The day began with the news of the demise of Gary Ablett. I immediately looked him up on Wikipedia and was impressed by the fact that the date of his death was already recorded there; but I failed to spot that he’d made four appearances on loan to Wycombe Wanderers in 1999. This was, however, spelt out by the matchday announcer before the referee blew his whistle for a minute’s applause. This was a much better idea than a silence, because it enabled the visiting fans to cheer as they thought fit. The match then kicked off, with Bournemouth playing in the ‘wrong’ direction (towards the North Stand). No doubt stand-in captain Flahavan had lost the toss and Wycombe had noted the direction of the – at times strong – winds. (There was also rain in the first half apparently. The fact that I missed it demonstrates either that I was concentrating fully on the game, or that I’m the least suitable person to write a match report!)
The absence of Barrett, Cooper and Partington through injury; and the fact that Cook had been suddenly recalled to Brighton; meant another new pairing at centre half. Bradbury could have elected to bring back Baudry, who’d impressed me earlier in the season but whom I’d almost forgotten since the squad expanded so much. But instead he moved Francis into the centre – with Purches switching to right back. I was impressed by the two brand-new partnerships this created: Francis with Zubar in the centre, Purches with Fogden on the right. None of these players looked out of place, and although some fans complained about how often Fogden moved infield, I’d prefer to give him the credit for intentionally allowing Purches to ‘overlap’ him from time to time.
Bournemouth started brightly, winning a corner in the second minute, and Thomas getting in a shot (a header) shortly after. How good it was to see him back today! By the 15th minute he’d got two more shots in, and it was surely only a matter of time before he’d score. We totally dominated the first half hour of play, but the first goal didn’t come until the 27th minute, when a Pugh corner led to a Fogden header, the ball was deflected back out to Thomas, and he smashed it home. Clearly learning from recent mistakes, we immediately started to push forward for a second; Wycombe’s defences were all over the place and their keeper was starting to flap. At one point he knocked down one of his own team-mates, who would no doubt have made a song and dance about it if he’d been floored by a Bournemouth player rather than by his own goalie. But in the event, he just got straight back up and carried on playing! Wycombe’s best patch was probably during the latter part of the first half; but even then they only looked dangerous on the break, while Bournemouth continued to rule the roost most of the time. (As far as I recall, Flahavan didn’t have to make a significant save in the entire ninety-plus minutes!) Wycombe got only their second corner of the match in the 44th minute, and were unable to make it count. There was one minute of added time, in which we ourselves managed to win another corner (on our left), from which Thomas headed the ball over the bar. 1-0 at half time.
The fear now was that we’d spend the second half desperately trying to hold onto a 1-0 lead, but the script was different today. Fogden got a shot in within two minutes, and just three minutes later it was Fogden again who had a shot deflected out, but this time the resultant corner kick saw the ball reach a very crowded penalty area, with Symes – of all people – getting the decisive header. It appeared to be deflected by Daniels, but it seems probable that Daniels actually ducked at the last moment to let the ball sail past him into the net. It was great to see our two strikers scoring a goal each; and it was particularly good for Symes to get his first goal of the season in open-play (his one previous goal, against Rochdale, having come from the penalty spot). The crowd wasn’t as excited by this as you’d expect, and at one point the motley crew of Wycombe fans taunted us with “2-0, and you still don’t sing”. But on the pitch everything was going well. We continued to look more likely to add to our tally than to concede. It was unfortunate that Pugh, not having his best of games by a long way and often attempting elaborate tricks when a simple touch would have been more effective, failed to capitalise on an open goal in the 62nd minute and rolled the ball straight into a grateful keeper’s hands. Then Arter took a free kick in what should have been a promising position, but it sailed over the ‘wall’ and over the crossbar too. The same two players would miss further chances today: Arter made a powerful shot from distance, which the goalie saved brilliantly; and Thomas unselfishly passed a ball to Pugh when he could have attempted a shot himself, only for Pugh to dally and fluff the shot. A quarter of an hour from time, Wycombe managed two shots on goal within a minute of each other; so Bradbury broke the momentum by making a double substitution. Taylor replaced Symes in the ‘hole’ while Cummings numerically replaced Fogden (though in effect Cummings took Pugh’s place on the left, and Pugh switched flanks). Deep into injury time Parsons (the one player whose photo hadn’t appeared on the scoreboard when the teams were first announced) replaced Pugh on the right wing but I don’t think he got a touch of the ball. Nonetheless it was good that – although there were four minutes of added time (why is it always four?!) – we never looked like slipping up today, because we just kept attacking.
The Cherries scored 7 points out of 9 over Christmas / New Year and climbed into the top half of the table. And for the second home game in a row, the crowd exceeded 7200! Against Sheffield United there had been a large contingent of away fans, but that wasn’t true today, so this match saw the largest number of Cherries’ fans at a game this season. All in all, a very encouraging start to 2012 at Dean Court.
AFCB: Flahavan, Purches, Francis, Zubar, Daniels, Fogden, Arter, Gregory, Pugh, Symes, Thomas
Subs: Jalal, Cummings (for Fogden, 80 mins), Taylor (for Symes, 80 mins), Parsons (for Pugh, 92 mins)
Graham Pearcey, Walton on Thames