Date: 27 March 2012
It’s a cliché to remark that “we’d have accepted a 2-2 scoreline before this match kicked off” - but I’d go further and say fans will even be willing to accept the occasional defeat if only the lads will play like this again. There was so much more passion and enthusiasm on display tonight than of late, that this game was quite exhilarating to watch.
Thomas was back - in more senses than one! Not only had he technically recovered from injury, but he seemed to be more like his old self. He lined up for the first time with Hines - who was sometimes alongside Wes (left or right) but more often tucked in just behind him. This looked a much more promising pairing than Thomas/Tubbs had ever been. The midfield was transformed into a tight ‘diamond’ with Cooper at the back, MacDonald at the front, and Arter and Pugh on the right and left sides respectively. This suited Arter a lot better than it suited Pugh; and it left Francis and Malone having to put in a lot of running in an attempt to cover their entire flanks. But it certainly made it much harder for the opposition to break us down. In goal, Flahavan had a good game (as indeed did his opposite number for Stevenage). His distribution was better than of late (though it was a windless night, which will have helped); we watched him make some good saves right in front of us in the second half, and we presume he made a wonder save in the first half because all we saw was the ball flying across the goalmouth and a corner kick subsequently awarded and not protested!
We dominated the first half in all departments. All the players were showing passion, and it was hard to believe the (single) training session they’d had with the new management team could have made so much difference. I conclude that this was either a difference of morale levels, or a difference of system, or maybe a bit of both. Either way, the managerial change is reaping rewards already. Our first goal came from Thomas - and that must have been a great relief to him. The ever-busy Arter, who gave everything in this game till he wore himself out, fed the ball to Wes; and he slammed it home from Bournemouth’s left, immediately in front of the very vocal 400-ish away fans (compared to not much over 2000 home fans). We doubled our lead in the 37th minute when Malone came soaring through on the same flank to score a great goal from distance. The players piled on top of one another in celebration. Bournemouth with a two goal advantage? We had to go back a long way to remember the last time that had occurred!
Unfortunately it lasted less than a minute, before a Stevenage player scored a long-distance wonder goal - seemingly out of nothing - at the other end. And by repeating this feat on the stroke of half time, Stevenage managed to go into the break with perhaps more confidence than Bournemouth, because they appeared to be on the ascendancy. But one thing was certain, the paying spectators had got their money’s worth already: good entertaining football and four wonderful goals. What a change from the dire passionless stuff meted up lately in which the one deciding goal usually came from some mix-up in the goalmouth!
What would happen in the second half? Would both sides tighten up and play for a draw? We had a long wait to find out, because although the matchday announcer invited us to welcome “both teams” back onto the pitch, only Stevenage emerged from the tunnel. Was Groves giving a detailed team talk, or was one of the directors (or directors’ wives!) doing it? (“Some of us have a train to catch”, somebody near me muttered.) Eventually the team trooped back onto the field, but somewhat forlornly, as though they’d been given a ticking-off. But once the whistle blew, it was ‘as you were’: both teams really wanting the winner and both going for it! We had scoring opportunities through Cook and Arter, but most notably through Thomas - who received a cross from the left and had only the goalie to beat. Unfortunately, he headed it straight into the goalie’s grateful hands when any other angle would have resulted in a goal. There were chances at our end too, Addison and/or Flahavan keeping us in the game again and again. No Boscombe substitutions took place until near the end, when the only two players with yellow cards (Arter and Hines) were sensibly substituted, no doubt as a precautionary measure, while Gregory and Taylor took their places. No other substitution was really possible anyway, as we now had a keeper and two centre-backs on the bench!
We kept pushing for the winning goal through the four minutes of added time, though all the players were showing signs of tiring now. For most of the match except the last ten minutes of the first half, we’d looked like the most likely team to score. 3-2 would have been a great reward for the new caretaker managers, but 2-2 away from home was certainly a very respectable outcome. If as much progress is made in the remainder of the week as had been made on Monday/Tuesday, it could be a great spectacle for home fans at Dean Court come Saturday.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (8), Addison (8), Cook (6), Malone (7);
Arter (8), Cooper (7), MacDonald (7), Pugh (6);