So, on Saturday at Yeovil, we’d played quite well at times, and there’d been creditable performances from Feeney, Arter and Ings, but we’d all sloped away in stony silence after throwing the game in the final few minutes. Whereas today at Dean Court, the play had been poor for most of the first 80 minutes, and several players (perhaps, in fairness, still tired from Saturday) were below par, but we cheered like mad at the end and went home smiling!
The team lined up with Robinson (now a dad) having regained the place loaned to Arter on Saturday. This immediately worried the fans: hadn’t Arter been our best player two days ago? If (and it was a big ‘if’) Robinson was fully match-fit again after his bedside vigil whilst his child was being born, fans wondered, could we not perhaps have rotated the squad and dropped Hollands this time round? In fact that was a better suggestion than we could ever have anticipated, because before half-time Hollands would have been red-carded, and suspended for the Hartlepool game next week. But to start at the beginning: we began poorly. Lovell failed to reach a pass from a Cummings free-kick, and then failed to meet an Ings cross, before a subsequent Ings cross found … absolutely no-one. And this led to a break on the Rovers’ right flank, with our defenders failing to get back in time, and a near open goal enabling Brown to score easily. We were 0-1 down and there weren’t yet five minutes on the clock. This was going to be a long afternoon! Shortly after this, we won a corner and attempted the infamous ‘step-over’ routine, but McDermott fluffed the ensuing shot. On 20 minutes, a Feeney cross found Ings but his header – though on target – had no power behind it and the Bristol keeper saved easily. And while all this was going on, Rovers of course had shots too. In fact to be honest the game was looking more likely to go to 0-2 than to 1-1. But the main talking points of the first half were off the ball: McCracken’s instant dismissal for elbowing Smith as he tried to defend a Bristol corner, and Hollands’ two yellow cards equalling one red. The latter demonstrated naïveté on the part of both Hollands and Bradbury. After Hollands’ first booking he’d received another warning from the referee that could have been seen as a hint to the bench, “substitute this player, or I’ll send him off”. The warning wasn’t heeded and Hollands remained on the pitch, but the referee knew exactly what to do when he subsequently felled Lines near the half-way line. A yellow was shown, followed by a red; Danny was off; and at half time it was 0-1 on goals, and 10 men against 10 – which much be pretty exhausting on such a warm day only 48 hours on from the preceding game.
Arter came on for Lovell for the second half, which no-one would have disagreed with (except that some would probably have done this at 3 o’clock!). Our best player from Saturday, on for a guy who’d consistently not only missed every pass physically but had also failed to read the game mentally. So it was the right substitution, but initially it didn’t make much difference. Then Fletcher came on – five minutes earlier than he usually does – and made a genuine difference as prior to this Ings had been trying to lead the line alone. A nice move saw Fletch pass to Smith, who returned the ball to Fletch, who passed to Feeney who … shot miles into the air over the North Stand. Dreadful finishing, but did this mean that at last we were starting to push forward? A Rovers’ attacker then sent a weak shot into Jalal’s safe hands at the other end of the park. But how had he got himself into this position in the first place? Jalal blamed Arter – and berated him publicly. And then: the substitution that no-one understood at the time but which proved to be absolute genius. Baudry came on for the exhausted new dad, Robinson (though in general the Rovers’ players were looking a lot more tired than ours by now). At Notts Co Baudry had come on to shore up the defence, but surely that wasn’t what was needed when we were 0-1 down at home? No; Baudry joined the midfield, and showed a side of him no-one knew about. For the rest of the match he ran forward from deep positions, delivered inch-perfect passes to his team-mates, and even helped out in attack. We’ll never know whether Baudry being handed this responsibility was a matter of luck or judgment on Bradbury’s part, but it was noticeable that as soon as Fletch had entered the fray, Ryan Garry (in a suit, despite the heat) had joined Bradders on the touchline and appeared to be exerting more influence than, hitherto, the official coach and assistant had managed between them. So perhaps Garry should take the credit for the masterstroke of giving Baudry this role – because masterstroke is what it proved to be. In the 84th minute a Cummings corner on Bournemouth’s right-hand side met Baudry’s head, and the score was 1-1. With the gallows humour we’ve become used to at Dean Court, our fans sang, “We’re shit and we scored a goal!”
And Baudry was to play a part in the last goal of the game, two minutes from time. He put in a clever pass to Ings, whose first shot was blocked but who managed to retrieve the ball and pass it to Fletcher’s shin. Despite being marked by two Rovers’ defenders, Fletch shot and, only minutes after he’d fluffed a much easier shot than this one, he scored! He celebrated by removing his shirt and twirling it high above his head – which was totally irresponsible because it proved to be the decisive sixth card for the Cherries in one match, that would make us liable for a fine from the Football League. Nonetheless the joy and relief – amongst Fletch, the other players and most notably the fans – were tangible. Could we now hold out for the remainder of the game plus injury time? Had we learned anything from Saturday’s debacle? To which the answer was: yes! Fletcher, Ings, Feeney and Cummings now used very opportunity to do what one should always do in this situation: they played the ball into the corners, over and over again. And a Bristol corner kick deep in injury time, which like the Yeovil keeper two days earlier their goalie came forward for (anyone would think we had a reputation for conceding late goals!), was defended solidly. Fans urged Jalal to take the subsequent goal kick quickly, whilst the Rovers’ keeper was out of position, but there was little point as we now had no players forward. We held on to our 2-1 lead magnificently. After the final whistle, supporters awaited results from other stadia, and then we could celebrate the fact that Rochdale and Exeter were now out of the running, and we have a very real chance to earn ourselves a play-off place with one game to spare.
At 45 minutes my nominee for Man of the Match would have been Feeney – virtually the only player to have come out of that half with any credit having run his socks off and read the game well. But he noticeably deteriorated in the second half, so I’d say it was Mathieu Baudry who – remarkably – did enough in 25 minutes (little more than a cameo appearance) to earn the accolade today.
AFCB: Jalal, Smith, Cooper, Pearce, Cummings, McDermott, Robinson, Hollands, Feeney, Lovell, Ings
Subs: Thomas, Purches, Pugh, Dalla Valle, Arter (for Lovell, at HT), Fletcher (for McDermott, 55 mins), Baudry (for Robinson, 65 mins)
Graham Pearcey, Walton-On-Thames