Arter replaced the suspended Hollands and, as at Notts County, the midfield looked a great deal more fluent for his inclusion. Against opponents with their minds at least somewhat on their summer holidays Bournemouth controlled the first half with most of the chances coming at the Hartlepool end. Ings was just of target with an attempt from near the centre circle after ‘Pool keeper Flinders fluffed a clearance, before Lovell gave Bournemouth the lead, sliding the ball comfortably past Flinders after Ings and Arter combined to open up the home defence. That was on the half hour, and ten minutes later the lead was doubled when Lovell set up McDermott, whose shot squirmed under the diving Flinders. McDermott almost added a third before half time, going past several defenders before shooting just over.
News that Orient were making a hash of their home game with Tranmere did more to settle nerves than our two-nil lead, and rightly so as it turned out. Early in the second half Wiggins pushed Boyd to prevent him reaching a cross and the fouled player scored from the resulting penalty.
Bournemouth continued to have the better of the chances and were unlucky not to increase their lead following a remarkable passage of play. Feeney dinked in a low cross which eluded everyone before coming back off the post, Lovell’s follow-up was pushed onto the bar by Flinders, who then saved again from Ings, although by this time the linesman’s flag was raised.
Feeney was causing major problems down Hartlepool’s left flank, beating the full back consistently and putting in good crosses which were unfortunately headed straight at the keeper (Ings) or wide of the goal (Fletcher). Were we going to pay for the missed chances? This is Bournemouth, of course we were! A generous five minutes of added time, and in the last of them Hartlepool get a corner, up trots keeper Flinders, nobody bothers to mark him and he puts a solid header past Jalal. You couldn’t make it up, as a noted Exile used to say.
Orient had lost, so no harm done, except to the fragile confidence of the team and its supporters. A very sporting reaction after the game from the Hartlepool fans in the main stand, who applauded our players off after the announcement that we had made the playoffs – I’m assuming that they couldn’t all have been relatives of Steve Fletcher.
Would we have taken sixth place had we been offered it at the start of the season? Of course we would, so let’s first of all recognise what we’ve achieved. Many management teams more astute than the current incumbents have tried and failed to get us into the play-offs, and for under-resourced clubs like ourselves, Orient, Rochdale and Exeter even to be challenging for promotion in this division is impressive. And yet personally the feeling at the end of this game was one of vague dissatisfaction, partly at yet another two goal lead frittered away (far too many now for it to be down to bad luck), but more at the way that a squad that may have had a shot at automatic promotion, or at the very least would have been heading into the playoffs with a better chance of winning them, had been allowed to decline over the second half of the season.
Liam Feeney worked hard and was our main attacking threat.
AFCB: Jalal, Wiggins, Cooper, Pearce, Smith, Feeney, Arter, Robinson, McDermott, Ings, Lovell
Subs: Thomas, Purches, Pugh, Dalla Valle, Fletcher (for Lovell, 76 mins), Molesley (for Arter, 76 mins), Williamson (for Ings, 88 mins)
Richie Barker, Leyton