Date: 13 September 2014
Cherries’ fans had, today, the dubious privilege of watching their team do what they’re best at: conceding points in the last few minutes.
The day started promisingly enough, with unseasonably warm dry weather. But one thing concerned me from the start: everyone was expecting us to do well. On paper, home to Rotherham is about as easy a match as we’ll get all season. But long term supporters know that such games rarely go our way. Anyway, we lined up exactly the same as the home match for Brentford a month earlier: same players, same formation. We’d snuck a win on that occasion, when we’d to be honest only earned a draw, so this didn’t bode well. Surman and Pitman started on the bench, while Gosling and Rantie were left out of the matchday squad altogether.
But no-one could have anticipated the first half being quite as dull and uneventful as it was. Bournemouth passed the ball around – mainly sideways or backwards – and unbelievably neither keeper had a single save to make all half. The best scoring opportunity came against the run of play from Rotherham’s Arnason, who found himself unmarked in the 39th minute. But his shot sailed high over the crossbar. HT: 0-0.
Our best spell was at the start of the second period. Kermorgant tried to meet a Pugh cross in the 49th minute and was pulled down by Skarz in the box, but the referee ignored all appeals for a penalty. Two minutes later Kermorgant was again involved, crossing from the left and finding Wilson, but the latter got himself in a tangle with a couple of Rotherham players. A couple more minutes, and our best chance to date: a solo effort from Wilson, who charged up the left flank with the ball, beating several players until he was one-on-one with the keeper. But his shot hit the left post. We’d had three attempts in as many minutes, and surely our time would come soon? Well yes, but it came on the hour mark from an unlikely source: Cook, who’d stayed forward after a set-piece, met a cross from the right (Ritchie) and headed it expertly into the net in front of the North Stand. The wild cheers were extended when a Lancaster Bomber chose that very moment to fly low over the stadium. It felt like an official ‘fly-past’ to celebrate Cook’s goal, but who’d have guessed that would be our last moment of excitement this afternoon?
It would not be fair to say we tried to defend a 1-0 lead because we didn’t, particularly. None of the usual tricks such as playing to the corner flag were employed. Indeed this was our worst spell of the game, as we seemingly sat back waiting for Rotherham to counter. The last ten minutes were particularly nervy for fans because we’d been in this situation before. We made a few substitutions: Pitman came on for Kermorgant who appeared to have taken a knock earlier, Fraser came on for Pugh, and at the death Surman came on for Ritchie. There was a huge cheer for Surman’s third debut in Bournemouth colours, and he slotted into central midfield while Fraser went wide right and Pitman wide left in a 4-5-1. But the team were still settling into their new roles when disaster struck. Rotherham were awarded a dubious corner. (A friend of my dad’s was right next to the spot where the ball crossed the line and says it shouldn’t have been a corner, but in a sense that’s irrelevant to what followed.) The corner kick found Bowery, who shook off his marker (Daniels) and headed home for 1-1.
What’s so infuriating is that that’s four times I’ve seen Bournemouth concede points through a late goal in 2014, the other occasions being away to Brighton (January), Derby (February) and Charlton (March). When will we learn? After all, others have learned it about us. Eddie Howe remarked that he had great respect for Rotherham manager Steve Evans; so have I. After all, he only needed to give his players two messages before this match: pack bodies behind the ball and you’ll frustrate Bournemouth’s preferred passing game (and Bournemouth have no Plan B), and keep fighting right to the end because Bournemouth are at their most vulnerable in the final minutes of any match. Rotherham’s players had clearly received both messages loud and clear.
In a perfect world, there would have been a dream ending. Surman almost achieved it in the last minute of his home debut by delivering a powerful shot from distance that required the keeper’s best efforts to palm it away. So after a quiet game for the two keepers, they’d both been called into action in added time. But on this occasion Collin had passed the test and Camp had failed. FT: 1-1.
So as the final whistle blew I witnessed the same scene I’d observed at home to Watford in January and to Leicester in February: the away fans rooted to their spots, cheering and singing for all they were worth, while home fans sloped away dejectedly. Attendances at the Goldsands Stadium have already dropped by nearly 2000 in one month; by the time these two teams play the equivalent fixture next season (in League One, if today’s anything to go by) we’ll be lucky to see more than 5000 here. Urgent action is needed!
O’Kane has received so many man of the match awards this season to date, but his distribution was poor this afternoon and he wasn’t at his best. Neither was his midfield partner Arter. Elphick was defending well, with his whole body, and Cook was too – his back passes to Camp often appearing more risky than they actually were. I’d decided Steve Cook was my choice for man of the match just before he scored. So the goal simply served to confirm my selection!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (6), Elphick (7), Cook (7), Daniels (6);
Ritchie (6), O'Kane (6), Arter (6), Pugh (5);