Date: 14 August 2012
What a dreadful waste of an evening of my time; an evening that went from bad to worse. The AA website estimated 1 hour 13 minutes from my house to the Exiles-nominated pub. It took 2 hours 20. There was a 15 minute period on the M25 when everything was totally stationary; everyone was getting out of their cars, smokers were lighting up. There was a long spell on the A40 that was similarly nose-to-tail. And the AA route correctly took me to the narrowing track that would indeed eventually have led (via a locked gate) to the pub, but wasn’t accessible to vehicles. Thanks, AA! I sought advice from a friendly local resident, who had no idea how to get to the pub by car as he doesn’t drive, but helpfully said I could leave my car on his driveway for the duration. (Despite pessimistic murmurings from fellow Exiles, it was still in one piece when I returned at 10:30!)
The pub, unusually for an Exiles one, had no real ale (the website had lied). It had barbecued food but people were throwing most of it away uneaten so we didn’t risk that. On arriving at the stadium, the queues for food were prohibitive; so I ended up having ‘dinner’ in a service station at 11:15. The matchday programme showed Bournemouth with a squad about twice the size of Oxford’s, and yet it didn’t list any of our signings from the last couple of weeks. Neither did it list any of the development squad (squad numbers in the forties), three of whom featured tonight. (In fact we had a ‘development’ goalie – Chad Collins – on the bench, whom none of us had previously heard of, because Flahavan was evidently injured.) Meanwhile the details of players inside the programme were rather erratic: everyone was listed against last season’s squad number, Zubar was the only player whose height was quoted, and Sheringham was shown as having previously played for Dartmouth, Devon rather than Dartford, Kent!
Oh, I haven’t mentioned the football yet? That could be, because there wasn’t any! Conversations before the match showed that supporters were more pessimistic about this season than usual – though of course willing to be proved wrong! (The team couldn’t have asked for better support and encouragement tonight – especially in the early part of the match – so let no-one blame the supporters for the state we’re in!) For me, it had been the upbeat hype from Groves that had concerned me most. At Shell I’d encountered bosses who’d got their head down, quietly worked away at something and, given time, achieved great results. I’d also encountered bosses who came in shouting about what great things they were going to achieve in no time at all, and urging everyone else to repeat the mantras after them; they all failed miserably. The headlines we read about how we MUST, indeed WILL, achieve promotion this season worried me before the game. Tonight’s one match was sufficient to show that this was all hot air, though I take no pleasure in having been proved right.
We lined up with a team that was missing O’Kane through international duty – and had MacDonald inexplicably absent too – but otherwise wasn’t far off the expected starting line-up for the league game on Saturday. Certainly these were all first team players. So their impotence was frankly alarming. The policy seemed to be, when they got the ball, to pass it to and fro along the back four until the crowd got restless and started shouting obscenities; and then for someone (usually Zubar) to hoof it up for a Steve Fletcher (who of course wasn’t playing). Meanwhile Thomas and Tubbs (as ineffective as they’d been together last season) would just stand motionless and watch. The method failed every time. Once in a while (well, actually, three times in 120 minutes) Grabban ran onto the ball, got a foot under it and launched it towards row Z of the stands. But no-one else tried to do anything. Meanwhile, we were overrun in central midfield (by a League Two team – heaven help us against stiffer opposition!); and Daniels, despite being listed in the programme as a midfielder, stayed rooted to the left back position and refused even once to run up the wing.
I don’t think either of our ‘strikers’ had a single shot on or off target. The only defending the Oxford keeper had to do was when it came to the shootout. Jalal was kept a bit busier, making some good saves but never actually catching the ball – always either pushing it away to the left or right, or tipping it over the bar. He could come unstuck against better opposition too. And the reason he was kept busy was that Oxford grew in confidence as the game progressed. At the start they’d seemed a little in awe of a team that were a league higher than them and famously big-spenders; but once they realised we were no real threat to them they came into the game more – though neither side provided any real entertainment for the longsuffering spectators. There wasn’t even the briefest moment of magic. (The only Bournemouth player who ever looked ‘up for it’ was Wakefield. And he didn’t appear until extra time.) It got to one point, near the 90 minute mark, where some Bournemouth supporters were willing Oxford to score, just so we wouldn’t have to endure another half hour of this dull lifeless game.
But no such luck. We went on into extra time. We upped our game very slightly; and Grabban had one golden opportunity, with an open goal beckoning, to score the decider – but didn’t. Penalties, when they came, were a strange affair because arguably our worst player on the pitch for the 120 minutes, Daniels, scored the best penalty; while our best player in the 120, Pugh, had his penalty saved and sent us out of the Cup. The penalties were inevitably taken at the ‘closed’ end of the stadium so that the balls wouldn’t all end up in the car park; but we were at the opposite end, so we didn’t get a great view. Therefore it wasn’t until I got home that I heard Radio Solent’s ‘conspiracy theory’ that Pugh had intentionally not scored. I can’t comment on that. I can only report that the other two Bournemouth penalties were converted successfully by Grabban and McDermott, so overall we lost 5-3. Meanwhile, despite the weather forecast that had claimed the temperature would still be in excess of 20 degrees after 9 PM, it was now decidedly chilly (in more senses than one) high in the stands at the ‘open’ end of the stadium.
I’ve already ordered my ticket for Portsmouth on Saturday, so I’ll go. But if it’s anything like tonight’s game, that’s it for me for a while. Bournemouth’s style of play under Groves is so depressingly boring that I haven’t got the stamina for many more games like that.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):