Date: 17 August 2013
Following the previous week’s 6-1 reverse, the Cherries got their Championship campaign back on track with a narrow, but nonetheless hard fought, victory over the FA Cup holders.
Arriving at Bournemouth train station after a week in Surrey was a bit of a shock for me. Having been virtually living in shorts, with the house windows open day and night, I was surprised to encounter such cool temperatures, feeling even colder on account of the strong winds, and heavy rain with it. So much for “sunny, sunny Bournemouth”! And the weather was set to get even worse as the afternoon progressed: winds having an adverse effect on some of the passes; heavy rain falling on the players and – later on – drifting into the East Stand (Boscombe players were wiping the ball with a towel every time it went into touch, though strangely Wigan players weren’t); and decidedly chilly conditions for sitting and watching a match in August. I’ll bet this wasn’t what the Wigan supporters expected when the season’s fixtures were announced and they spotted the opportunity for a summer weekend on the south coast.
The crowd numbered about 9000, and would have fitted in three stands but looked and sounded so much better distributed around all four. Eddie had made one tactical change from the Watford game, bringing in Pitman for Surman to change the system from 4-1-4-1 to 4-4-2. He’d also made one enforced change, introducing Harte for the injured Daniels. This was the change that most concerned home supporters; so many of Watford’s goals last week had been the result of poor defence of our left channel (Harte/Cook, following Daniels’ injury) that with Harte starting this could be another rout. “Why not bring Elphick into central defence and put Cook on the left?” we wondered. But once again Eddie had got it right. Allsop had a quiet game; Ward and Cook were rock solid in defence and worked well together; Harte had a much better game than last week; Pugh missed his partner Daniels (as Harte never gets forward) but made up for it with a little trickery between himself and Arter; and the only real disappointment was Pitman who was off the pace and still not fully match fit.
We almost got off to the perfect start, when a brilliant diagonal ball from Fraser found Grabban, whose shot was unfortunately too soft and proved easy for Scott Carson to block and deflect; just one minute into the game. Wigan, who were attacking the North Stand end of the ground in the first half, had the greater part of the possession but their players got caught offside time and again. Which was fortunate for us, as our defenders were looking pretty static early on. Wigan did get in one reasonable shot, that Allsop pushed over the bar; and who’d have thought at this stage that it would be virtually the only save he’d need to make all afternoon? But in the 22nd minute a Fraser cross led to a brief one-two between Pitman and Grabban and, while they were still deliberating over who’d attempt the shot, Carson came out and grabbed the ball from Grabban’s feet. This began a purple patch for Bournemouth, which included a shot from Arter that was so high it managed to clear the roof of the new South Stand! A better move from Arter followed a corner in which he performed the traditional Bournemouth ‘step over’ routine to give Pitman the chance to shoot. But the penalty area was too crowded with Wigan players for the routine to come off this time, and even more unfortunate was that other teams have now seen us do this on TV so they’ll be expecting it in future! The next notable moment for Bournemouth was when Grabban received a ball from Pugh and attempted a very fancy overhead kick – but shot wide. At the other end, we were still passing the ball back too often, but at least we were defending Wigan corners well and – evidently having learned the lessons from Vicarage Road – were placing one man at each goalpost today. We were getting close to half time with the score still at 0-0, but then a bizarre incident. Pitman was felled in the centre of the park; most players stopped, expecting the referee’s whistle; and one Wigan player attempted a lengthy back pass to Carson. But the whistle hadn’t blown (maybe the referee was letting Bournemouth play the advantage); Grabban saw what was happening and chased the ball; Carson came out and it was one on one. Grabban, cleverly, decided not to shoot to his left (Carson’s right), but to his right. It was a very acute angle but the ball flew into the net! Wigan players who, apart from Carson, had more or less stopped to watch, were baffled. Bournemouth supporters behind the goal in the South Stand were ecstatic, as was the rest of the stadium. We were now 1-0 up against one of the most fancied teams in this Division. And although Grabban’s goal had looked easy, it wasn’t really; he’d had no idea who was behind him, nor which way Carson would come, nor whether he’d manage to find the target from such a difficult angle. So, full marks to him for his fourth goal of the season in just three league matches.
But no-one thought the result would stay like this for long. Surely Owen Coyle would have a few tricks up his sleeve? The second half started a little uncertainly and the first good shot, powerful and from distance, came from Harte of all people. But then Pitman was brought down in the area and the referee awarded a penalty. Without hesitation Pitman himself grabbed the ball and marched to the spot; there was never any question as to who would take the kick. What followed were obvious mind games between Pitman and Carson, the latter almost indicating to Pitman in which part of the net he expected him to place the ball. Not knowing if it was a bluff or a double-bluff, Pitman proceeded to aim for that very spot, and Carson pushed it away. Pitman’s shot had been on target, it wasn’t a bad penalty kick, but Carson had been just too clever for him. Though still only 0-1 down, Coyle was unhappy and made a double substitution just ten minutes into the second half. But one of said substitutes, McManaman, had been on the pitch less than three minutes when he was off again, having received a red card! The incident occurred next to the away dugout. McManaman brought down Pitman with a lunging tackle, and the referee had no hesitation in brandishing a red card. Coyle clearly thought this was unjustified and, as the incident had taken place right in front of him, had every right to an opinion. Tempers flared, Arter (of course) and even Carson got involved in a lot of pushing and shoving, before the referee managed to calm things down. Even then there was one more angry exchange between Coyle and Harte (for some reason). Strangely, though, we weren’t able to capitalise on the extra man. We were clearly very nervy about conceding goals following the previous week’s debacle. So we tried to slow the game down, Allsop getting yellow-carded for time wasting with more than half an hour still to go! Allsop subsequently got injured, and Flahavan warmed up – but wasn’t needed. In the seventy-ninth minute Wigan’s Watson brought down Thomas just outside the penalty area to Bournemouth’s right. Pitman took the free kick so quickly that he took everyone by surprise – except Scott Carson, who palmed it away! When six minutes of additional time were awarded, it was Wigan who were ecstatic and Bournemouth who inwardly groaned. A Wigan free kick in injury time was an especially worrying moment but it hit the wall, the follow-up shot was cleared, and we went on to pick up a deserved three points.
Any Bournemouth supporter would have bitten the hand off anyone who, pre-season, had offered us six points from the first three league games. And a 1-0 victory was better than most people’s predictions for today, especially when we’d heard that Daniels wasn’t starting. This wasn’t a great display – we’d played better in the first half at Watford, ironically – but it was a significant result. Grabban is in such great form at the moment (maybe he should have taken the penalty?) that he can expect to pick up several Man of the Match awards in the weeks ahead; but today’s big story was about the clean sheet. For an immense performance, totally justifying his place in the team in preference to Elphick at the present time, my Man of the Match is Elliott Ward.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):