I bumped into Mick Cunningham, who founded the Exiles, still shell-shocked after his “release” by the club. The perception, at least to this observer, is of shabby treatment by the club. Perhaps not quite at the same league as the unacceptable ruthlessness of Cortese at So’ton (the manner of Adkins’ sacking, similar to Holmes replacing Stuart Gray with Gordon Strachan at the same club), and Abramovitch at Chelsea (serial offender – de Matteo the worst of all). But at least we don’t have the unacceptable level of cluelessness shown by Venky’s at Blackburn. Nevertheless, this reporter’s personal view is that the co-owners have lost respect through the manner of how this matter was carried out.
A sunny, dry, breezy afternoon; Tubbs continued, but Grabban was back on the bench. The away team came out in pink shirts & white shorts; Nougat County k.o. towards the North Stand, and soon Labadie was released inside Daniels, skinning him. Quick cross, no-one following Hughes into the area as he rose to head through Allsop’s fingers. 0-1, 2. Sucker-punch; banana skin? In reply, Boscombe seemed a little sloppy until Pitman hit wide from 20 yards. A free went left and Francis’s shot was deflected requiring a finger-tip over. Even so, perhaps too many fans, and even some players, might have felt just turning up on the pitch would ensure goals flowing, points mounting, and auto-promotion assured. Then Pugh sent Daniels haring down the left; a quick cross, the strikers left it, and Ritchie came in to attack the ball. A left-foot daisy-cutter ripped into the net. 1-1, 17.
Tubbs received on the left edge of the area, but an insipid pass gave it back to the opponents. Another Daniels run won a corner. Tubbs received down the inside-right channel but paused (see – insufficient pace, little confidence) and hit it long left-footed, saved easily. Then Pitman tapped it backwards to Tubbs with the sole of his boot; Tubbs & his marker set the ball up for Pitman, in the “D”, to smash it beyond the keeper’s right hand and into the corner. 2-1, 26. Pitman then robbed the 20, into the area, but was dispossessed.
The game went flat after this apart from the odd flurry. Then Pitman flashed it just past the post from the edge of the area. Tubbs again chose the wrong pass option. In midfield, the 28 tackled Arter who – very poorly – waved for a card, knowing a yellow had already been issued. Indeed, another Y, so a red, and Nougat County down to 10 on 45+2. HT: 2-1.
Soon after restart, County won a free in the home “D” but the ref’s pedantry led to no outcome. Francis then did a lovely nick away near that point, but the ref gave him a Y – tug? Seemed ridiculous to us. (At some point Elphick was punished similarly.) From the free, Allsop produced a great tip-around. We observed that at that corner, Boscombe had no-one as the out-ball; Gordon felt Howe was playing the percentages with that policy. Up the other end, Arter had an attempt palmed away; he & Tubbs won several frees from pushes. But one would have preferred more delivery from Pugh & Ritchie. It was just too casual & pedestrian.
Grabban replaced Tubbs on 70 and immediately there was more movement. Ritchie hit wide and wild. O’Kane had covered well, and produced several driving runs, but went down with an ankle or foot injury. Helped off, he was replaced by MacDonald on 76. Boscombe took yet another short corner – this one was shocking in its ineptitude. Pitman shot over, and Pugh & Daniels had been performing their double act all half to insufficient effect. By the 82nd minute, Boscombe were playing out the game, although MacDonald did try to burst through. The defence had been pretty solid all game, but Daniels was by-passed again indicating he’s better going forward than at the back. Then Grabban on the right wing had a fortunate ricochet and was able to go past his marker. He passed into Ritchie who swapped balance and slotted it left-footed just inside the keeper’s left-hand post. 3-1, 85; relief all round.
A tug on the edge of the home area (Elphick’s Y?) saw the free go just wide. Pugh came off on 87 in favour of Fogden, who injected energy on the right (Ritchie went left). Pitman went clear on the left, into the area, but pushed it past the far post. That concluded the entertainment for the afternoon. F-T: 3-1.
So a play-off place secured. Obviously final placings have still to be settled; Blades’ fixture pile-up may help. So let’s look at the squad. Depends on promotion or otherwise; if the former, players of proven Div.2 ability will be required. Otherwise, good-quality Div.3 players may be needed. And of course, how much will Mr. Demin want to splash out? (Rumour on second-hand hearsay suggests that Mr. Demin might pour shed-loads into the club, on & off the field, if promotion is achieved – else austerity.) But space is required within the squad to take replacements, so here’s a personal list of suggested releases (even if contracts have to be paid-up);
Partington (but see below), Sheringham (sorry – may be OK in Div.4), Purches (retain for coaching?), McDermott, Addison (but as Phil N. suggested, sometimes a big lump is needed in defence), Flahaven, Fletcher (retain for ambassadorial duties, & dressing-room gee-upping). Seaborne’s performances have been – mainly – perfectly serviceable, but… Retain Hughes for experience & coaching, given he played for Pompey in Div.1 & v. Milan. Wes Thomas can go, and does Stockley really have a future above Conference level? His development seems to have stalled. Tubbs – again today quality was lacking; Div.4 as has been said before.
Adam Smith (Millwall) to back-up Francis; Bartley & Vokes back from Burnley; Leon Clark(e) from Coventry – arrogant & explosive. I’ve always liked the look of Lee Miller at Carlisle – a more mobile version of Pitman. Other possibilities – Pope (Port Vale) & Madden (Yeovil) may simply be having their annus mirablis without having the necessary quality. With the regime change at Leeds, the opportunity may be available to bring back Jason Pearce. However, I’m not sure he’s really cut the mustard at Div.2 level. Howe keeps talking about Partington becoming a central defender; this observer suspects he’s hedging his bets until Cook’s court case situation is resolved later this month.
On the pitch, last Monday the second half was a stodgy affair against a mediocre team. Much the same this time, against a moderate team that went for 4-4-1, 2 banks of 4 very close so little opportunity to play between the lines. Even so, one feels that with both displays, a decent team (top half of Div.2) would have torn Cherries apart & spat out the stone. So let’s not even think about automatic promotion until Brentford & Blades have played all those games in hand – including against each other.
The prawn cocktails went for Daniels, texters for Ritchie. However, for his goal, linking & sheer work-rate compared to some others today, it has to be the new top scorer Pitman the Hitman.
AFCB: Allsop, Francis, Cook, Elphick, Daniels, Ritchie, Arter, O'Kane, Pugh, Pitman, Tubbs
Subs: Jalal, Seabourne, McQuoid, Hughes, Grabban (for Tubbs, 70 mins), MacDonald (for O'Kane, 76 mins), Fogden (for Pugh, 87 mins)
Peter Wicks, Bulford