Date: 8 October 2011
Sometimes ‘six-pointer’ matches between relegation strugglers can be quite feisty battles, providing good entertainment for neutral spectators. But not this one, in which neither team gave a good account of themselves, neither was able to score a goal in open play, and both ended the game looking over their shoulders and wondering if they’ll be able to avoid the drop at the end of the season.
In the matchday programme Lee Bradbury had written “we have gelled together”, Eddie Mitchell had written “the team is really starting to gel”, and Adam Barrett had written “we are looking like a good team and gelling”. While it’s good that they’re all singing from the same hymnal, watching my first game since Orient (away) I confess I couldn’t see any justification for using the g-word at all. Indeed, given the rate at which new players have continued to arrive at the club, and the revolving door between pitch and treatment room, it would be very surprising if any gelling occurs in the near future.
We lined up today pretty much as expected - with Flahavan back in goal and Arter/Thomas back from being suspended or cup-tied respectively. Disappointingly, this meant a lone player up front again. Conceding the fact that Taylor and Stockley are both injured, I still feel that when we’re (a) at home and (b) playing a lowly opponent we need to be a bit more adventurous. As the game got going it turned out not to be quite as defensive as I’d feared: rather than the familiar 4-1-4-1 with Cooper sitting in front of the back four, it was more of a 4-4-1-1 with Arter poised just behind Thomas. But it didn’t really work. Arter never once got ahead of Thomas; Gregory and Cooper stood like statues at times, even when the ball was coming straight at them; and neither Purches nor Pugh was at his liveliest, leaving too much for Peters and Cummings to do on the respective flanks.
Rochdale started more brightly than we did, perhaps encouraged by the psychological advantage that they’d won the toss and therefore forced us to play towards the North Stand (sorry, “Steve Fletcher Stand”) in the first half. Within three minutes they’d crossed the ball in front of our goal, but Zubar had expertly cleared it away. By the fifth minute they’d had two shots, and it was obvious who was dominating the opening stages. Although Zubar and Barrett were keeping most goal attempts out, on the thirteenth minute we depended on a catch by Flahavan to keep an on-target shot out. Two minutes later, however, and against the run of play, Arter passed cleverly to Thomas, who was out in front, clear of the ‘Dale defenders, and managed a good shot on goal. But the keeper blocked it. At this point, despite the sunlight, the Dean Court floodlights came on! But if this was some tactic to help our players see the goal they were supposed to be aiming at, it certainly didn’t work. What a waste of money.
A Pugh corner from the right found Barrett, but his header was saved. And then on the half-hour mark a ‘Dale player’s shirt was clearly tugged by Zubar just inside the left hand edge of the penalty area, resulting in a yellow card for Zubar and a penalty that Jones slammed into the bottom right corner of the net, sending Flahavan the wrong way. In evident frustration Flahavan kicked the goal post; I guess we should be relieved that at least he cares. 0-1. Not long after, Gregory went to ground and needed treatment. As all the other players gratefully headed towards the touchline, it looked for a moment as though this might just be a ‘scam’ to enable everyone to get a swig of water. But no, the injury was genuine, and he was replaced by Symes. Hurrah! 4-4-2 at last; but it’s worrying that it took an injury before Bradbury was willing to put a second player up front. Adams had a golden opportunity to double ‘Dale’s lead two minutes before the end of the half, when he had an open goalmouth to shoot into, but he was sitting just a little too deep to connect with Grimes’ otherwise perfect cross. And still there was to be one more piece of action in this half: a Peters cross found Pugh unmarked in an excellent position for a short-range shot, but he sent the ball skywards. Half-time: 0-1.
The second half started with Rochdale still dominant and having most of the play over the next quarter of an hour. On the one occasion when Thomas got the ball in a promising position, he was adjudged to be off-side. And then, not long after a ‘Dale player had hit the crossbar (we could have been about 0-4 down by now), we got the equaliser. This goal was very similar to the first, in that it was a penalty kick taken at the ‘open’ end of the ground that was sent to the keeper’s left. The Rochdale goalie had grabbed Thomas’s legs as he ran through on Bournemouth’s right; there was a debate between Arter and Symes as to who would take the penalty (I could see that both really needed the confidence-boost of scoring again, but why oh why are such decisions not made off the pitch before the match?); Symes won the argument and - cool as you like - gently rolled the ball to the right of a keeper who seemed to be sitting on the ground almost before the ball had been played! 1-1. We had a few moments after this, with opportunities for Pugh and Thomas to score. And at one point Pugh and Peters tried swapping wings. But we didn’t seem to know how to take control of the game. Some clever stuff from Peters seven minutes from time saw him run through several players and beat Rochdale’s right back, but the eventual shot was saved relatively easily. Then Rochdale, still hoping for three points, tried a couple of shots from distance; and finally, deep into injury time, a Cummings cross found Symes who fired agonisingly wide of the target. (But he was probably off-side anyway!) Full-time: 1-1.
Bradbury told Radio Solent after the game that he’d been watching a match that Bournemouth deserved to win. I’m not sure what game he was at then, because I’d spent the afternoon watching a match from which Rochdale will be disappointed not to have taken home all three points. By rights, this should have been our fifth consecutive home league defeat - and statistics don’t lie that much!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):