Date: 14 May 2011
So, the play-offs have arrived and every match is now “massive”, to coin a phrase. Of course Huddersfield would regard themselves as a “massive” club, but have now lingered in our division for several years. At Dean Court, before today, I’d seen us beaten 1-2 by them, as well as drawing 2-2 and, yes, 1-1; so today’s score was a repeat of the one achieved - in very different circumstances - on 15 April 2006. And I must say in advance that, while we’d obviously have liked more, 1-1 was a fair result from this game.
The first surprise on arriving at the stadium was that the crowd was smaller than the previous week, when there’d been nothing to play for! A week ago, a sell-out crowd for today was being presumed; and the deal was that season ticket holders should apply via the Ticket Office and everyone else via the BIC. There are differing accounts as to why neither sold out, but by close of business yesterday there were allegedly 800 seats still available at the Ticket Office (had that many season ticket holders failed to take up their option?) and no-one knows how many at the BIC. Hardly anyone was buying tickets on the day because they’ll have assumed there’d be none left.
Where there were no surprises, was in the team line-up - with the rested Ings back for Pugh, even though Pugh played well last week. As the game got underway it soon became clear that today’s game would be, for those watching on TV, a very, very good advertisement for League 1 football. This match was a thriller from start to finish, both teams giving it everything - though the Huddersfield supporters seemed to be winning on the noise front (mainly with shouts of “’Uddersfield”!). The lads on our two flanks performed particularly well, getting in some good crosses, and we had a lot of the possession in the first half; but the strikers didn’t seem able to finish the job off. One of our best chances of the half came to Pearce, whose header flew over the crossbar at the open end of the stadium. But at almost exactly the midway point in this half, against the run of play, we defended a Huddersfield corner poorly and an unusually stationary Jalal gifted their player a headed goal. 0-1.
However, the best opportunity of the half came when Wiggins, who was on a great run with the ball following some excellent build-up play, was upended by the Huddersfield keeper in the penalty area. The home fans screamed for a red card but - maybe influenced by the fact that the ball was already heading out of play at the time the incident occurred - the referee only gave a yellow. A ‘red’ would have been invaluable to us of course, enabling us to play the rest of this match against ten men and preventing Huddersfield from utilising their first choice keeper in the second leg. Nonetheless the ref did award a penalty, because Wiggins was after all the ‘last man’ and the incident had occurred in the area. Ings stepped up to take it. But first there was some argy-bargy between players that needed sorting out, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wondered if the enforced delay would unnerve Ings. His kick from the spot was on target, but it was a rather gentle shot, and its direction (low to the goalie’s right hand side) was easy to predict and to save. So save it he did. A frustrated Ings ran up to the goalpost and gave it a hefty kick in frustration, but in fairness he then immediately settled down and there was no evidence that this lost opportunity - for himself and the team - seriously impacted his confidence for the rest of the game. Ings said in an interview that he likes taking penalties; hopefully he can learn from this one and understand how he gave a few too many ‘clues’ to the opposition keeper. We shan’t know until Wednesday night, when the aggregate score is finally totted up, how expensive a miss this will prove to have been.
There was to be one more golden opportunity for Bournemouth in this half: a shot from Feeney on the stroke of half-time was skewed so far wide of the goal as to be laughable. Huddersfield started brightly in the second half, and Cooper gifted an apparently straightforward goal-scoring opportunity to an unmarked Town player, but impressively Jalal managed to block the shot. And after ten minutes or so of the half, Bournemouth began to dominate and would now do so for the rest of the match. The equaliser came on the hour mark: a loose ball was picked up from a deep position by McDermott who hammered it home to bring the entire stadium to their feet. Even Huddersfield supporters were applauding. From now on it was all Bournemouth, with the game almost entirely played in Town’s half. A Feeney throw-in close to the corner flag was defended well, but Hollands found the loose ball and tried to emulate McDermott with another powerful shot. It missed. McDermott was eventually replaced by Pugh, the substitute performing well in a cameo performance while McDermott presumably settled down to watch his own team, Manchester City, kick off in the FA Cup Final on TV!
As we moved into four minutes of injury time at the end of the match, Huddersfield fans now whistling for full time as we were still in control of the game, Bradders made a double substitution: Fletch and Williamson on for Lovell and Ings. The most obvious reason for this would seem to be that Fletch ended the season proper on 597 league appearances for the Cherries, so if he can make even the briefest cameo appearance in each play-off semi-final - and we can get through - Old Trafford will be his 600th. A good time to retire?
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Smith (8), Cooper (7), Pearce (7), Wiggins (8);
Feeney (8), Robinson (9), Hollands (7), McDermott (8);
Lovell (7), Ings (7).