Date: 15 March 2014
Unquestionably a fourth clean sheet in a row, and against a former Premier League side, is no mean feat. But the supporters who turned out today will have gone home disappointed by such a dull game, and frustrated that we had so few opportunities to score at home.
Maybe expectations weren’t as high as you’d think, because despite three wins in a row and a 5-0 victory in our last home game, fewer than 10,000 turned up today – and that included a good turnout of away supporters. (My rail replacement bus from Southampton Airport had carried a good number of them, while there hadn’t been a single Boscombe fan in sight on the way down from London.)
We lined up with Ritchie and Coulibaly on the two wings, and Fraser and Pugh both on the bench, adopting the now familiar 4-1-4-1 system. But if Coulibaly on the left wing was supposed to be our ‘secret weapon’ it didn’t really work out because (1) he had too much work to do with Harte never willing to overlap; (2) he had no-one to cross to when he did get into a forward position because Grabban kept drifting to the right; (3) he didn’t look totally match-fit; and (4) he had the sun in his eyes for most of the first half. Indeed the way the linesman in front of the East Stand had to shield his eyes so much, demonstrated how difficult it must have been to be playing on that flank. Meanwhile in the centre of the park O’Kane and Arter sometimes showed what they are capable of, but at other times looked tired (unsurprisingly I guess, having played a full match less than 3 days earlier); and Surman, whose job it was to get forward and support Grabban whenever he could, attempted too few shots and was woeful in his distribution today.
If Middlesbrough hadn’t done their homework as regards Coulibaly, they certainly had done their homework regarding our preferred way of playing – passing from the back. So they began the match playing high up the park, giving our defenders no chance to play their usual kind of game. Which makes it all the more remarkable that we still managed to defend our goal admirably, and that Lee Camp had so little to do. When we did get forward, the centre of the park being blocked with ‘Boro players, we had to utilise the wings – or set pieces. A clever corner kick on 14 minutes, for example, taken unusually by O’Kane, nearly came off when he passed along the goal line to Grabban. But in a frustrating first half the only really good chance (and only really contentious moment) came when Boro's keeper appeared to drop the ball, and Grabban paused before shooting from an acute angle, but the ‘goal’ was disallowed by the referee for a foul on the keeper. Half-time: 0-0.
The only half time ‘change’ for Bournemouth was Arter and Surman swapping sides in central midfield, but we seemed to have upped our game until Coulibaly went down injured and was promptly replaced (as a precaution? or because he was about to be substituted anyway?) by Fraser on 58 minutes. Ten minutes later Eddie showed determination not to change the system (i.e. not to bring on a second striker) by substituting the other winger: Pugh coming on as our third left-winger of the game while Fraser now switched to the right flank. Nothing much changed, though. O’Kane flunked a chance to score and so dived in the box; rightly being yellow-carded whilst the ‘Boro fans all cried “Cheat!” Grabban had a golden opportunity to shoot when he was standing right by the goalmouth as a cross came over from Harte, but he didn’t see it in time. Francis got a cracker of a long shot in, the goalie saving it; and very late on Surman managed an even more powerful shot on target (at last heeding the crowd’s instructions to shoot on sight) which the ‘Boro keeper did very well to save. Surman was replaced by Rantie with only two minutes of normal time remaining: too little, too late. The two minutes became eight because there was a serious injury to Boro’s Carayol. (Full marks to Harte for putting the ball straight out of play and urgently waving the stretcher bearers on the second he saw Carayol go down.) And we looked a lot more likely to score than the visitors during added time. But it wasn’t to be. 0-0 (yawn).
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (8), Elphick (8), Cook (7), Harte (8);
Ritchie (6), Arter (8), Surman (7), Coulibaly (7);