Date: 3 May 2014
Today was always going to be an anti-climax to the season. The New Den’s a place you approach with fear at the best of times: hiding your team colours and trying to blend in with the crowd on the train. Add a 12:15 kick-off, so that we couldn’t meet in the pub for a good natter and a cooked meal beforehand; and the fact that we had nothing to play for – whereas Millwall were trying to avoid relegation; and £26 seemed a lot to pay for a miserable afternoon out. On arriving at one’s seat the enjoyment level dropped still further: if all those packed home stands weren’t noisy enough, the 1300+ Bournemouth fans were so loud that they appeared to be almost a greater threat to my chances of a pleasant afternoon than were the home fans! Oh, and Millwall is one of those stadia where you have to stand to see the game; my feet were positively aching by half-time!
Then, to cap it all, our team effectively failed to turn up. This was a pretty dire couldn’t-care-less performance by most of them, excepting only Lee Camp and the substitutes. Eddie Howe had decided to drop Francis – who’d hitherto played every minute of every match in all competitions this season – for no obvious reason; and to replace him with Smith who spent the entire first half passing backwards – or attempting to – to whichever Bournemouth player was behind him. Eddie also replaced Harte, our best dead-ball player, with Daniels, who’s so far off being match fit it’s embarrassing. And after we’d all agreed that Daniels’ distribution is poor at the best of times and the only person he can pass to is Pugh, Eddie decided to drop Pugh too! As for our best players – Grabban and Arter – they weren’t even named in the squad today. It seemed that Eddie was already planning for next season and today’s match was regarded more as an ‘exercise’ than as entertainment or reward for the fans.
The match wasn’t a pretty affair. Millwall were desperate to avoid relegation and, as we tried to respond, any chance of attractive football went out the window. If Millwall’s finishing had been better they could have scored more than the one solitary goal, and just before they did in fact score they missed one open goal and hit the crossbar. Their goal when it came was entirely down to a mistake from Ritchie, who gave the ball away enabling one Millwall player to pass and another to score with a simple header from close range. 1-0. Meanwhile, at the other end, Rantie was doing a lot of running – his fancy twists and turns often getting the better of the opposition – but he couldn’t seem to get the final shot in; neither could he hold up the ball to enable Kermorgant, who was playing very deep, to catch him. The worrying thing for next season, especially with talk of other clubs making offers for Grabban, is that when either Grabban or Kermorgant doesn’t play the other is next to useless.
As half time approached the game got very scrappy, tempers flared, and some players saw their names go in the referee’s book while others were issued warnings. Then at half time Eddie made a double substitution: the ineffectual Smith was replaced by Francis, and MacDonald was given a welcome run-out (having warmed the bench seemingly for months without seeing any action) for O’Kane. Both substitutions led to goal chances. Cook passed to MacDonald, whose header required a swift response from Forde, on 62 minutes. Five minutes later, Francis attempted a long-range shot that bounced onto the roof of the net. But the bigger improvement came when Pitman was brought on for Fraser and we switched to a 3-4-1-2 system, Ritchie and Daniels now playing as wingbacks. On one occasion Pitman passed to Surman, who fired straight at Forde’s feet; and a little later Pitman saw an empty goalmouth with Forde a long way out, but instead of passing to a player in a better position he somewhat selfishly attempted a spectacular shot on goal for himself – that went wide. But all this time Millwall were getting a lot more goal-scoring chances than we were, though they were being either missed or saved. The clock ticked down, Millwall fans were warned not to invade the pitch on the final whistle, the whistle blew, and thousands of Millwall fans came onto the pitch anyway! It was good that their antics enabled us to sneak away safely; but it did heighten the sense of anti-climax, because there was no final opportunity to cheer our players – some of whom we may not see in Bournemouth colours again.
In the event, though, there wasn’t much to cheer anyway. The official line is that we should be thrilled that Bournemouth have ended in their highest ever league position – tenth in the second tier – but there was nothing in today’s game to suggest this was anything other than a one-off. Indeed, if I base my expectations for next season on the eighteen games I’ve witnessed this season, the record is: played 18, won 4, drawn 5, lost 9, goals for 15, goals against 27, goal difference minus 12, points 17. This isn’t a run of results that’s deserving of promotion; it’s more like relegation form to be honest.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):