Date: 22 September 2012
I don’t think this game will ultimately be remembered for any technical details such as who scored what and how, but rather as a turning point in AFC Bournemouth’s fortunes in general, and Paul Groves’ in particular. For a long time seasoned supporters have felt this set-up isn’t going to work; we haven’t felt able to buy into the official excuses about someone being injured or luck not being on our side or the referee being biased. But if we said we were uneasy about Bournemouth’s style of play and ability to get results, we (yes, we who’ve spent so much money over so many years following our team) were branded as negative and unsupportive! But now, having witnessed what everyone from top to bottom in the club accepts was an abject performance from every single player, over the full ninety minutes, resulting in a 0-4 hammering, at least we’ve been proved right. Maybe now something, anything, can be done to get AFC Bournemouth back on track?
Apart from the game, this was a pleasant day out – a dry and sunny day nothing like as cold as had been forecast (the very last day of summer, as it turned out, but no-one knew this at the time); a friendly back-street pub where we enjoyed a pre-match drink and snack; an ‘away’ ticket office with no queues at all even at 2:45; and helpful stewards who let the fans sit where they wished, and who could teach the Fratton Park stewards a lesson or two! I’m not suggesting Swindon Town’s stadium is perfect; the concourse under the stands gets far too congested and the queues for catering are horrific. But they’re making the best of the facilities they have.
We had a few key players unavailable – Francis, Pugh, Arter, MacDonald and Barnard – but to be honest with a squad our size, and the money we’ve spent assembling it, that shouldn’t matter. Cook was drafted in at right back; and the centre backs were swapped, resulting in the two ex-Brighton players Cook and Elphick playing side by side. So far so good. There was again a tight diamond in the midfield, with Partington clearly in a holding role but the other three floating. If the purpose of this was to confuse the opposition it would be fine, but all it really seemed to succeed in doing was handicapping our own play. Too many players had ‘off’ days – Daniels has rarely been ‘on’ this season, to be honest; Jalal once again took too many risks, never caught the ball and was sloppy with his clearances; Addison was nervy (more about him later).
Swindon get a crowd of 8500 for home matches – far more support than Bournemouth these days – and they’re fifth in the table tonight and will surely do well this season. One can see why. They passed the ball beautifully from the very start. They produced some amazingly perfect long diagonal passes that always found their man. The contrast couldn’t have been greater with Bournemouth whose passes were mistimed or misdirected again and again. After one promising – but wide – shot from O’Kane early on, most of the chances in the first half went to Swindon. A Fogden error in the chaotic Bournemouth midfield led to Ritchie having sight of goal on 12 minutes – and the fact that the goal was nearly half the length of the pitch away didn’t faze him at all! He put in a powerful left foot shot that went straight to the target. A brilliant goal, applauded by fans of both teams. But it didn’t look likely that we’d be able to retaliate, and sure enough thirteen minutes later Partington lost the ball to Roberts, who put in a cross which Williams converted. 0-2, and so it remained as the clock ticked on; but then just as half time was approaching a ball found Tubbs: he was one-on-one with the Swindon keeper, he wasn’t offside, surely he must score? No; yet again he did what he and Grabban have done far too many times this season, and missed a sitter. So it was 0-2 at half-time. But still – for now – Cherries’ fans were backing their team. “Red army” and “Come on Bournemouth” and “Boscombe back of the net” continued to ring out, and the team couldn’t have asked more of the visiting fans.
Groves made two changes at half time – which at least showed he realised the situation wasn’t satisfactory. He substituted our two worst players in the first half (though the other nine weren’t far behind!) and introduced the two most obvious replacements. McQuoid joined Tubbs up front, with Grabban moving – as he so often does after a substitution – to right midfield. Wakefield came in at left midfield and this provided good balance as at last we had two wide players. This doesn’t mean the two new arrivals stuck rigidly to the touchline; far from it. Wakefield busied himself all over the park, got into an excellent scoring position in the goal mouth once, where he only needed to nod it in with his head and he’d have scored; so I’d say he was our best player in the second half. (Which is ironic as he’s one of the cheapest squad members!) The midfield also seemed to have better shape now, with Partington and O’Kane sharing the role of holding midfielder.
So it looked as though we might be in for a better half but – far from it! While we continued to struggle, and Swindon continued to dominate, the clock ticked on. And after 25 minutes Ritchie scored again – from a free kick, the ball going in past Jalal’s far post. And the Bournemouth crowd started to turn nasty. Chants turned to “You’re getting sacked in the morning” (directed at Groves – though later in the day he would try and suggest it was Swindon supporters who were chanting this!) and “Harry Redknapp’s barmy army”. And the players gave in. It was hard to tell whether the crowd’s chants were getting to them (though in fairness the players weren’t the target) or whether they actually don’t respect Groves themselves and don’t want to perform for him. At one point Addison attempted a back pass to Jalal that was so heavy that it went out for a corner. (Could have been worse, I guess; and at least he acknowledged his error.) But there was an occasion later when Addison declined a ball that was being passed to him and intentionally sidestepped it; we’d got to the point where Boscombe players were so afraid of making a mistake that they didn’t seem to want to play at all. Things were going rapidly downhill and – as at both Oxford and Portsmouth – the opposition’s confidence grew as ours waned. We could have lost 0-8 in the end. In the event, it was 0-4, because five minutes from the end McEvely crossed to Rooney who turned the ball in for Swindon’s fourth. The fourth official signalled for three minutes’ added time at the end of the match, and someone near me remarked that even if we scored a goal a minute we’d still lose now! The match ended to a chorus of boos from Bournemouth supporters, 750-odd of whom had spent £25 a head for the privilege of witnessing this!
The statistics say it all. No shots on target, no work for the Swindon goalie to do, only two decent chances – falling to Tubbs and Wakefield - with possibly one or two other half chances falling to O’Kane and Addison. Would the game have turned out very different if we’d scored from any of these? I doubt it. Regardless of whom Groves picks from his huge squad, the problems seem the same and the play gets worse. It’s definitely time for someone else to be given the chance to coach these players.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):