The now permanently signed Cook was straight back in with Purches dropping to the bench, and Cummings deputised for the unwell Daniels. 4-5-1 has worked well for us this season, 4-4-2 not so much, so the decision to use Symes in a front two was a little perplexing, You may be able get away with Arter and Gregory in central midfield at home to Wycombe, but it was soon obvious that Walsall had a little more about them, and we found ourselves pinned back for spells as the home team were given time to target our lack of pace down the flanks.
Bournemouth had a couple of early chances. First Thomas muscled an opening an clipped the post from long range, then Walsall’s chubby veteran ‘keeper Walker was beaten to a through ball outside the area by Pugh and used his arms to block the ball. I’m not sure how the situation could have failed to result in an attempt on goal if he hadn’t handled, but the referee opted for a yellow card to general derision from the away fans.
The decision seemed to have an adverse affect on Bournemouth and Walsall controlled the rest of the half. Their first goal was a mess defensively with markers going missing, but it was deserved on the run of play. Taundry’s corner was initially cleared but the ball was played back in to Macken, who is too experienced to be allowed as much time to control the ball and get his shot away as we were prepared to give him.
More chances followed for the home team. Paterson had two shots, both off target, and Nicholls hit the bar after Flahavan could only parry an attempt from Macken. Just as it seemed that we might be able to get to half-time without further damage, another poorly defended corner found its way to Butler who headed past Flahavan.
Purches replaced Gregory at half-time, which hardly seemed like the radical rethink required, and there was little sign of a fundamental shift in the pattern of the game. However, with 30 minutes left Pugh was rewarded for some enterprising play on the left wing, beating Beevers before being tripped by the defender as he advanced into the box for a penalty that the home team didn’t bother to dispute. Symes sent Walker the wrong way, one of his few positive contributions to the proceedings.
This heralded a brief spell of pressure from the visitors and Francis did well to set up Purches for a shot that went just over, but it would be exaggerating to suggest that an equaliser seemed likely. Fletcher replaced the ineffective Symes with 15 minutes remaining and Flahavan did brilliantly to keep us in the game with a point-blank reaction save from Nicholls, which paved the way for an interesting four minutes of added time. Nobody has more experience than us of how things can go horribly wrong in these awkward little spells, and today it was Walsall’s turn to step on a large Fletcher-shaped banana skin. Francis supplied the perfect cross and Fletcher, not always noted for the power and accuracy of his headers, or even being in the right place at the right time, climbed above the defenders to send a perfect header beyond the diving Walker into the top corner. Easily one of the best goals of his long career and well worth the ludicrous booking his celebration earned him. For the moment reports of the old blighter’s demise are somewhat exaggerated.
In the dying seconds Beevers almost ruined things with a long range effort that appeared to miss the top corner by very little, but in the end a slightly fortunate point was secured.
Nobody really outstanding, I’ll go for Steve Cook who was solid in a defence that was under more pressure than usual.
AFCB: Flahavan, Cook, Francis, Zubar, Cummings, Fogden, Gregory, Arter, Pugh, Symes, Thomas
Subs: Jalal, Baudry, Purches (for Gregory, HT), Fletcher (for Symes, 74 mins), Taylor (for Arter, 85 mins)
Richie Barker, Leyton