Date: 10 August 2013
Matches have been described as ‘a game of two halves’ often enough before, but the term usually refers to performances or score-lines. Whereas this was a game of two halves in terms of raw emotions. There were moments in the first half when my heart swelled with pride as I reflected that little old Bournemouth, whom I’d seen come so close to extinction on several occasions, were now holding their own – away from home – against a team that just three months ago had missed out on promotion to the Premier League by a whisper. (Was this the best I’d ever seen a Bournemouth side play?) Yet there were times in the second half when I didn’t feel like cheering or applauding; we were getting soundly beaten by a margin that could only result in derision from my non-Bournemouth supporting friends in days to come.
The matchday had begun promisingly enough. The arranged rendezvous in Euston station went so well that we caught a train half an hour earlier than planned. Despite warnings that the chosen pub might not accept away fans, we were in fact warmly welcomed there. We strolled the short distance to the ground where the stewards were friendly and helpful in finding us our seats. We were amused to find that Watford, of all clubs, has a three–sided stadium (the fourth side consisting of ancient terracing and crush barriers no longer in use) while Dean Court now has four (chants of “we’ve got more stands than you”). And Eddie had picked what looked like a very sensible team: compared to the previous Saturday Fraser continued to replace the injured Coulibaly while Surman was replacing Thomas, so that we were slightly more defensively organised (4-1-4-1 rather than 4-4-2). Ward was still playing in place of an evidently unfit Elphick, and had a very mixed game that ranged from moments of sheer brilliance to dreadfully dangerous back-passes.
The match began with the teams weighing one another up, but the Cherries grew in confidence with the front five of Fraser, Pugh, Arter, Surman and Grabban all getting into good scoring positions – and three shots on goal in the period between the tenth and fifteenth minutes alone. But unfortunately it was in this very period that Watford scored their first goal, Boscombe failing to defend a set piece when Angella scored off a corner that hadn’t been properly cleared. But we recovered instantly and started to play some of the best flowing football ever seen from a Bournemouth side. Grabban shot wide, and a penalty appeal by Fraser was denied, but an equaliser – sooner or later – seemed inevitable, and came when a Fraser cross found Grabban on the half hour mark. Bournemouth’s supporters were ecstatic – and on the back of two goals the previous Saturday it seemed likely that Grabban was currently the Championship’s leading scorer.
Eddie probably asked his players for “more of the same” during the interval, and who can blame him; but Zola had other ideas. When Watford started the second half it was almost immediately obvious that they’d stepped up a gear, hoping to beat the Cherries on pace. They’d also been told to exploit the Cherries’ tendency to give away balls in dangerous positions, to exploit our obvious weaknesses in defending set pieces, and most importantly to aim balls at Troy Deeney (diagonally if necessary) at every available opportunity. Bournemouth soon looked rattled, and struggled to regain the supremacy with which they’d ended the first half, when official statistics had suggested they’d enjoyed as much as 73% of the possession. On the fifty-third minute a free kick was awarded against Francis, the far post was not defended as the cross came in, and Angella headed home for his second goal of the match. Eddie’s instant reaction, given that we now needed to chase the game, was on the face of it surprising: he brought on Harte for Daniels.
One has to assume Daniels was injured. Why else replace one of our best players? Daniels had been excellent till now, had linked well with Surman and Pugh, and had even helped out at right back once late in the first half after Francis had been beaten by a Watford attacker. It was immediately obvious that Harte wasn’t a winger, would never overlap with Pugh, and was actually poorer in defence too, because Watford immediately saw a way through on their right. Within three minutes Deeney had beaten Harte and Cook to make the score 3:1. Eddie brought on Pitman, a second striker, for MacDonald, who’d been acting as a lone deep midfielder in front of the back four. So, briefly, we were playing 4-4-2. But, in pursuit of a couple of goals, we were now leaving ourselves open at the back and very soon Harte (who was nowhere to be seen) had allowed McGugan a free run on Watford’s right flank, and his clinical shot had put the home side 4:1 up. O’Kane was brought on for Pugh. (Apart from anything else, O’Kane needs match practice because Arter had needlessly put in a challenge that had resulted in a yellow card as early as the third minute of the game, so he’s well on the way to another suspension already! Indeed he was lucky not to get a second yellow for a handball in the second half of this game.) We switched system again, to 4-3-3, O’Kane playing slightly ahead of Arter and Surman in a ‘squashed’ midfield, and a front three of Fraser-Grabban-Pitman. O’Kane had one shot on goal with his very first touch of the ball. But the trouble was that Pitman, playing as wide on the left as Fraser was on the right, was no longer being utilised to best advantage. (Fraser’s my Man of the Match, as he had been against West Ham pre-season, for his first half performance; but he was much quieter in the second half.)
The match was being totally dominated by Watford now and, four minutes from time, while Bournemouth were still pushing for a ‘consolation’ goal, Deeney scored easily at the other end to bring the score-line to 5:1. And then the fourth official signalled four minutes of extra time. Watford fans were delighted; they couldn’t get enough of this! Bournemouth fans groaned. Sure enough Cook gave away a penalty deep into extra time and inevitably Deeney, who was on a hat-trick, stepped up to take it. Allsop tried to make himself large in the goal, but the outcome was inevitable – and the damage had already been done anyway! Allsop went the wrong way, Deeney scored, 6:1 was the final result, and yet Bournemouth fans sang louder than the Watford ones after the final whistle, trying to ‘lift’ their team. But no-one doubted we’d now arrived in the Championship, were looking way out of our depth, and if lessons couldn’t be learned quickly this could prove to be a very long season indeed.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):