The draw @ Ipswich meant 63 points, the highest-ever at this level for the club. Probably Howe’s best also; a great effort. Now the target was for a best-ever placing, given that Seaweed’s win over (thus relegated) Yeovil put 6th place out of reach.
On a dry, breezy & cloudy afternoon, Francis & Grabban took all the awards between them. With Ward strolling through the car park it was evident he’d play no part; Harte replaced Daniels else no change apart from bench rotation. Boscombe k.o. towards the South End; Pugh nicked it to Kermorgant who allowed Ritchie to hit it wide. Then Ritchie won it well and Grabban’s effort from wide was cleared. Both sides were eager, losing and winning the ball. A cross from Francis saw Kermorgant tap it; Grabban’s follow-up belter was saved and Pugh was almost in on it. The first 10 minutes saw the home side superior with Forest happy to concede throws (or just passed poorly for the same outcome). Surman was controlling the game; everything was going through him. However, through balls were too strong from both sides, and some passes went astray. Forest went through but hit it wide.
Kermorgant had a facial knock, allowing general take-on of fluids. By now it was all a little low-key, but Pugh put in a good run ending with Surman putting it wide. Both sides closed down and covered well; Pugh & Grabban had both become auxiliary midfielders. O’Kane made another poor pass – he wasn’t quite on his game – but Kermorgant, Grabban & Surman made a lovely triangle ending with Grabban hitting over from 20 yards. Pugh was then wide from 22 yards, but there was otherwise little urgency. Derbyshire beat the flag but Camp put out a foot to save. Kermorgant chested it to Grabban who went on but put it wide. The latter put in a good run wide-right, passing on to Francis whose cross was blocked for a corner. Cook made a lovely tackle, but the game had mainly been somewhat ho-hum.
Then Francis did a typical barnstorming run to the line, chipped over and Kermorgant headed in at the far post. 1-0, 43! The half ended with Boscombe on the offensive. HT: 1-0.
Upping the energy on the restart, O’Kane went ahead of the strikers at inside-left; his attempt from an angle was blocked but Grabban behind him hit it across the keeper! 2-0, 47!! Kermorgant’s vision was exemplified by an outrageous attempt from 40 yards; the keeper needed the help of the angle to prevent a 3rd. Ritchie’s cross was headed for a corner, underlining the home side’s dominance, but it was cleared. Kermorgant went down in the area – no penalty so perhaps a facial-contact accident. Boscombe covered well, then Cook went on another ill-judged foray, lost it, but Vaughan hit it wide. Francis slipped and, in falling, handled the ball. The free was headed in unchallenged by Halford; 2-1, 55. Both these incidents require attention – the margin between success and failure in some games. The goal also took Boscombe back to zero goal difference, and Forest made some changes to try to rescue the game.
Kermorgant fed Ritchie who, at inside-right, tried a right-footer, but was well wide. Pugh crossed; another home corner and Boscombe once again in the ascendancy. But another warning – Halford hooked over close in from a corner. Then O’Kane made a trade-mark burst, put it left to Kermorgant who came in to the area and was felled. Clear penalty; Grabban stepped up, put in the keeper’s left corner easy-peasy. 3-1, 70. Now Boscombe relaxed and played some silky football. Ex-Saint Harding did Ritchie – another yellow for Forest. Camp had to push over from a short cross – not completely a walk in the park, this. O’Kane was definitely tidier than in the first half, and really good to see him allowed to break forward. Pugh did some show-boating which nearly turned costly, but Surman regained control of midfield. A half-yard more pace would see him at the top of football.
The usual regime of swapping wingers saw Fraser come on for Pugh on 82, and Boscombe proceeded to play tiki-taka. Rantie replaced Grabban on 86 – standing ovation for the latter and quite right too. The North End sang “When Rantie scores we’re on the pitch”. Rantie went into the area and fell, but a corner was given – just a little too obvious. The clearance saw a breakaway; Cook took one for the team by scything down the breaker – yellow resulted. But O’Kane responded by going forward, fed Fraser to his left, inside for Rantie in the “D”, who went this way & that then pushed it right to Kermorgant at inside-right who walloped it across the keeper. 4-1!! (90+1) Coulibaly came on for Ritchie 90+2, and managed a couple of touches. The final action was a Forest corner – cleared. At the final whistle, the usual invasion. F-T: 4-1.
On the day, what we’ve now come to regard as a standard performance against a club rebuilding, playing like many this season but still with just a sniff (before this game) of the top-6. But all aspects were on display – midfield control, scrapping when necessary, last-gasp saves and stylish when moving forward.
Well, Eddie did say it would be a roller-coaster. Remember that when he went to Turf Moor, his new club had a big dip in form before recovering to safety, & on his return Boscombe soared to the top then had 5 successive defeats before ending up 2nd, so the dips this season seem to be part of a pattern. But overall, could anyone have expected anything better than this final placing (subject to next week’s result)? And of course he laid the foundations for Burnley’s promotion this month to the top level.
After some heavy defeats, Howe re-arranged midfield, setting out a triangle with one always protecting the back 4. That stabilised the ship, but 4-4-2 has always been his preference & perhaps with Kermorgant’s acquisition, & existing players learning, that has been the reason to revert – but with the central 3 always an option. Camp’s arrival turned defeats into draws, and Kermorgant’s turned draws into wins. The first half v Reading (home, April 8) was at least as good as this supporter of 48 years has ever seen from a Boscombe side, with Surman the fulcrum; everything that Howe has tried to instil in his players could be seen that evening. For this correspondent, the high point of the season was the 3rd goal in that Reading game; we were in dreamland, the top-6 beckoned. Yes, it was obvious the squad was drained mentally in subsequent games, and that is another area to be addressed. But look at the stats:
Best-ever points (66 with 1 game to go);
Worst-case final position 12th (=best) with 1 point needed for 11th & a win for at least 9th;
Most-ever away wins at this level;
GD now positive (currently +2).
Including this game, the last 23 have realised 38 points; pro-rata that’s 76 points for a season & solid top-6.
So – is Eddie the best-ever Boscombe manager? The board has splashed out big-time since Max Demin came in, and the club would not be this high without Ritchie, Camp & Kermorgant, but think back to 2008/9, in his first managerial appointment, dragging the team back from the brink then taking it to promotion in spring 2010, with no money and a transfer embargo most of that period. His team went into the 2011 play-offs under Bradbury. Put that all together and the guy deserves freedom of the borough at least. If 2 late popes can be canonised together this week, I’m sure the club can arrange something similar…
The one question is not so much the owner’s commitment but the amount he & his companies are able & prepared to invest relative to the Fair Play rules & other FA/FL limitations. The whole squad back in August had to learn how to play at this level, & largely those lessons have been learned, but further progress will require even better-standard players. Even if plans for the ground, including a bigger South End (or even a different ground?), come to fruition, will the club ever attain that critical mass of supporters that is needed to go further? Examples such as Wimbledon & Wigan are very few.
Just a word on 2 former employees. Russ Wilcox had a difficult time at the club (any stronger comment might be libellous) so it’s really good to see him adapt to management and take Scunnie up from 4 to 3. Chris Hargreaves has had a baptism of fire at Torquay; sad to see them go down to the Conference but here’s hoping he can turn round that club & bring it back. Perhaps more of our fringe players can be sent down to Plainmoor (recalling how many John Bond took from there to Dean Court).
Both sponsors & texters gave it to Grabban but for his controlling performance this observer awards it to Surman.
AFCB: Camp, Francis, Cook, Elphick, Harte, Ritchie, O'Kane, Surman, Pugh, Grabban, Kermorgant
Subs: Allsop, Daniels, Smith, Arter, Fraser (for Pugh, 82 mins), Rantie (for Grabban, 86 mins), Coulibaly (for Ritchie, 92 mins)
Peter Wicks, Bulford