Date: 13 November 2010
This is more like it! Whether I think about the previous two matches I’d seen against Walsall (1-0 and 0-0 respectively), the one against Brentford (lots of effort but an apparent inability to score), or last Saturday’s game which I didn’t see, today’s game compares very favourably. We had two strikers up front all the time, we kept a clean sheet, and we had a more respectable attendance (5600 compared to last week’s 3600, though we think this figure may have been distorted by the fact that season ticket holders are counted for league matches even if they don’t physically show up).
3-0 is a great result in anyone’s book. When it elevates your team to third place in the league - top of a group that are on equal points, by virtue of a far superior goal difference to almost anyone else's - it’s even better. And what can one say about the fact that all three goals were once again scored by Josh McQuoid? That’s two hat-tricks in eight days, or eleven goals already this season (and it’s not mid-November). To think he began the season on the bench, and a midfielder at that!
We lined up with something close to our preferred team. There was a question mark midweek around whether any of Cooper, Garry or Bartley would be available to play centre-back. In the end, not only was Garry fit enough to play the full ninety minutes, but in my opinion he was the star in the back four. Wiggins returned for Cummings at left back; and Bignall, a loan player from Reading, (first name Nicholas but inexplicably nicknamed Bazza,) took Fletch’s place up front. (Neither Taylor nor Symes was fit enough to make the bench.) It was 4-4-2 but Smith and Wiggins were often in line with our midfielders, and Feeney and Pugh in line with the strikers, making it more like 2-4-4! We began in a lively manner and within a minute or so had won two corner kicks where the main stand meets the temporary one. For the second kick, taken by Feeney, we’d attempted our clever ‘step over’ routine, but McQuoid had unacceptably sent the ball soaring sky high. Everyone needed time to settle, it seemed, but the first half would prove to be largely a frustrating one. Walsall played defensively, relying on the occasional break. But, boy, were they effective on the break! Our defenders got caught napping again and again, especially Jalal who - on the occasions he was called into action - didn’t seem to be having his best day. At one point, however, Jalal went down with what could only have been cramp (because play was taking place at the opposite end of the pitch at the time). There was a moment of nervousness all round as he was treated, and we wondered if this would provide our first opportunity to see Stewart Jr., but after all the players had obtained a swig of water and a touchline briefing (had this been the master plan all along?) Jalal sprang back to life!
Walsall came close to scoring several times on the break, and it was starting to look like a match we could dominate but lose. However, I hadn’t allowed for Pugh and McQuoid. Pugh sent a wonderful cross along the goal line from Bournemouth’s left, and McQuoid rose at the far stick to head home. 1-0, after about half an hour of play. But this in itself didn’t mark any change in determination; the game reverted to form for the rest of the half.
Nothing significant changed for the second half until, on the hour mark as always, Big Fletch came on. Bignall, who’d looked good at times, with some ball skill a la Bartley and apparently a good pace, had nonetheless only managed one shot (over the bar) and not really shone - but then he’d only been at the club 24 hours - so he gave way. Immediately things looked better and Walsall started to look nervy. Walsall also started to look tired. But it was to be another ten minutes before we scored, and when we did it would be exactly like the first goal, for those who’d missed it! A cross from the left by Pugh, and a header (more of a dive this time) from McQuoid at the far post.
McQuoid was lucky to get his third. First Pugh denied him a free kick, only to blast the ball wide himself. Then McQuoid had a shot himself but hit the side netting. And finally, Arter arrived on the touchline waiting to take McQuoid’s place at the next break in play. But before he could, McQuoid managed to fire a long-range shot from 25 yards, the crowd roared, the substitution was announced, and McQuoid left to a standing ovation. At this point only two minutes of normal time remained on the clock. Four extra minutes were added, mainly due to a clash of heads earlier between two Walsall players, which gave Feeney time to give way to Bartley, and for Robinson briefly to take up the wide right position in his place. But the score remained a glorious 3-0.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):