Date: 6 February 1999
The first time in years I've sat in the main stand at Bournemouth, and a match at which I was glad of the excellent view.
The pitch has dried out well now, indeed almost too much: near where I sat the surface was quite dusty. I was also in the best position to see the incident between Kavanagh and O'Neill (and briefly several other players who lost their temper) which resulted in both the main culprits being sent off. Almost immediately, the fourth official raised the board for two minutes to be added to the first half, at the end of which a "bodyguard" of stewards escorted the referee from the pitch.
Every cloud has a silver lining, and not only was O'Neill probably the easiest player of our eleven to spare, but in fact the midfield trio in the second half looked stronger than the quartet in the first! By Bailey, Robinson and Hughes playing in a "flat" formation; Bailey linking with Young or moving infield as necessary; Hughes linking with Vincent or moving infield as necessary; Robinson playing in the centre of the park; there was no longer the "empty space" in the middle of the "diamond".
Of course, playing with ten men is potentially tiring, although ironically Warren, the last player to come on, tired first.
But back to the beginning: Learning before the match that Stein was absent as a result of flu, no-one would have expected a four-goal battering of Stoke.
The first goal came when Hughes, who'd had an indifferent game the previous Saturday and for the first part of Tuesday's game, showed again some of the remarkable flair and pace that had been evident in extra time on Tuesday. In a great run, he took on and beat several opponents before passing out to Bailey, who put in a tremendous cross to Fletcher on the furthest goalpost. Fletcher nodded it in. Great goal following a great build-up. 1-0.
Fletcher's second was almost a joke in comparison. A defensive error by Stoke resulted in an open goal which Fletcher could of course have missed, but didn't. 2-0.
Boli had taken Stein's place, and was showing some promise and getting into good scoring positions. But after his second mis-shot in quick succession he remained on the ground and soon retired injured. Warren took his place up front and won a couple of corners early in the second half through some skilful play. But nonetheless he didn't seem up to scratch, and on one occasion seemed to be sleeping when Fletcher crossed a beautiful ball to him. So in typical Machin style the substitute was substituted and on came: one James Hayter! Not even named in the "Echo" squad, Hayter had been recalled from his high-scoring period on loan to Salisbury.
Hayter showed great pace, although slipping up occasionally, and got one Stein-type goal when he broke free from the chasing pack. But that was in fact Bournemouth's fourth, because Robinson had scored off a Young cross just after Hayter had come onto the pitch.
The remaining substitute on the bench was Jenkins, who came on eventually for Vincent. I thought Vincent had a poor game, particularly in terms of distribution, but apparently not everyone agrees! Anyway, Jenkins nearly scored off a free-kick when he was perfectly placed by the goal post; but his shot was blocked. Even without that goal though, two "firsts" had been recorded: Jenkins' first appearance at this level and Hayter's first senior goal.
There have been two occasions in the 1990s when our highest scorer of the season managed a tally of eight goals. This time, with a third of the season to go, three players have already exceeded that number!
There was four minutes of time added on at the very end, but really we would have liked this game to never stop! We always looked like scoring further goals, and Stoke - already, before the day, in decline - had very few shots on goal at all.
Good news after the game: not only had Stoke (of course) slipped up, but both Fulham and Preston had dropped a couple of points, so our position was slightly strengthened. Unfortunately, Walsall, Gillingham, and Manchester City had each won their games!
The only fact that added a sour aftertaste to the afternoon was the discovery that at least 100 fans had turned up and been unable to get a ticket, although we were nearly 4000 below capacity inside.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (my scores out of ten):
Young (7), Cox (7), Howe (8), Vincent (6);
Bailey (8), Robinson (7), O'Neill (6);
Fletcher (8), Boli (7)