Date: 9 April 2012
I seem to be proving a ‘lucky’ mascot rather than an ‘unlucky’ one for Bournemouth lately. Groves/Brooks have been in charge for four games; I’ve seen two great ones but by all accounts the two I missed were pretty dire. Today’s match - as at Stevenage - showed Bournemouth keeping the ball on the ground (Huddersfield were responsible for most of the ‘hoofing’!), playing it well, and - all importantly - scoring two goals. Lee Bradbury, after his last game in charge, famously stated the obvious by remarking, “We need to score more goals”. Since then I’ve seen us score four. If we can keep scoring two per game, we’ve every chance of stringing some results together.
At the start of the season, an Easter Monday match against Huddersfield Town must have looked like the tie of the season. We’d have pictured blazing sunshine, and a capacity crowd watching two championship contenders. In the event 5500 people (some fans were suspicious of the round number, but it’s got to happen once in every hundred games) braved rain and cold winds to watch a match that, for Bournemouth, would have little real significance. I can’t remember the last time conditions were so bad that matchday programmes all had to be sold indoors (I guess if the weather’s that bad the game would normally be cancelled). “Red and black day” was also a bit of a non-starter because, even where people had worn their colours as requested, they’d covered them with overcoats. Groves had made two changes to the starting eleven from 48 hours earlier: the suspended Arter was replaced by Fogden on the right, and Gregory surprisingly replaced MacDonald in the centre. Everyone else lined up as on Saturday. There was therefore more interest in the Huddersfield line-up: yes, Jordan Rhodes was playing, and we knew our defence would need to be strong to stop him scoring. Of greater interest of course was the presence of Anton Robinson, who received loud and sustained cheers from the home fans when his name was announced. If he’d been substituted later on, I’m sure he’d have received a standing ovation from both sets of fans. But the opportunity never presented itself: he steadily played for the full 90 minutes, never once doing anything flash, but ever reliable.
In too many games recently we’ve fallen behind to one or more early goals and ended up chasing the game. It was clear from the outset today that there was determination this wouldn’t happen. We got straight down to it, and totally dominated the first half. Our first really good scoring opportunity was probably Hines’s after about five minutes, but the important thing was that we kept the ball in Huddersfield’s half (at the open end of the stadium), limiting them to the occasional break. We won a few corners, from which we crossed the ball well, but Huddersfield’s practice of standing several players along the goal-line on all such occasions made it almost impossible for us to score. At the other end, our defenders seemed able to deal with almost anything that was thrown at them in normal play (though still looking a little dodgy defending set-pieces) with Flahavan more than capable of dealing with the odd ball that got through. Only once did he find himself in the wrong place, but then Addison was on hand to clear from the goal-line. On a day of better weather we’d probably have arrived at half time feeling quite upbeat about this match, but the driving rain that seemed to reach the very backs of the stands, and the chilly conditions that had people reaching for their scarves and hats and gloves (or cursing if they’d failed to bring them), resulted instead in a general air of pessimism and gloom.
The second half began along the same lines as the first. We had scoring opportunities but couldn’t finish the job off. The two Wes’s were the worst offenders in this respect, though there’s truth in the statement Wes T made in the matchday programme, that it would be worse if he wasn’t getting into such good scoring positions in the first place. The most frustrating moment yet came with a single incident in which Pugh, Hines and Fogden all had shots blocked and the ball came to Thomas who only had to head it into goal. For some reason he kicked it upwards, high into the North Stand, when it would have been much easier just to score. With little more than ten minutes of the half gone, MacDonald came on for Gregory in a switch that we presumed had been planned from the beginning, because in fact Gregory up to this point had had one of his best games to date in a Bournemouth shirt. This made little difference tactically, though in fact MacDonald's presence would prove crucial later on.
On the 72nd minute there was an almost exact replica of what had occurred earlier, with three or four players each having a go in a crowded goalmouth. Again it fell for Thomas; but this time he didn’t shoot it sky high, instead aiming it under the Huddersfield keeper. But the keeper fumbled it on the goal line (was it in or was it out?) and Malone made sure by putting it over the line for his second goal in consecutive games I’ve attended. It wasn’t pretty: it was scrappy. But at least there were players in the right area; and of course any goal counts. So we were 1-0 up. Thomas was as excited as anyone; clearly the team’s results matter to him, as well as his personal goal tally. Indeed immediately after the restart he was charging forward again and we could have scored two within a minute if he hadn’t shot wide. But the final goal, ten minutes later, was far more the kind we like to see. MacDonald sent the perfect through ball into the path of Pugh, who scored a beauty. 2-0 and, although for historical reasons we remained nervous of getting the result we wanted, especially when five minutes of time was added on, the victory was never really in doubt. There’s something very satisfying about beating a team that’s still contending for automatic promotion even though, to be perfectly honest, Huddersfield never looked particularly special today.
Taylor and Partington came on as late substitutions; it was good to see Joe back in action and not getting injured again immediately (!) though in fact afterwards no-one could remember whether he’d actually got a touch of the ball or not. Hines got the sponsors’ man of the match and certainly put himself about a lot today. Addison was the supporters’ man of the match and he’d had a great game, materialising in attack as necessary and, of course, making that one particularly vital clearance off the goal-line in the first half. (This was also the day Addison courageously ‘came out’ about his faith. His “week in the life…” feature in the matchday programme twice referred to his nightly ritual of Bible-reading, and also mentioned attending church on the Sunday.) Gregory and Pugh had arguably their best games in ages. Flahavan, though he had a relatively quiet game, hardly put a foot wrong, and very convincingly punched away one particular shot in the first half. Thomas and Fogden got into the right spots for scoring and only lacked the final touch. Cook and Cooper were reliable as always, though somewhat overshadowed by Addison who did their job for them. But my award goes, for the second home game running, to Francis - assured in defence and working tirelessly on the right flank, regardless of who (if anyone) was selected to play in front of him.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):