Where I sat 43 years ago, that side stand has been replaced completely. In total, it seems less forbidding, with the Holte End a shadow of its former self. And with Chelsea, Man. City & Spurs losing on the Saturday, that was our cunning plan for European football scuppered for next season. As for the team – mainly dirt-trackers as before but with Elphick, Cook & Arter to add something more. Before the game, Exiles & other away fans drank the Old Contemptibles out of Purity Ubu & Thwaites Nutty Black, so that was something to take from the day.
In white shirts & black shorts, Boscombe k.o. towards the Holte End, with Fraser’s early cross caught. Cook was cool in defence and Villa’s passing was somewhat wayward. MacDonald sent in one from 20 yards, tipped over, but Boscombe conceded a foul as the corner came over. Arter put in a long shot, & Fraser was taking it to full-back Hutton. Villa put in a cross but the no.10 headed back across & just wide – should’ve done better. MacDonald was tackling, passing & organising like the good professional he is; after a coming-together, O’Kane re-appeared with a white head bandage and played tidily all game. Smith was going forward as always, but Stanislaus was not as into the game as his colleagues (no change there, then).
Certainly Boscombe looked the better side, looking to attack. Fraser & Kermorgant were almost linking, and Kermorgant just managed to put in MacDonald as happened in the previous round. This time, there were 3 defenders covering & the weak attempt (from a tighter angle) was cleared easily. Fraser chased back superbly to help out against Hutton. The no.20, the much-vaunted Benteke, was beginning to receive service, but – perhaps well-shackled, well-shepherded? – seemed to be on tracks (thanks, Phil H), limited in his vision all game. After 25 minutes the game was pretty well even, with Boscombe perhaps shading it in ability and purpose.
Harte hit a free too far; the new signing 25 (Gil) was tricky, a bit like Arsenal’s Cazola, but former England hopeful Cleverley (no.8) was yet to impose himself, being no more than a link man. O’Kane came forward in trade-mark style and hit a left-footed daisy-cutter that Given (once Div.1’s best keeper) just managed to tip round. 2-3 corners resulted in quick succession before O’Kane hit a right-footer over. Villa had a corner; the clearance set up a superb flowing counter-attack which ended when O’Kane put Kermorgant in at inside-left but the big no.5 tackled superbly for another corner. By now Stanislaus was supporting tidily, and Villa not yet capable of winning ugly. HT: 0-0
Elphick made an early mistake but Benteke was invited away from the goal and his effort went merely to the side netting. MacDonald was still usually beyond Arter, and even O’Kane did the same mostly. Then Gil scampered down the right, turned inside – easily avoiding Harte’s attentions - & from the corner of the area bent a stunning left-footer beyond a helpless Camp. 1-0, 51. This was utter class, but he had been left largely alone. Fraser & Smith showed great pace in reply, then Fraser was on the ground for ages, with Camp eventually able to throw the ball out. However, Fraser was able to complete the 90.
Something had to change; Harte was being targeted so Francis replaced him on 60, with Smith going left, and Wilson came on for Kermorgant at the same time, thus still retaining shape. Boscombe now seemed sharper & pacier. Corners were swapped, and Fraser continued battling. However, too many Boscombe passes were going wrong. Along with Danny Mills, Alan Hutton is a full-back who never knowingly timed a tackle. However, he did a Francis by hitting the by-line and pulled it back. Weimann at inside-right, 14 yards out, hit it splendidly first time left-footed across Camp: 2-0, 71. The dirt-trackers were fading, not match-sharp. But Smith put in a low cross which Stanislaus missed in front of goal by perhaps 2” (unfortunate; no blame). Villa now made fewer mistakes, so Ritchie swapped in for Stanislaus on 79. Since the first goal, the Villa 24 had been running the game, and Boscombe had no answer. Francis did manage an effort into the side netting, then Fraser fed Smith to go in at inside-left, to the line, across & Wilson nicked it in with a subtle flick of the foot. 2-1, 90+3. A final flurry of away sorties, then Villa broke away – but Camp tipped the effort round the post. Barely time for the corner. FT: 2-1
Eh bien; and no fixture pile-up, unlike Derby & ‘Boro (unless our home games against them have to be re-dated). Villa advanced from mediocre to moderate in this game; might the Boscombe first-11 have done better? Match of the Day personnel gave much praise to Boscombe attitude and intent, but it felt just a little patronising, especially when discussing possible promotion. However, it’s still 3 defeats in 4, and Watford at Dean Court on Friday night, the latter scoring 7 in 40 minutes on Saturday v. Blackpool. The ship’s rocking a little and needs righting. But let’s be clear: we can all debate some of Eddie’s selection & tactical decisions but, relative to every other football club in England bar the 20 in Div.1, he must’ve been doing something right since Christmas 2008.
Big up for MacDonald, tidying up, setting up, good positions, not out of place here. O’Kane broke well, given a little more space than in previous games. But for his pace, always looking to take it to Villa, even with little end-product, I’ll give it to Fraser.
Boscombe (4-5-1): Camp; Smith, Elphick, Cook, Harte (Francis, 60); Stanislas (Ritchie, 79), O’Kane, MacDonald, Arter, Fraser; Kermorgant (Wilson, 60)
Subs (not used): Boruc, Pitman, Surman, Ward
Peter Wicks, Bulford