Date: 17 December 2011
The Cherries today came up against a strong side who are justifiably tipped for promotion this season. With three enforced changes to our own team (Arter suspended, Malone injured, Thomas ineligible) we looked second-class throughout. We may have a large squad numerically - even if you discount the youngsters who, as Mitchell Nelson has now realised, have no chance of ever being selected - but ‘strength in depth’ is still something that, despite claims to the contrary, eludes us.
I hadn’t noticed that the attendance was high until it was announced. Over 7000 is good these days. Of course both Sheffield teams have a good following, but it was still a far higher than average turnout of Bournemouth fans - once again demonstrating that even the strongest of "twelfth men" can only have a limited amount of influence on the result. Today, apart from short bursts early in the second half, they saw their team overrun.
As neither Sheringham nor Symes had demonstrated an ability to lead the line alone, they were employed together up front. Fogden moved to the right wing and Pugh to the left, in a 4-4-2 system. I don’t think anyone would have criticised this team selection, but we were still trying to work out Bradbury’s intentions for central midfield (Cooper deep and Gregory attacking?) when Cooper came off injured, in only the fifth minute. The obvious replacement - Purches - was on the bench but wasn’t used. Instead Molesley was sent on - to chants of "There’s only one Robbie Savage" from the visiting fans, that would continue for the rest of the game whenever he got possession of the ball. Molesley would not have expected to get 85 minutes of play today, and there was evidence that he was not fully match-fit; not mentally anyway.
The reason for employing a more attacking player (Molesley) could of course be that we were already (with less than five minutes on the clock!) 0-1 down! Sheffield’s Ched Evans had put in a low cross from the right, and Barrett had diverted it for an own goal. The cross was a good one, and Barrett shouldn’t take any blame for this. But it meant we were already chasing the game, and showing virtually no firepower up front. Sheffield United noticeably started defending almost straight away, killing time whenever possible and getting so many yellow shirts behind the ball when we were attacking that there was just no way through. Also, the very strong winds were affecting both sides’ play, and the fact that they were in Bournemouth’s direction didn’t seem to help us at all. We were awarded a string of corners late in the first half, which raised fans’ hopes slightly, but nothing came of them.
The second half was slightly better from Bournemouth’s point of view, at times anyway, and both the midfield partnership and the forward line seemed to have made a decision as to who was to play which role (Gregory being the holding player in midfield, Sheringham playing in the ‘hole’ behind Symes). There was an unfortunate lost opportunity early in the half when Molesley was passing the ball forward for what looked like a good scoring opportunity, only for the referee to blow his whistle because a Sheffield player - miles from the action - had hurt his knee and was on the floor. His knee! It’s not as though it was a head injury! Home fans were furious, especially when (a) the referee re-started the match with a drop ball, that was passed straight back to Flahavan, losing us the ‘advantage’; and (b) the “injured” player managed to return to the field, miraculously restored to full fitness, after about thirty seconds!
The result was sealed fifteen minutes from time in almost a repeat of the first goal. Again a quality cross came from Evans, on United’s right wing, but this time it was our other central defender, Cook, who scored the own goal! Taylor (surprisingly named on the bench ahead of Fletcher, who wasn’t spotted at the ground at all) came on for Fogden, who’d never looked particularly convincing as a winger; and took up a place on the left flank while Pugh switched to the right. Two of our best chances of the match were to come to Taylor in the closing stages - one from in front of goal; and one shot, from a difficult angle, that went into the side netting. A combination of injuries and substitutions meant that 5 minutes were added to the game, but there was never the remotest chance of us scoring the needed two goals.
The team lined up as follows after the fifth minute (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (6), Cook (5), Barrett (6), Daniels (7);
Fogden (6), Gregory (5), Molesley (6), Pugh (7);
Sheringham (6), Symes (5).