This was a pleasantly warm and sunny day on the south coast – with little evidence of the threatened 20 mph winds. The pitch looked absolutely perfect; there are many pitches that wouldn’t look this great at the start of the season never mind eight months in. The team selection (including the bench) was unchanged from Tuesday, so we inevitably wondered whether they’d all look as tired as they had then. Initially, we dominated the match – Ritchie being especially lively from the start and brought down by an opponent within the first minute. Kermorgant appeared to pick up an injury after five minutes (causing a hopeful Pitman to start warming up!) but soon recovered. But things evened up somewhat after ten minutes or so. On the quarter hour mark, Ritchie attempted a somewhat wild shot, that sailed high over the crossbar. Wilson had a few scoring chances (all balls were being aimed at him, despite him still being below par and lacking his usual pace) around this time too. But Wednesday were getting more opportunities to score. Cook received a yellow card for a foul (thank goodness there’s been an amnesty on points). And then, on the 36th minute, the first goal came when an excellent cross from Buxton on the right flank was met by Wednesday’s Lee, who headed the ball into the net with little resistance from any of our defenders. 0-1, but in fairness a good goal. Our best chance of the half came three minutes before half time from a ferocious long shot from Arter, following good build-up play, that unfortunately was pushed over the crossbar by Kirkland’s fingertip. Six minutes were added to the half, and Sheffield Wednesday thoroughly dominated this period, but at half time the score was still 0-1.
Early in the second half Francis received a caution. The significance of this would only become evident later! Then that man Lee was involved again, when Sheffield Wednesday had a chance to go two up: a free kick rebounded and we were lucky that Wednesday’s second shot (at a now empty goal) went wide. Much of the post-match comment would be about poor refereeing decisions, but I personally don’t go along with the conspiracy theory that the ref was somehow biased: I think he was just not that good! Nonetheless, certainly his poorest decision was when Wilson put in an excellent run with the ball, and passed the Wednesday keeper, only to go down in the box as Buxton bundled into him. Despite howls of protest from the North Stand, who’d had a perfect view of all this, the penalty wasn’t given. The referee awarded a corner instead. But the best thing was that following this Boscombe just got on with their game, not allowing one bad call to faze them. Smith had already come on for Pugh, with Ritchie switching to the left flank and Arter / Surman swapping places in central midfield; and Jones now came on for Cook, to play to the right of Wilson up front (3-4-1-2). So Ritchie was on the left flank when his cross found Kermorgant’s head, and Yann beat the keeper to score. 1-1. “We score when we want.”
But then our luck turned again, as – for a very high challenge on an opponent – Francis received a second yellow card (and hence a sending off). This was particularly inconvenient given that we’d been playing a back three that had now become two! Fortunately Howe was able to make one more substitution, so on came Ward (playing in a slightly unfamiliar position on the right of a back three) for Kermorgant. Once again our heads didn’t drop, and incredibly despite being reduced to ten men we scored the next goal! Surman was brought down for a Cherries’ free kick; Arter, Surman and Ritchie all stood over the ball; Surman gently tapped it to his left, to Ritchie; and Ritchie’s left-footed shot careered over the wall and into the top corner of the goal eluding the unsighted keeper. As brilliant a goal as we’ll see in ages, and Ritchie went on a lap of honour! Both our goals had been a joy to behold, but this one was extra special because it came when we were a man down. 2-1, and only six minutes of normal time to hang on now.
When five minutes of injury time was announced, we were still hanging on for a 2-1 win, but Wednesday were looking dominant. And they did have one chance to equalise, when it would have been easier to hit the back of the net than not. But ultimately their second goal came from a fairly awarded penalty kick in the sixth minute of added time. Smith had felled a player in the box; the Bournemouth bench appeared to send a message to Boruc (via Wilson) to tell him where the penalty shot was likely to be put; and sure enough the message got through because Boruc dived in exactly the right direction. But he failed to save it. 2-2; which was depressing with only a minute of extra time to go, and resulted in much greater celebration in the away end than elsewhere at the final whistle. But a draw was probably a fair outcome from this match.
At the time of writing it’s not clear whether this will turn out to be my last match of the season or not; if it was, it was a slight anti-climax in terms of results but a thoroughly enjoyable day out otherwise. And an excellent match for neutrals, if there were any!
Man of the match Matt Ritchie.
AFCB: Boruc; Francis, Elphick, Cook, Daniels; Ritchie, Surman, Arter, Pugh; Kermorgant; Wilson
Subs: Camp, Ward (for Kermorgant, 81 mins), Fraser, Pitman, Smith (for Pugh, 57 mins), Gosling, Jones (for Cook, 64 mins)
Graham Pearcey, Walton-on-Thames