Date: 14 March 2015
I’d had to wait two and a half years to see the Cherries win by four clear goals – but now I’ve witnessed this feat twice in the same week! Arguably we played better against Fulham than against Blackpool, but who’s complaining when one gets to see as decisive a win as this?
We lined up with MacDonald in for the suspended Arter and last week’s ‘man of the match’ Pitman retaining his place in the starting eleven. Blackpool hadn’t brought many fans and – being so far adrift at the foot of the league table – the ones they did bring were displaying typical ‘gallows humour’ from the start. “We’re drawing away, we’re drawing away, how sh*t must you be, we’re drawing away” they sang with less than ten minutes on the clock. I know it was less than ten minutes because that’s when Pitman gave a near action replay of his second goal against Fulham; sensationally running the length of the pitch after receiving the ball from Francis, outpacing all opponents, and releasing the ball from the edge of the penalty area with his left foot. 1-0. The Tangerines’ fans’ song changed to “How sh*t must you be, it’s only one nil” ... and by the end of the match would become “How sh*t must you be, it’s only four nil”! How can Blackpool players be expected to perform well in the face of such cynical support?
The Cherries continued to dominate, and on 36 minutes a Ritchie cross/shot (not sure which was intended) was deflected away from goal towards Wilson and Pitman, but the latter won in the race to reach it and scored with his head. 2-0, but only for about three minutes. Then a free kick was awarded on Bournemouth’s left for a challenge on Pugh. Pitman and Surman stood over the ball, and everyone expected Pitman – now on a hat-trick – to take it. That is, everyone including the Blackpool defenders! In a routine straight off the training ground, Pitman dummied and moved into a position where he could receive a short ball from Surman and slam it home with his right foot. (The routine was almost ruined when the referee appeared to block Pitman’s run – but he managed quickly to get out of the way in time!) Not only had Brett scored a hat-trick but people would later call it a “perfect” one because it comprised one goal with his right foot, one with his left, and one header! And all within the first half! The players all went to congratulate him, though it was noticeable that Wilson was the last to do so. Blackpool got a shot in on the stroke of half time, probably their best of the afternoon, but (like all their shots on the day) it was off-target and failed to trouble Boruc. 3-0 at the break.
Only four minutes of the second half had passed when it was Pugh who was again tripped and got his opponent penalised in the process. Except that this time the incident occurred in the box, so the referee pointed to the spot. Everyone expected Pitman to take the penalty but he appeared to ‘gift’ it to Wilson (who so badly needed a goal to restore his confidence following his recent goal drought). Indeed Eddie would claim after the game that this is precisely what happened: Brett selflessly, as he’d already won the match ball, invited Wilson to take the penalty. But Wilson would later say that he’d had almost to snatch the ball off Pitman! We’ll never know for sure; but either way, although the penalty kick – low and central – wasn’t the most convincing one ever seen, it was converted and we were now 4-0 up. What is unquestionably true, because we all witnessed it, is that Brett was the first person to run over to Wilson and congratulate him. And at this point we might have expected a lot more goals, but it wasn’t to be. Elphick picked up a booking. Ritchie was also booked in this game, but arguably Elphick – with Cook already one yellow card off a suspension and Ward and Cargill still not match fit – is more indispensable. So, not long after this, Eddie took the precaution of substituting him as part of a double substitution. Cook took over the captain’s armband and the new set up (3-4-2-1, see below) would have looked unfamiliar to anyone who wasn’t at Millwall last May – when the exact same system was trialled with the exact same pairing of central midfielders, MacDonald and Surman. The system proved quite ‘safe’ but we no longer seemed very likely to score more goals, and indeed we didn’t. The main talking point of the last half hour was the injury picked up by Smith near the North Stand. Though he initially played on, he finally collapsed near the opposite end of the ground, and needed a minute or two of treatment. 82 minutes showed on the clock but, more significantly, we’d used all three substitutes by now so he was forced to play on.
There were huge cheers at the end of the match (at least, until we left the ground and discovered just how much the temperature had dropped whilst we were there!). From seeing four teams on equal points at the top of the Championship at the start of the day, there were now only three. And, more importantly, we were still leading the pack and with a better goal difference than ever.
Brett proudly picked up the match ball and showed it to the fans, to huge applause. But, after he and most of the rest of the team had left the pitch, one solitary figure remained: Shaun MacDonald. He did an additional lap of the pitch, applauding the crowd. It almost looked like a swansong, as though he’d calculated that with Gosling and O’Kane returning from injury, and Arter returning from suspension, he would return to fifth place in the pecking order of central midfielders; and therefore today’s might be his final appearance in a Cherries’ shirt. If it was, then goodbye Shaun and thanks.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):