The team lined up exactly as they had in their previous home match on Boxing Day. So Kermorgant and Smith were substitutes, while three stars of last week’s FA Cup game – Harte, Cargill and MacDonald – hadn’t even made it onto the bench. Meanwhile Grabban was on the bench for Norwich, who were playing in their ‘home’ colours of yellow and green. (As we played in red and black at Millwall, football seems to be returning to the old tradition of only changing your colours away from home when it’s really necessary. And quite right too!) And it was Norwich who started the brighter, shooting over the bar after just three minutes and having several more cracks at goal from a crowded goalmouth five minutes later. Against the run of play, a good ball from Arter found Wilson, who shot wide from distance, before Norwich again took up the reins and got a couple more shots in.
But the first goal, to the home fans’ delight, was scored by the Cherries when on 19 minutes Pugh crossed from the left, and the ball sailed over the heads of two Bournemouth players in the box before being met by Ritchie who, running in from the right, didn’t hesitate before thumping the ball home with his left foot. 1-0. This was somewhat surprising, as until now Norwich had seemed to *want* it more. A few minutes later Pugh shot over the bar, and Norwich must have felt the game was running away from them because they responded by inviting Grabban to warm up. This resulted in derisory chants, from the North Stand, of “He’s better than you, he’s better than you, Callum Wilson, he’s better than you” and “Callum Wilson, Bournemouth’s goal machine” to the tune employed last season for singing Grabban’s own praises! Bournemouth’s purple patch didn’t last long, though, and soon we were struggling to get the ball out of our own half again. Cook gave away a corner in the 36th minute, and the ensuing cross touched Turner’s arm in the box, resulting apparently in all the Bournemouth defenders stopping to appeal for handball. But it wasn’t given, and in the ensuing melee Hooper scored from close range. 1-1.
Pugh managed one more shot that went over the bar, and another cross/shot that was saved by the goalie, before the half-time whistle. The first half had been played at a furious pace throughout, and provided much entertainment, but in fairness Norwich had the edge and were unlucky to be only drawing. What would the second half bring? Well, Bournemouth began more brightly – and in the first five minutes Wilson (twice) and Daniels (once) got into very good crossing positions on the left flank only to find that there was absolutely no-one in the box to cross to. The North Stand started to chant Yann Kermorgant’s name and, soon after Pitman had shot on target but straight into the goalie’s hands, Eddie gave the crowd what they wanted. And the substitution of Kermorgant for Pitman appeared to have paid dividends in unexpected ways when Howson lunged at him and was given a straight red card for his efforts. (In fact, the game had been getting dirtier for some time. Jerome had been booked for kicking the ball into the South Stand after being flagged for offside, and Ritchie had received a booking too.) We were not able though, on this occasion, to capitalise on the one man advantage. On 75 minutes Ritchie attempted a long-range shot that went agonisingly close to the target but not close enough, but Norwich were now playing 4-4-1 to try and keep the score at 1-1 and were using time wasting tactics every time any of their players (especially their goalie) had the ball – which was never punished. Bournemouth, somehow feeling they deserved a win, took the greater risks and as a result the almost inevitable happened: on 80 minutes, just sixty seconds after another Ritchie effort had gone wide, a wonder shot from Norwich’s Jerome grazed Boruc’s outstretched hand as it flew into the net. 1-2, and despite desperate efforts like bringing on Fraser and Gosling for Pugh and Surman, or playing Elphick almost entirely up front, this would remain the score till the final whistle. Indeed, when five minutes of added time were announced someone near me summed up everyone’s thoughts by muttering, “We couldn’t score in fifty-five!” This was a game Norwich had deserved to win, mainly because whenever we’d played a large number of pretty passes until someone was in a good scoring position, we’d then played an extra pass instead of having a shot. And the worst culprit for the first hour had been Pitman who, when in sight of goal, nearly always found someone else to pass to.
And so, at the final whistle, Norwich fans stood rooted to the spot, cheering wildly and singing “Top of the league, you’re having a laugh” and “We’d only got ten men.” Their players came over to the East Stand to join in the celebrations while home fans (and players) trudged away dejectedly. Exactly as we had after the home games against Ipswich (November), Rotherham (September), Leicester (February) and Watford (last January)! People ask me what it’s like to follow a team that scores four, five, six or eight goals per game; and I have to point out that those were all away games – and north of Watford at that (away to Huddersfield, Rotherham, Blackpool and Birmingham respectively). The Cherries are nothing like as successful when playing in the southern half of the country, which is why I’ve only seen us win seven times in 26 matches since we were promoted to the Championship. And why – with half our remaining matches being at home and no fewer than five being in the southeast – I can’t see us scoring many more points this season. Until we can resolve the (psychological?) problem of our players never being at their best when they have the largest number of supporters behind them, I don’t see us winning any promotions. Sadly.
The sponsors’ man of the match was Ritchie, rather predictably – not only because he scored our only goal but also because he’s just signed a new contract. But I was unhappy with some of his play, especially all the corner kicks he took short when most of our players were in the goalmouth awaiting a cross. So I’m giving the award to Marc Pugh, whose game has improved in leaps and bounds this season; whose assist made the goal; who had more shots at goal than anyone; and whose partnership with Daniels has never looked better.
AFCB: Boruc, Francis, Elphick, Cook, Daniels, Ritchie, Surman, Arter, Pugh, Wilson, Pitman
Subs: Dan Gosling (for surman, 85 mins), Eunan O'Kane, Ryan Fraser (for Pugh, 81 mins), Junior Stanislas, Yann Kermorgant (for Pitman, 61mins), Adam Smith, Lee Camp
Graham Pearcey, Walton-on-Thames