Date: 1 February 2014
Top of the table Leicester City extended their run of eight consecutive wins to nine today. But Boscombe didn’t make it easy for them, and there was only one (disputed) goal separating the teams by the end of the afternoon.
My greatest concern pre-match was whether it would be on. A 9 AM pitch inspection said “yes – subject to the weather between now and kick-off”, and I set off quickly; by car not train because bus replacements were covering the whole section of the rail network from Southampton Airport to Bournemouth today. Leicester fans will have been affected by this too; and I saw several displaying scarves in their cars on the M3. I allowed plenty of time because there was talk of flooding in places, and hold-ups on the M3; but I needn’t have worried as I was at the M27 service station within an hour of leaving home! The barista at Costa Coffee spotted the colours and proudly informed me that he’d served a coffee to Drew Surman just last week! Anyway, a torrential downpour around midday meant that the landscaped area and driveways around Dean Court were badly flooded again (come back, Eddie Mitchell, all is forgiven) – but the pitch was in excellent condition and the game went ahead. The attendance figure, exceeding 10000, was closer to that for the Liverpool game than that for Huddersfield, even though evidently family tickets for the Ted MacDougall Stand were being advertised quite late in the week.
We knew Harte was likely to replace the injured Daniels, and the opportunity was taken (perhaps because he needs Daniels’ presence to play at his best) to rest Pugh. Ritchie, who’s not been at his best recently, was demoted to the bench; so our wingers were Grabban and Fraser (not too effective on the right), which resulted in a somewhat ‘narrow’ game. And Rantie was on his own up front, also not in his best position. We played well in the first half, but the best scoring chances went to Leicester’s Vardy – who had two shots close together. Camp (undisputed Man of the Match, making at least four world-class saves overall) parried the first one onto the woodwork and pushed the second over the top of the crossbar. Our best chance, very late in the half, came from an Elphick header off a Harte free kick – but it narrowly missed the target without needing saving.
At half time Eddie made a double-substitution, switching to 4-4-2. Our two weakest players of the first half, Fraser and Rantie, were taken off; Grabban was now up front alongside new signing Kermorgant (who was cheered by the home fans but booed in equal measure by the away fans who know him well). O’Kane, who’d played well thus far but had fewer opportunities to create openings than of late (perhaps because Leicester had done their homework on him in preparation for this match), moved alongside Arter; and Surman went wide (which didn’t suit him at Forest and to be honest didn’t seem to suit him today either). Our two best chances of the half both fell to Grabban around the hour mark, but apart from that purple patch it looked as though we’d be flattered slightly if the scoreline stayed at 0-0 till the end. The only obvious difference from the early part of the season when we were conceding five or six goals per game, is the presence of Lee Camp.
There was some surprise when Leicester brought on Kevin Phillips. Many home fans had no idea that he was still playing football, let alone that he was on the Leicester bench. The inevitable happened: he it was who, nine minutes from the end of normal time, headed goalwards. Camp was nowhere near it, but Ward scooped it off the line and at first we assumed it hadn’t gone in. Phillips, though, was celebrating with the away fans – while the referee conferred with his assistant (the latter having actually ‘given’ the goal, despite being apparently unsighted). The goal stood; Camp dissented and was booked for his troubles. 0-1. Eddie responded by bringing on Pitman for Surman, and we went to – three strikers? No: four - because Ward moved up front alongside Kermorgant, Grabban and Pitman. O’Kane dropped back again, slightly, to play in front of what was now a back three. We must have been desperate for a point if this was the tactic! Indeed at one stage Camp looked as though he were thinking of coming forward for a corner. But despite (or because of?) a policy of hoofing the ball up to four tall strikers at every opportunity, this was our worst spell. It looked increasingly likely that if there were another goal it would be Leicester who scored it, because we were now leaving ourselves very open at the back. The announcement of five minutes’ added time offered no comfort to Bournemouth fans, who began to leave in droves. The scenes at the end were identical to the Watford game two weeks earlier: Bournemouth fans (and players) leaving with their heads down, while Leicester fans stood their ground and sang their hearts out for their lads.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (7), Elphick (8), Ward (8), Harte (7);
Grabban (7), Arter (7), Surman (7), Fraser (6);
Francis, Elphick, Ward, Harte;
Ritchie, O'Kane, Arter, Surman;