Date: 9 February 2013
It’s remarkable that Portsmouth (formerly in the top tier of English football) came into this game as ‘underdogs’, while the Cherries (once awarded -17 points for being in administration and coming close to dropping out of the Football League altogether) were expected by everyone to win handsomely this afternoon. What a reversal of fortune in a relatively short space of time! Of course this is the kind of match that’s crying out for an upset – and on the hour mark, with the score still at 0-0, this seemed a real risk. In the end we won 2-0; not elegantly, not prettily, not convincingly – but any win is worth three points, and this win brings us within one point of the league leaders.
9,135 people turned up for this match, the third in a row I’ve attended at Dean Court that’s been announced as the season’s highest attendance to date! As they were all technically sell-outs I wonder what our capacity really is? The number of visiting Pompey fans (1,338) clearly concerned the police – who turned out in force (pun intended). I wonder what that cost the club? And the visitors were very vocal throughout, taunting us about being “sh*t” fans and playing our home games in a “library”. Pompey played a clever game, first winning the toss and forcing us to play in the ‘wrong’ direction in the first half, then frustrating our players and offering them no avenues to play through. No wonder we ended up passing the ball in a lot of small triangles, or sideways, or backwards; because Portsmouth left us no other options. It was a crafty plan – allowing us the majority of possession but preventing us from capitalising upon it. Someone remarked that the resultant game was like a pre-season friendly, and in a sense for Pompey it was – because they had brought in a lot of new players at the end of the transfer window and this meant they weren’t very used to each other. Our team had no such excuse, though, as the frustrated crowd took pains to remind them. We were utilising the same 11 players that won 3-0 at Milton Keynes (i.e. Ritchie covering for Daniels at left back, Seaborne covering for Elphick at centre back, McQuoid on the right wing and Pitman/Grabban up front).
Scoring opportunities in the first half were few and far between. Grabban at one point attempted a shot from a very tight, nigh on impossible, angle – though in fairness to him there was no supporting player on hand for him to pass to. Both our ‘twin’ strikers have a tendency to veer into wide positions, with no-one coming through from central midfield for them to cross to. But surely the best chance of the half came right at the death, when a Francis cross found Pitman who actually hit the underside of the crossbar. Half time: 0-0.
The general opinion at half time was that we needed to move up a gear, and certainly Howe must have made some suggestions during the break – because right from the kick-off (which seemed early? Certainly a lot of fans hadn’t returned to their seats but maybe there were long queues for catering) the team played higher up the pitch and got more balls into the box, quicker. This looked better, but still it remained 0-0 and still there was the risk of an upset at the other end. Pompey fans, still loud, were taunting us with “How sh*t must you be?” And then the breakthrough: 63 minutes, and a McQuoid run on Bournemouth’s right flank (in front of the main stand), followed by a cross to top-scorer Grabban who was close to the penalty spot. Despite being marked, Grabban was determined not to rush his shot. He paused, got it just right, and fired low into the net. 1-0 at last; but which team would respond quickest to this new situation?
Pompey fans continued to mock the fact that they were ‘only’ losing 1-0. (Mind you, they later did the same when it was ‘only’ 2-0. Soccer fans’ ‘gallows humour’ is always a source of great entertainment!) In the fifteen minutes that followed Grabban’s strike, Pugh had two shots at goal, both of which missed wildly, and it didn’t seem to be his day. But on 77 minutes he received a ball from Pitman and was ‘third time lucky’, firing it sideways into the bottom right hand corner of the net. 2-0, and we’d made no substitutions yet. We had the luxury, in the final ten minutes, of bringing on Hughes to tighten our defence (and to provoke Pompey fans even further); then Tubbs (at pretty much the time he always comes on!); and right at the end MacDonald – partly to run the clock down though it is of course great to see him back. Pompey used two of their substitutions quite early, as things weren’t going well for them; but eight minutes from the end they brought off Shaun Cooper, who received a genuine ovation from Cherries’ fans.
The last headline was made by one of those substitutes. Tubbs, who found himself clear through with a good sight of goal, looked certain to score. But, though the shot was on target, the Pompey goalie saved it with his leg.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):