew again immediately - for full time - and the real party began.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):