Date: 12 March 2013
No doubt there’ll be a lot of excitement about this result, with exaggerated claims that the Cherries have at last brought to an end their poor run (five consecutive defeats). But no fan who was present at the game will be so excited – and that’s not only because it will take us several days to thaw out! The win was unconvincing (a draw would have been a fairer result to be honest), entirely dependent on one disputed penalty; and for large periods of the game we just didn’t look like a promotion-winning team. And to make matters worse, up to three players may have emerged from this match with injuries.
We lined up much as in recent games, Arter having rightfully regained his place in my opinion (though he was to have a very quiet game by his standards) alongside O’Kane in central midfield. McQuoid who, according to my sources, had an especially poor game last Saturday, was replaced by Fogden on the right flank – which turned out to be an inspired decision. The game began dully, although Grabban had one very early chance to score. He had an even better chance quarter of an hour into the game, when he was one on one with the keeper but missed. Bournemouth had a good share of the possession but couldn’t make it count, and players seemed reluctant to ‘shoot on sight’ (which could occasionally result in a goal), preferring every time to pass the ball to another player . It’s a sign of a poor half that the first real drama was an injury to Ritchie. Now this was worrying; to make way for the returning Arter it was Partington who had been dropped from the matchday squad, so we had no defender on the bench. Howe surprised everyone by, rather than reorganising the whole defence, simply moving Fogden to left back and leaving the rest of the back four alone. The young Fraser took over on the right wing and the match continued until, seven minutes before half time, O’Kane was upended in the penalty area. The resultant penalty was hotly disputed and there was a lengthy delay whilst protests took place, but this didn’t seem to affect Pitman who’d placed the ball on the spot the second the referee had blown his whistle. When the time eventually came Pitman, cool as you like, slotted the ball home and we were 1-0 up until half time.
The opening period of the second half was hard to take as not only had the temperature dropped several more degrees, but Stevenage had come out after the break by far the stronger team. We appeared to be desperately holding on to 1-0 rather than trying to kill the game off, and this seemed a dangerous ploy. At one point our players even ran the ball into the corner flag, a tactic normally reserved for the closing stages of a match! I commented to my colleagues that it wouldn’t surprise me if Howe brought on Hughes to shore up the defence – and that’s exactly what he did, though not in the kind of circumstances I’d envisaged...
Fraser sustained an injury twenty minutes into the half, forcing Eddie to ‘substitute the substitute’ and select a third player for the right hand side of midfield in a single match! Grabban was the chosen man, with Hughes sitting in front of the back four and Pitman now up front on his own in a 4-1-4-1 system. We started to play better, somewhat surprisingly, and both Grabban and Pitman had shots – Grabban’s (right in front of the visiting fans) being the best chance but flying wide of the target. As the clock wound down more and more opportunities were sought to run the ball into the corner and then – in injury time – the greatest drama of the match. Arter clashed with a Stevenage player. Because Arter needed a stretcher, the referee was perhaps a little harsh on the Stevenage player and yellow-carded him. As this was his second yellow, the player was off, to storms of protest and angry scenes amongst players and fans that even seemed to spill over onto the benches and into the technical area. MacDonald came on for Arter but only seconds of the game remained and I’m not sure if he got a touch.
Let’s just hope that the fact of this result will increase the squad’s confidence, and that the injuries prove not to be as serious as they at first appeared. We look to be too far off the playoffs (when you allow for other teams’ games in hand) to achieve anything more than safety this season, and in any case we don’t look good enough to beat a determined side who’ve something to play for. But of course I’d love to be proved wrong!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (7), Cook (6), Seaborne (6), Ritchie (7);
Fogden (8), O'Kane (8), Arter (7), Pugh (6);
Grabban (6), Pitman (8).