Waiting at Basingstoke station for the result of the 9:30 pitch inspection I didn’t really think that there was any chance of this game going ahead. Once we got there though the pitch was in surprisingly good condition thanks to the efforts of the volunteers who had cleared the snow, leaving it in 5-foot piles along either touchline.
Cherries were forced into a couple of changes with Marc Pugh out with a dead leg and Richard Hughes ill. Wes Thomas started for the first time since his return from loan up front alongside Brett Pitman and leading scorer Lewis Grabban was pushed out onto the wing.
Whether it was the presence of Thomas or the mistaken belief that the pitch wasn’t up to playing our usual passing football I don’t know but from the start Bournemouth seemed determined to lump the ball up field leaving some fans wondering whether Paul Groves had made a comeback as manager.
The Saddlers certainly started the better side and were playing the best of the football. Although David James has kept a number of clean sheets lately this was unfortunately one of his calamity performances. The first in a number of handling errors came when he failed to hold a cross after 20 minutes but luckily Tommy Elphick came to his rescue with a good block.
The home side opened the scoring 5 minutes later when a cross (and it definitely was a cross) from the right by Mantom bounced across a crowded penalty area and nestled in the net at the far post. It was hard to know who was to blame but definitely was a poor goal to concede.
Cherries injury problems grew with 10 minutes of the 1st half to go when Harry Arter was forced to make his exit with a hamstring injury to be replaced by McQuoid. The midfield had already looked lightweight and this just compounded matters leaving us without a real holding player in front of the back four.
Cherries best chance of the half came when a Pitman header against the bar. Grabban, following up, scuffed his shot to the goalkeeper but the linesman was already flagging for offside anyway.
My thoughts were that if we could get to half time at 1-0 Eddie could perhaps work his magic and turn the game around. Unfortunately 2 minutes before the break the two centre-backs failed to deal with the sort of long ball that they have been eating for breakfast of late to leave Grigg one on one with James. An ankle-tap from the former England number one drew the inevitable penalty and only the fact that the striker was going across goal probably saved the keeper from a red card, the referee settling for a yellow. Grigg hit the spot kick straight down the middle and James, diving to his right was unable to keep it out. H-T 2-0
The situation demanded that we make a strong start to the second half and it couldn’t have started better when Pitman rose well to meet a right wing cross and this time find the bottom corner of the net. For a few minutes there were glimpses of the football that we know the Cherries are capable of but they soon reverted again to the long ball rubbish of the first half.
Paterson had a couple of good efforts for the Saddlers with James turning one of them onto the post.
Thomas had an excellent chance to equalise when McLoughlin, the home goalkeeper, caught the butterfingers bug and fumbled a McQuoid cross. Wes somehow managed to head against the underside of the bar from about a yard out and the ball bounced up nicely into the arms of the relieved keeper.
Tubbs replaced Thomas and it was his chance to miss a golden opportunity, lifting the ball over the bar from within the six yard box.
Next it was James’ turn to fumble again and in the scramble that followed him dropping a free kick, Fabien Brandy went in high on Eunan O’Kane. The diminutive French striker received his second yellow card and was dismissed. Could this be the break we needed?
Alas no, there followed one of the weirdest penalty awards I have seen. The referee decided not to penalise what appeared to be a clear foul by Cook just outside the Bournemouth box and O’Kane, thinking the whistle had gone, simply picked up the ball inside the area. The referee had no alternative and blew for the spot kick which was again dispatched by Grigg.
The unfortunate event took the stuffing out of any potential comeback and left the home fans jubilant. Those who had helped to clear the pitch must have felt that their efforts were well worth it.
Let’s hope that this was a one-off ‘bad day at the office’ but it’s a bit worrying that we are still without a win this year.
Man of the Match: Very difficult as nobody really played well but I’ll give it to Pitman for a good goal.
AFCB: James, Francis, Elphick, Cook, Daniels, Fogden, O'Kane, Arter, Grabban, Pitman, Thomas
Subs: Jalal, Seaborne, Partington, McDermott, McQuoid (for Arter, 36 mins), Tubbs (for Thomas, 75 mins), Fletcher (for Fogden, 82 mins)
Clive Loader, Basingstoke