Graham Pearcey

Graham Pearcey

Gillingham 3 Cherries 2

Date: 22 November 2011

I’ve now watched Bournemouth at Gillingham six times in recent years: one draw and five defeats. It just isn’t our lucky ground. But the difference this time was, no-one amongst the Cherries fans seemed to expect anything; everyone I spoke to before the match said “we’ll lose!” Most AFCB supporters voted with their feet; there were only four Exiles present and, to be honest, not many non-Exiles either. In that awful ‘temporary’ stand with no roof if we’d sung our hearts out we’d have never been heard; but we didn’t sing anyway. And yes, what we all expected occurred: we lost.

Unsurprisingly, with so many players cup-tied, Bradbury selected the same starting eleven as for the home match that we’d so dramatically given away ten days earlier. It seems that, although we only win when we play 4-4-1-1, if for any reason Fogden isn’t available we revert to 4-4-2, and we can no longer play that way. We’re signing up new players like there’s no tomorrow, but I don’t see anyone who’s cover for Fogden. Tonight so many of the balls were being aimed at the ‘hole’ behind the strikers and there just wasn’t anyone there. From the start there were clearly two areas in which we were losing the battle. The first was central midfield, where Purches - my ‘Man of the Match’ just three days earlier - hardly got a touch of the ball in the entire first half and we desperately needed an extra man and some height. The other problem area was at left back where our two poorest defenders - Barrett (always out of position) and Cummings (slow) - were lined up side by side. This needed fixing early; in the event it wasn’t fixed until we were 3-1 down, and even then unconvincingly done (of which more later).

Gillingham went ahead on 20 minutes when a clever ball from distance, having been inadequately cleared by Barrett, ran low along the ground past several players and gave Flahavan no chance. Amazingly at halftime we were ‘only’ 0-1 down but our supporters could see we deserved to be further behind than that after such a poor first half, and even people who don’t normally boo did so as the players and especially the manager trudged past us on their way to the dressing room. The team came out early for the second half, but didn’t look any more enthused about the game until by pure luck we got an equaliser. I say ‘luck’, which is not to take anything away from Malone who ran well with the ball and put in a perfect cross to the penalty area. But unfortunately there was no Bournemouth player there, so if a hapless Gillingham defender hadn’t scored an own goal none of our players would have got to it. 1-1, and we started to play a little better, but still we didn’t deal with the obvious flaws in the system.

Then Gillingham went 2-1 up when Cummings was easily beaten - again. This was the same flank on which we’d conceded most of our second half goals at Brentford, and it would seem that even if Cummings is fit to play half a game he doesn’t have 90 minutes in him. Now belatedly we made a double substitution: Fletcher and Cooper (both surprise inclusions on the bench in the first place) for Symes and … well, whom? In one of the most farcical situations since two Bournemouth players fought over the right to take a penalty, no-one knew who was being substituted. One by one by one Bournemouth players ran towards the touchline applauding the crowd, only to be told “no, not you” and sent back on again. The technology totally defeated the assistant referee, who couldn’t make the substitutions board work, and got into a heated discussion with the ref whilst Bournemouth players in turn continued to ask “is it me?” Home supporters mocked and jeered - as well they might - and the obvious inference occurred to everyone: if no-one knew who was being substituted, they clearly weren’t following any pre-arranged game plan. Sure enough, when Purches came off no-one knew what the new system was supposed to be. So the new players took over the role of the old and tactics remained unchanged while we were treated to ‘more of the same’, that led quite quickly to a third Gillingham goal, scored to no-one’s surprise through the channel (maybe that should read “gaping hole”) between Cummings and Barrett.

Only now, by bringing in Gregory for Cummings, (and the substitutions board seemed to be working again,) did we switch to 3-5-2 and actually look quite promising in the closing stages of the game, though it would have worked better if Barrett and not Zubar had played the central 'sweeper' role. Indeed on 90 minutes Arter scored from a (deflected) well-worked free kick, and we were given five minutes of added time in which to equalise. OK we’d taken Symes off, so we clearly weren’t planning for penalties, but could we do something in extra time? We needed to score a third goal first, and we certainly went all out for it. Gillingham fans, who clearly hadn’t done their homework on Bournemouth, whistled impatiently; meanwhile Bournemouth fans actually left the stadium because they knew the result already. In the last minute of added time we won a corner, and Flahavan started to come forward, but then evidently remembered how short he was and stopped on the half way line. Fletcher had the chance to be a real hero when he got a shot in and hit the wrong side of the post. And that was it. 2-3, a fair result, and the rest of our season will comprise only league games unless you count play-offs and/or the Hampshire Senior Cup!

So we wandered out, and I found that the footpath back to my car and been closed off. No idea why. And as I went the long way round, I saw vast numbers of police. Nothing for them to do of course. There was no chance of any trouble, unless it was between Gillingham fans. On this night, our own supporters had no more ‘fight’ in them than did our team.

The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):

Flahavan (6);
Francis (6), Zubar (6), Barrett (4), Cummings (4);
Pugh (7), Purches (5), Arter (5), Malone (7);
Thomas (6), Symes (5).

My 'man of the match' : Malone.

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