Date: 9 April 2011
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. If you knew nothing about Bournemouth’s recent performances prior to attending this game, you’d have gained a pretty good impression of what to expect by reading the matchday programme before kick-off. Judging by what Bradbury, Cummings, and even Cunningham would tell you, evidently ‘we woz robbed’ in three of the past four games. Again and again “it just wasn’t our day”, “we deserved more after this performance”, “we could have…”, “we should have…”, “the lad were gutted”, “unlucky”, “frustrated”, “disappointing”, etc., etc. Or worse, it was all the ref’s fault. Not to mention that most annoying cliché of all: “two years ago, at minus 17 points, we’d have bitten off the hand of anyone who said we’d be where we are today”. (For how many more decades are spokesmen going to be telling us that?) The thing is, results don’t lie over a long period: if we haven’t won any game in the last six (seven after today), there’s got to be a reason!
Prior to the match, all fans seemed to agree we should play McDermott in preference to Pugh (who’s had a poor run) on the wing today. Well Bradbury worked this out too - after watching Pugh for another forty-five minutes and waiting until we were 0-1 down! This is certainly one of the problems we face: Bradders seems to be the last person to cotton on to certain things. In the second half, when we’d made two substitutions but were still playing the same system and trailing 0-1, he paced up and down the touchline musing, but had no idea what to do - and his deputy was on the pitch leaving him very much alone. Eventually, with only quarter of an hour to go, he switched to the only ‘Plan B’ we have (3-4-3, as trialled at Bristol Rovers on Tuesday) - but even this was much later than everyone else had thought of it. Maybe I’m being unfair: he did swap the wingers in the first half, and soon afterwards swap them back again, but they were getting little of the ball anyway so this was a pretty futile gesture!
We began with pretty much our usual team. Cummings came in for Wiggins, who’s still unavailable; but at least it’s a left-footer, so preferable to Purches. Pugh was retained despite decent performances, so McDermott was on the bench. And Dalla Valle was up front in place of Ings (though they both seem better able to score when they come as subs!), alongside Fletcher - despite the 38 year old having played a full ninety minutes just three and a half days earlier. And we played one of the worst halves of football ever, just hoofing the ball as high as it would go and seeing where it landed. Tranmere were as bad as us. It’s hard to imagine a poorer advertisement for League One football.
Although in a sense neither Bournemouth nor Tranmere ‘deserved’ a half-time lead, we were supposed to be the home team, in a play-off place, so I’d say we were the more disappointing team. It was therefore not a gross travesty of justice when Tranmere scored just before the break - their defender sticking his foot into the path of a ball from the corner and volleying it into the net from close range. Our team was justifiably booed off the pitch, and returned with McDermott for Pugh (at last!), given some freedom but playing mainly right wing, with Feeney switching to the left. The other player introduced was Lovell (worth a try - the ‘devil you don’t know’) for Dalla Valle who - apart from one impressive looking overhead kick that came to nothing anyway - had been totally ineffective in the first half. And we were now playing in our preferred direction, towards the North Stand, so was there still time to turn things round?
Well, first things first: McDermott looked even more impressive than we’d expected. A lot of skilful trickery on the ball, some excellent passes and crosses, but not always read correctly by the rest of the team. He seemed a league above everyone else. And it was as though he eventually realised he was wasting his time, because his game slowed down after a while. We did get some shots on goal in this half - the best chances falling to Pearce, Hollands, Lovell and Fletcher - but the Rovers keeper wasn’t really tested. (Indeed neither keeper made a save in the entire match!) As previously mentioned, Bradders - very late in the day - switched to 3-4-3, Ings and Lovell flanking Fletcher up front and sacrificing Smith as the only defender who doesn’t really ‘do’ centre. And it worked - in injury time! Ings swivelled round to connect with a ball crossed into the box, and shot into the top corner of the net. The crowd went ecstatic. Well, those who were still there did; the many who’d already left will have heard the cheers from the car park. But the cheers were more relief from pent-up frustration than true celebration. There wasn’t much to celebrate. In fact there’d soon be even less, because Tranmere went straight back up the other end and - our goal having been scored by a substitute - decided to do exactly the same! Their sub, however, scored with a long-range shot whilst our defenders were still trying to regroup. 1-2.
Rovers deserved to win over all. Surely I can’t have been the only person to hope Rochdale and Orient would have won and therefore we could forget these unrealistic expectations of reaching the play-offs and give ourselves the month of May off? But no, they both lost too, so still we cling on to sixth place and we’ve got to go through this agony all over again next week. Oh, and there was one controversial decision late on the game, so the crowd were once again able to sing “2-1 to the referee” and Fletch would be able to imply later that ‘we woz robbed’! We wasn’t. We genuinely got what we deserved from this match, i.e. nothing.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):