Graham Pearcey

Graham Pearcey

Southampton 2 Cherries 0

Date: 2 October 2010

This had all the makings of a perfect day out. We began by visiting two great pubs in St Denys, each offering an excellent selection of both food and drinks. Then a pleasant stroll along the picturesque waterfront to the ground, in glorious sunshine (where were the threatened heavy showers?). We arrived to find that our allocated places were near the top of the stand, so no risk of having to sit on soaking wet seats like we did last time we came here! The away end was filled to capacity and Bournemouth fans were in good voice. We’d feared Eddie might opt, at least in the first half, for the 4-1-4-1 system that never seems to give us results; but no, it was our preferred 4-4-2, Symes starting while Cooper languished on the bench. (Interesting, because at the start of the season Cooper would have been chosen over Garry.) And then the team began so brightly: Feeney hitting the post, and Symes shooting just wide of the target on the rebound, within the first minute of play - both actions right in front of the visiting supporters. Could things get any better?

No they couldn’t. But they could get a lot worse. These were to be our only two shots on goal in the full ninety minutes; and as neither of these was ‘on target’ the statistics at the end of this match would look very poor indeed. Following this initial flurry the game moved to the other end of the pitch; Jalal made an excellent save, but from then on Saints would dominate. Around twenty minutes into the game the referee (or rather, his assistant) decided Wiggins had handled the ball in the area. The fact that his opponent had pushed him first, and had effectively knocked the ball into his arm, was ignored. Away fans weren’t even sure the incident had taken place inside the area, though subsequent video replays revealed that it had - just. Southampton’s Rickie Lambert was decisive from the spot. 0-1, and this scoreline remained up to half time.

What would Eddie do about it? Surely we could come round from this? The fans’ hope was that the team would remain unchanged. When we saw Cooper on the touchline at the end of the break we feared a striker was coming off but, no, it was Feeney. There was general approval for this move; he’d been poor in the first half. The two strikers stayed put, Smith and Wiggins converted to wing-backs, and we now lined up (tidily) with squad numbers 3-4-5 across the back and 6-7-8 in front of them. The aim was obviously to deal with Saints’ hitherto domination in the middle of the park. Though no-one performed badly in their changed roles, this didn’t work. Indeed, the early part of the second half was the period in which Saints’ domination was most apparent. And then, disaster: Saints were awarded another penalty, this time because Bartley was adjudged to have fouled a Southampton player. It was only ten minutes into the half. Yet again Lambert put it away clinically. It’s not good to be trailing by two penalties. There’s some reassurance in conceding no goals during open play, but it doesn’t alter the fact that Saints deserved to win this match. The evening league table would show Saints only five points behind us now, and their own assumption that they will end the season above us doesn’t seem unreasonable any more.

The rest of the match would continue to hinge, as it already had, on the referee’s decisions. Every time, he bowed to pressure and favoured the home side. Apart from the two penalties, he awarded a questionable free-kick to Southampton just outside the area. And one of his assistants gave Saints two corners that should never have been, as well as a throw-in that didn’t seem right either (and the players’ reactions confirmed this). It would have been OK if both sides had been subjected to strict discipline, but we had three or four penalty shouts waved away, and they were as serious as the ones that were given: Fletcher, when he came on for Symes, was subjected to appalling treatment by Saints’ defenders, including a blatant shove in the back at one point. Only one yellow card was awarded to a Southampton player, but five were handed out to the away side (though we’re certainly not known for ‘dirty’ play) and Smith was unfortunate enough to receive two of them. So he was sent off and, despite only being with us for a month, will now miss the match at Brighton. (Cooper took over his place at right-back and would seem the obvious choice for the Brighton game, though Eddie may opt for Robinson or Bradbury.) And finally, Jalal got yellow-carded for dissent. He’d remonstrated with the linesman for not flagging when Pearce had lain prostrate on the ground, apparently in great agony. Pearce turned out to be OK, but this was no thanks to the officials.

The battle in the stands was pretty feisty too. Nothing physical (despite the huge police presence, apparently willing trouble so that they could come charging in), but unsurprisingly plenty of banter. As before, there were chants of “There’s only one Harry Redknapp” and “Your ground’s too big for you”. Southampton fans responded with “You’ve only got three stands”, which Eddie Mitchell - sitting near us, having been denied access to the directors’ box - clearly noted and realised he must do something about sooner rather than later!

The matchday programme named one Lauren White as a Saints’ mascot, despite living in Wimborne and attending St Michael’s School, Colehill. She even had the audacity to predict a repeat of the league cup scoreline: 2-0 to Southampton. As if this, from a Dorset resident, wasn’t insulting enough, she ended up - of course - being spot on in her prediction. Smug bastard.

The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):

Jalal (8);
Smith (6), Garry (6), Pearce (7), Wiggins (6);
Feeney (5), Bartley (7), Robinson (6), Pugh (7);
Symes (6), McQuoid (6).

My 'man of the match' : Jalal.

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