Date: 3 September 2011
To think it was only four and a half months ago I watched the Cherries win 2-0 at Meadow Lane. But only three of the players that started that game (Jalal, Cooper and Purches) remain at the club, and Jalal has been relegated to the bench. The County supporters (who, as always, were really friendly - before and after the game) can’t have believed their good fortune when they saw how much we’d changed. Oh, we had our moments during today’s game, but I can’t honestly claim there were ‘positives’ to be taken forward to the next game; just momentary reprieves that saved us from total humiliation. We’ll face much, much better sides than County during the rest of this season, and Heaven help us then!
This was a pleasant day for watching football: not too hot, not too cold. It was an easy trip, and the pub was as always inviting, offering convivial banter with local fans. All in all it was a good day out apart from the football, but it’s not the first time we’ve said that. Bradbury’s hands were somewhat tied as regards team selection: Symes, Partington and Malone were injured (allegedly); Doble was on international duty (though, having seen him in the Sheffield Wednesday game, I must say that surprises me). The only real choice Bradbury had was which two of Fletcher, Stockley and Taylor to start with. He opted for Fletcher and Taylor. This certainly pushed up the average age of our team, which already included an aging back four of Purches, Cooper, Barrett and Cummings.
County got off to the perfect start, with Lee Hughes (always a tough guy to play against) netting from the left without meeting much opposition in under a minute, after Taylor - playing deep for most of the half - had recklessly given the ball away. It looked for a moment as though today’s could turn out to be a ‘telephone number’ scoreline, but in fairness the Cherries rallied somewhat after that. County continued to dominate but we held on, and had a few good runs of our own. The best was probably a one-man effort by Byrne when he surged up the right flank and got himself into a scoring position; finding no-one supporting him (neither Fletcher nor Taylor could keep up with the play) Byrne had no option but to attempt a shot himself, which hit a defender and was deflected out for a corner. Our only other reasonable attempt in the half also involved Byrne - crossing to Taylor whose subsequent header was far too weak and easily saved. But there was the feeling that we could get something out of this game. If MacDonald had scored with his header on the stroke of half time maybe the match would have panned out differently - though whether we really deserved anything was another matter.
We expected Stockley to come on for Fletcher after an hour, but what we actually got was Stockley for the ineffectual Taylor immediately from the restart. Stockley took up a position to Fletch’s right, while our central midfielders swapped places so that Arter was still right behind Fletcher. The team had probably their best spell of the game now, but it looked worrying for the fans: we knew Fletcher couldn’t see out the half and there were no unused strikers on the bench. And it got worse when - only about twenty minutes in - we realised Stockley was already looking exhausted. How can a teenager be so unfit? But fortunately we got ourselves onto the scoreboard. If all Bournemouth’s advances had been on the right in the first half (one-man efforts by Byrne, looking very lively compared with most of our players), in the second half we seemed to be relying on the left flank where Cummings and Pugh, who’ve of course known each other for some time, coordinated well. The goal came from this side, the ever-busy Arter getting the assist and Pugh scoring with a beautiful shot into the roof of the net, right in front of the (200 or so) away fans. (County fans believed it was offside, but prejudices aside I honestly don’t think it was.)
Relieved, Bradbury now substituted Fletcher, and no doubt would have employed another striker if he’d had one. But he didn’t; so the weary Stockley was asked to lead the line on his own, an impossible ask. Somehow we held onto the point until the last ten minutes, thanks in no small part to Flahavan who was in good form. But then County scored again - with a powerful header off a corner, almost certainly a practised routine. And to add insult to injury, they scored again four minutes from normal time when their player turned on the ball to shoot home. There was clearly no coming back from this, not even when the fourth official generously gifted us five added minutes.
Our team appeared to lack self-belief today. There were good individual performances from Flahavan and Arter, though not all the latter’s passes were anticipated by the player he was targeting. There were brief illustrations of teamwork, and Byrne looked livelier (or at least less of a liability) on the wing than in defence. Fletcher won most balls in the air, but didn’t really have anyone to pass to - Taylor being often too deep or at least out of position. And MacDonald, whom I’d not seen before but had heard good reports of, never really got into this game. It seems the club needs three more strikers, as well as some younger defenders - but I shan’t hold my breath for Mitchell to sign that many cheques!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):