Date: 5 February 2011
Before this game most Cherries’ supporters would have accepted one point against Leyton Orient - who are enjoying a spell of good form right now. But by the end of the ninety minutes it was the home crowd who were sloping away disappointed whilst the away fans no doubt partied all the way back to London. For the second time this season Orient had equalised against us very close to the end of the match. Back in November we’d been 2-0 up with five minutes to go, today we were 1-0 up with two minutes to go, but both games were drawn, costing us four points. Nonetheless no one can say Orient didn’t deserve the draw; we can’t expect to waste so many scoring chances and still walk away with three points. Last week the story of the match had been Plymouth’s wasted shots; this week it was ours.
Bradbury selected the same starting eleven as Tuesday; in other words Hollands for Bartley compared with last Saturday. No-one would argue with this, and we certainly got off to a flying start: Robinson and Feeney both having shots on goal in the first five minutes even though Orient had won the toss and we were playing in the ‘wrong’ direction. Indeed the story of the first half was all about Feeney, who was arguably at his best yet: shooting, crossing, passing, running - even tackling! He also once again overlapped well with Smith. He’d won the Man of the Match award for me by half time and even though he was very quiet in the second half (he wasn’t allowed into the game much and maybe Bradbury should have swapped him to the opposite flank) no-one performed well enough to take this away from him.
Our goal came at a near-perfect time: seven minutes before half time. Symes picked up the ball near the half way line following a ‘hoof’ from Cooper, and took it all the way, running straight at defenders until they backed off, and eventually curling the ball into the corner of the net. This was the perfect reward for all his hard work, and his first goal since returning from injury (he’d been scoring well early in the season). So now Symes and Ings had both scored all-important goals this week and this couldn’t have done their confidence any harm at all. The break came quickly. Despite two periods of prolonged injury for Cummings, which he’d somehow managed to run off (thus preventing former Orient captain Purches from taking over as no doubt he’d have liked to), the referee decided that only one minute needed to be added to the half.
But unfortunately after the break we didn’t seem able to build on our lead. Orient’s match plan of allowing us to run our socks off and then attempting to beat us on the break, which had almost come off in the first half, looked even more likely to succeed now. It was some time before we got back into the game and when we did it was all about lost opportunities: Robinson with a long shot that was definitely worth trying and Orient’s goalie needed two attempts before he could manage to grab it; then a shot from Symes that from our vantage point was clearly going wide but some supporters thought for a second that we’d scored when it went into the side netting; and thirdly a missed chance for Ings, quarter of an hour from the end, that was unquestionably the turning point of the game. He was one on one with the keeper in front of the ‘open’ end of the stadium (which actually now has seats, but none of them were occupied) and had several options as to how to put the ball away. He also had two other Bournemouth players in support if he was feeling particularly unselfish. The home fans were already on their feet because there seemed to be no doubt he’d score; the only question was how. But Ings spent just too long deciding which option to take and eventually attempted such a soft shot that the goalie easily saved it.
Orient fans were greatly amused but even more so when, seeing that Bradbury still wasn’t going to make any substitutions (the thinking was obviously that there was no midweek match coming up, so strictly speaking no need to rest anyone), home supporters started to leave early. Orient had used all three of their substitutions and were clearly going for it, but Bournemouth’s policy seemed to be to try and hang on desperately to the 1-0 lead. So, with two minutes to go, in a freakish moment, an unmarked Orient player - Cox - found his way into the box and picked up a hopeful pass, getting the ball over Jalal’s head into the top corner of the net. To say Orient players and fans were ecstatic is an understatement: their goalie ran half the length of the pitch in celebration and it was as much as the steward could do to prevent hordes of away fans from joining him there.
Fletcher and Williamson, both of whom had - in fairness - been already awaiting a break in play in order to come on, now replaced Symes and Ings in a classic case of ‘too little too late’. The departing duo got little applause this week, neither did the team as a whole when moments later the final whistle was blown. Everyone was too disappointed that because of missed opportunities, lack of a plan B, and delayed substitutions, we’d not gained one point but dropped two.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Smith (7), Cooper (8), Pearce (6), Cummings (6);
Feeney (8), Robinson (7), Hollands (7), Pugh (6);
Symes (7), Ings (6).