Date: 16 April 2011
There were so many reasons not to go to this game! In fact, those of us who’d bought train tickets in advance were feeling somewhat sorry for ourselves because we felt we were committed now. Even after arriving in Nottingham many thought they’d rather stay in the pub than endure another match like last week’s. Then we turned to the matchday programme and it eloquently summed up what we were feeling: Bournemouth were looking jaded and inexperienced now, and the promotion hopes had been unrealistic anyway. No doubt this information had been provided by someone from Bournemouth, which makes it all the more remarkable that we later learned this comment (and others like it) so incensed Fletch that he stuck it on the changing room door and it spurred the team on, to try and prove everyone wrong!
The team was announced and it was broadly what most fans would have gone for. Pugh had not performed well enough lately to retain his place in the starting line-up, so Feeney was moving to the left and McDermott taking over on the right (except for a brief swap just before half time). This one fact gave us renewed hope that Bradders - even if he couldn’t work out such things for himself - could at least listen to what others were saying. Lovell and Ings were to start - which would give a good mix of age and youth, of experience and inexperience, though surprisingly before today Lovell hadn’t actually started a match since his return to the club last year. (It was somewhat ironic that, after all this, neither Lovell nor McDermott played as well today as they had when previously coming on as subs!) The other fact of note was that we had only named six substitutes. I thought we had quite a large squad these days. Garry, Symes and Wiggins are known to be injured; Cummings and Partington are presumed to be in the same situation; Taylor and Nelson are out on loan; but that still leaves others surprisingly absent - notably Molesley and Williamson, both of whom Bradbury had strongly hinted would be involved today. We usually take a squad of twenty to away matches, so one has to assume that no fewer than two players failed late fitness tests or injured themselves in the warm-up.
The first half began and Notts Co, after the worst run of results in their 150 year history and with a new manager to impress, played much as we’d played last week. They hoofed the ball high up into the air a lot; it was difficult for us to deal with that, keep the ball on the ground and respond with good football. We were playing better than last week, but the match still wasn’t entertaining. Ings managed one shot ten minutes in, that was deflected for a (wasted) corner, but there was very little else of note. Somewhere along the way, Purches got elbowed in the face by Notts’ Hughes - whether intentionally or not is hard to say - and the lengthy treatment time left us wondering firstly who could play left back if Purches had to go off (Hollands?) and secondly how on earth they would manage to convert Meadow Lane into a rugby stadium, and the pitch into a rugby pitch, if the half hour or so scheduled between today’s matches got reduced any further. (Not to mention the logistics of getting two teams and their supporters out; and two more teams and their supporters in!) The Purches’ incident also brings me to the impact of non-playing staff on today’s game. It was the County club doctor who, allegedly, advised that Purches wasn’t fit enough to play the second half; and it was also very noticeable how quick the County ball boys were to return the ball for a Notts throw-in, and how slow they were for every Bournemouth throw! Despite complaints from players and fans alike, they did this throughout the ninety minutes, showing it’s a policy decision that’s going unchecked. But for all the dirty tricks, whether from ball boys, doctors or elbows, Notts failed to put their stamp on this game and gradually Boscombe gained the upper hand.
It was Robinson who was asked to take Purches’ place after half-time. This surprised us, as we’d previously known him play right-back (not that well to be honest, but full marks to him for effort and versatility) but never left. And it seemed a shame to break up the Robinson-Hollands partnership in the centre of the park. But actually this proved to be the catalyst for a much improved second half. Arter took Robinson’s place in the centre and immediately busied himself, getting into the ‘hole’ between the strikers where possible, and trying to prove why he should be returned to the starting line-up where he’d been at the beginning of the season. Robinson struggled a bit at left back, but in the 67th minute when an Ings’ shot hit the County keeper’s leg and was deflected for a corner on Bournemouth’s right, which Feeney took, Robinson was right there in the centre of the park to head it home in a manner that looked just clinical. 0-1. Great cheers from the away crowd of over 650, who began singing the Stevie Robinson song (not heard in many a year) to new words, “Score us a goal Anton Robinson…” BUT … no-one could forget our home match against the same opposition last August, when we’d gone 3-0 up only to eventually draw 3-3, with the Pies’ second and third goals both scored after the ninetieth minute, leading to a run of matches in which we’d conceded late goals. Robinson had scored that day too - and we didn’t want history repeating itself! So there was still everything to play for.
Arter played a part in our second goal, ten minutes later. He put in a clever pass to Ings and for a moment it looked like (not for the first time) the flag might go up for offside. While County players looked to the linesman, Ings kept charging forward and - though he could have passed back to Arter - opted for a shot that came off. 0-2 now, and no-one was more delighted than Ings himself who ran half the length of the pitch to leap onto Bradbury’s shoulders. Bradders’ faith in the striker, young enough (just) to be his son, had come off! As County - and particularly Hughes - continued to flounder, it looked like this might be our day after all. Feeney, Ings and Arter had some shots at goal, but not many; and Notts players started shooting wildly in the direction of goal on sight, though many of their shots were so far off target that they led to choruses of “That’s why you’re going down”. Clearly Notts then suddenly remembered August’s Dean Court game, so they went to 3-4-3 and hammered Jalal’s goal for the final ten minutes. This prompted Bradders to bring on Baudry to shore up our defence, leaving Fletch on his own up front. It worked, we won, significantly Rochdale and Orient lost their matches later in the afternoon, and we were back in a play-off place.
This was a good day out. Two great pubs (three or four for some!), Castle Rock beers, an excellent lunch, and far more sunshine than had been forecast. Somewhat surprisingly the post-match conversation ranged from beers to rugby to cricket (quite a lot, as Hampshire were in town), with the football hardly being mentioned. If it had been, then maybe we’d have heard the usual comments about “On another day…” After all, we’d only beaten the team that was currently bottom of the form table - not the greatest of achievements, but it can have done our players’ confidence no harm. Also, we know we play best with our backs to the wall which, if any more players get injured, they certainly will be - for the final four matches of a long (and for so many reasons memorable) season.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):