Date: 29 March 2013
Sometimes Bournemouth are so like England it’s scary. We start well, get an early goal from the most likely source, fail to capitalise on numerous opportunities to increase our lead, go to pieces after the break, make the fans nervy towards the end, and ... there the similarity ends! Because whereas almost every Bournemouth fan must have feared we’d concede a late goal and go home with a 1-1 draw as England had done against Montenegro, this never happened. Three points, well deserved; results elsewhere favouring us; and we’ve returned to the automatic promotion zone with the added advantage of two home games coming up in the next week.
This was my first visit to the new Colchester stadium. I liked the pub, thought the shuttle bus very efficient, and while the stadium inevitably is almost characterless at least unlike older stadia it’s safe and clean and affords good views of the pitch from almost every seat. The only slightly quirky thing is that the seats immediately behind the goal are coloured white, which makes the goal posts and crossbar hard to see for the fans and presumably for the players too. Another odd thing is that the stadium appears to be designed for Championship football while the Us are struggling to avoid relegation to League Two! It sounded like we had in excess of 1000 fans in an overall crowd of no more than 2000, but when the official figures were released it transpired that there were in fact just under 1000 of us and the total attendance surprisingly was a respectable 4747. But they were lost in such a vast stadium.
A few flurries of snow came down as we arrived at the ground, and the temperature got colder and colder as the match proceeded, but there’s nothing like an away win to warm the cockles! We lined up with Elphick back for Seaborne (not, in my opinion, that Seaborne had done anything wrong – but we must use our own players in preference to loan players if we’re building for next season). Quite rightly, Tommy got his armband back. But otherwise the squad of 18 was unchanged from the week before. From the start it was obvious that Arter was having a brilliant game in the centre of the park, getting involved in everything that was happening; while Ritchie had a lot of space on the wing (he wasn’t being marked as tightly as he had been against Bury) so if we could capitalise on that it would be useful. We certainly began the livelier team, but the downside of this was that all the action was at the end of the ground farthest from the away fans. Grabban and Ritchie both came close to scoring in the first ten minutes, but Grabban’s on-target shot (easily saved by the Colchester keeper) on 11 minutes was even more frustrating. The breakthrough came eight minutes later, when a Francis cross found Grabban, who found Ritchie, who found Pitman, who slotted the ball into the top right corner. I don’t know what odds are offered, these days, on Pitman being the first goal scorer in a match; but he’s now achieved this at four games in a row!
O’Kane got himself booked and then injured, with MacDonald inevitably taking his place and – on the day – probably playing better than O’Kane anyway. (He certainly got in some good darting forward runs in the second half.) The rest of the first half was a story of lost opportunities. Pugh hit the post, Grabban had a header saved, and with four minutes added on because of several injuries there was still time for Grabban to shoot another ball wide of the mark. All this seemed to justify my suggestion, before the match, that Tubbs should have started in place of Grabban. Grabban’s getting into good positions, and certainly had a better game than last Saturday, but he’s still unable to score the elusive goal that might bring his (and the fans’) confidence back. So, half time and 1-0, though it should have been about 4-0.
We all feared, correctly, that Bournemouth would come out for the second half having changed nothing, while Colchester would be reenergised. This proved even more true than anticipated, with all the early action once again being at the far end of the ground. Were we ever going to see any action in the goalmouth right in front of us? Colchester started to win lots of corners, though Allsop seemed to position himself perfectly to catch every single one; having him in goal gives everyone so much more confidence. Allsop needed a little treatment at one point (yet more minutes to be added to the clock) but was fine to continue. Colchester weren’t just relying on corners; they had a number of shots from open play. But fortunately their front men aren’t too accurate in their shooting. Then, after a while, we started to see a little action at our end. MacDonald had a fine chance to shoot at goal but instead chose, rather too unselfishly we thought, to pass to Ritchie. Arter also had a good shot palmed over the crossbar by the Us keeper, that looked as if it were going in otherwise. We were playing well, but so too were Colchester on the break, and if it weren’t for the freezing cold conditions this would have been a great match to watch. With one early (enforced) substitution following O’Kane’s injury, Eddie left it late before making any more. When he did it was Tubbs for Grabban, but Tubbs didn’t even try to score after coming on this week; his role seemed to be to run the ball to the corner flag as often as possible. The Colchester fans seemed very aggrieved about this, but surely it’s a tactic they’ve observed before? It meant that we held on for 1-0, which has to be a good result especially as it represents yet another clean sheet for our defenders.
Inevitably the third and final substitution – when 6 minutes were added by the fourth official – was Hughes for Pugh, exactly the same as last Saturday. No sooner had this substitution been made than Arter went down with what looked like cramp. He had to play on, but was pretty well immobilised for the rest of the game. With the next match less than 72 hours away it’ll be worrying if both Arter and O’Kane are missing – but I wouldn’t be surprised if they both bounce back before then. Meanwhile, at the final whistle we applauded the players long and hard, and they applauded us, and then we re-joined the shuttle bus to the station. There was much singing of “Bournemouth’s going up” on the bus, resulting in some banter from home supporters about seeing us next year, but no animosity at all as Colchester has friendly fans whom we seem to get on very well with. Anyway, roll on Monday...
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):