Date: 14 December 2013
“We did everything but score,” commented Eddie Howe after today’s game. This summed the match up perfectly but the question is, should we sympathise with the manager and players (as was presumably Eddie’s intention) or should we complain bitterly? The fact that exactly the same is happening for Chelsea FC currently doesn’t make it any easier for Cherries’ fans to bear.
There are some players one must definitely sympathise with – notably O’Kane, who had arguably his best game ever and controlled it from start to finish; and Grabban, who once again gave everything though his performance didn’t quite equal that at Reading last week. Meanwhile, Daniels worked well, overlapping with Pugh once again; and Pugh and Ritchie must have been somewhat frustrated to find themselves so often in good crossing positions but with no-one to cross to. Camp gave an assured performance, and can’t be blamed for either of Birmingham’s goals, but to be honest he had little to do.
But the omens were bad today long before I arrived at the ground. I’d got up extra early (5:30) because I had so much to do at home before travelling down to Bournemouth. I’d then turned up at my usual café in Boscombe for lunch an hour later than usual (and about 8 hours after getting out of bed, hence very hungry!) only to find it well and truly shut. Perplexing, this. The manager, whom I know well, had said nothing about closing when I was there last month; but now the café’s deserted, the windows are whitewashed, and there are no signs to explain what’s going on. So all this was before I even got to Dean Court.
Howe selected the exact same line-up as last week, and after such a great result against Reading who can blame him? The decision to stick with 4-1-4-1 must have been right because, as already stated, O’Kane in the holding position was ‘man of the match’. But Grabban, for all his flair and work ethic, isn’t a target man; neither can he hold the ball up. So all too often there appeared to be no-one in attack at all.
And the game started disastrously. Just two minutes in, Cook seemed to have defended well against two Birmingham players; but then he gave the ball away, and it came straight back into the (now undefended) danger zone where Shinnie capitalised from close range. 0-1. Oh well, early days; surely we’d get into our stride soon? Well we certainly dominated proceedings, and won countless corners, but the next goal was scored by Birmingham again! On 34 minutes Elphick defended a Birmingham attack; but only diverted the ball as far as Surman, who didn’t seem quite ready for it. Zigic shot and scored. 0-2. The strange thing was that the two goals arose from probably Birmingham’s only two shots on target all afternoon, whereas we had so many. In fairness some of ours were pretty soft, but in any case Birmingham’s goalie Randolph was in fine form. The bigger questions we need to ask are why so many shots (especially by Arter) are wildly off target; and why we fail to exploit corners (of which we were awarded 14!) or free kicks. (Can’t Tindall, who used to be good with set pieces in his playing days, coach the players in a few routines?) Anyway, to complete the story of this match, Birmingham’s second goal was against the run of play, and Bournemouth continued to play good flowing football – without making it count in front of goal – for the rest of the game. The final statistics would show we had 60% of the possession. Eddie brought on Fraser for Surman at half time, sticking with 4-1-4-1 but moving Ritchie infield alongside Arter. Later he brought on Rantie and Pitman; but it’s not easy to chase a game when you're 0-2 down. And, as several remarked afterwards, this was one of those days when you could play till midnight and still fail to score. Grabban’s header in the first half and Rantie’s in injury time at the very end were probably our best chances; but O’Kane, Arter and Pugh all had shots too. No one person can take the blame for the result; or maybe they all can?
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (7), Elphick (6), Cook (7), Daniels (7);
Ritchie (7), Arter (6), Surman (6), Pugh (6);