As a senior exile was heard to say ‘we were undoubtedly better than them but they had something to play for’.
Eddie showed two sides of his management character in his team selection. Firstly diplomacy in not picking Lewis Grabban after the despicable bile on various websites by Millwall fans about what they would do to him (although Lewis could have been ‘injured’) and secondly his lack of sentiment by not starting with Francis and thus depriving him the chance of that now rare thing of playing in every match during the season and indeed in his case of possibly playing every minute. Smith started at right back with Daniels at left back with Frazer wide left and Rantie up front.
As already alluded to above we were never really at the races. We tried playing our usual passing and rotating the ball brand of football but it lacked verve. Kermorgant does not have the same understanding with Rantie but despite this for a while, in the first half, TK put in a bid for man of the match with his willing running and good use of his pace to close defenders down and on several occasions ‘keeper Forde as well. One of these was so close that there were ohhs and aahs from both sets of fans.
Millwall on the other hand were really ‘up’ for the match and covered for their lesser ability with passion and commitment. They seemed to target Smith in particular (in lieu of Grabban?) and he was on the end of many cynical fouls and nudges. Unfortunately he lost his cool just before half time and got his own back on one of the perpetrators by running 10 yards to make what was clearly going to be a very late challenge. He was duly booked. As he also had the crowd on his back I pondered that he would not re-emerge for the second half. Millwall had the better chances, although Yann saw a good free-kick turned around a post by Forde, and Camp made some good saves and we were thankful to the woodwork once or twice. They did take one of these chances when we failed to clear a loose ball and a speculative cross was glanced in by Woolford just before the half hour mark. We could not complain at being one down at half time and there was a doubt that Eddie would be unable to rally the troops due to end of seasonitis.
I was correct about Smith and he was replaced by Francis for the second half and also McDonald came on for O’Kane. Whether this was for an injury or just to solidify midfield I do not know. Eddie had obviously tried to rally the troops and we had our brightest period at the start of the half with McDonald and Kermorgant having chances but Forde saved both well. As the half wore on we lost our drive and did our best to give Millwall a second goal with sloppy passing and pass backs at the back. Elphick in particular was a culprit of this. Substitute Simeon Jackson was presented with two clear one on ones with Camp but could not hit the target with either despite even going around our ‘keeper with one. On another occasion Cook showed his pace and tackling ability to get back and thwart an attempt on goal after another defensive cock up. Millwall really should have had three or four but were just not good enough to take their opportunities. Substitute Pitman could not make them pay for this and headed a late chance straight at Forde.
So a great season came to a disappointing end. By coming tenth we finished six places higher than I was willing to accept. If we buy wisely over the summer and keep most if not all of our prized assets we could be one of the favourites to reach the play offs or more. It is something that I, with my over 40 years of following Bournemouth, am finding hard to come to terms with. Eddie has brought a whole new heart and sense of belief to the team and fans. Other clubs make reference to Demin’s money but there is much more to it than that.
Provided that we can keep all our players I feel that we need three more to really bolster the squad (four if we cannot sign the on loan Surman). These are a striker, centre back and a central midfielder (or two depending on the Surman situation). There are a number of players that need not be retained depending on their contract situation. Jalal, Partington, McQuoid, Tubbs (if he is still with us), Addison, Stockley and possibly Flahaven all seem to be surplus to requirements and some of you may have other players on your list as well.
There are other players who need to show us what they can really do. McDonald has had a disappointing season, although injury has not helped. Rantie is the main player in this category. Nearly all of us want him to succeed and I suspect that one of his problems is that he is trying too hard. Another problem is that he is inclined to take on too many players when after beating one or two he could pass to a colleague and then use his pace to get onto the end of a through ball as there are few defenders at this level who can keep up with him. They struggle with Grabban and Rantie seems quicker than him. Indeed in the Millwall match TK in the first half went on a superb mazy run beating three players but tried to beat another and failed when Frazer was free outside him. It is decision making I suppose in the end.
A word has to be said here about the referee Mr Naylor. If he had dealt with the Millwall thuggish tactics from the off then it would have been a better match and there would have been fewer bookings overall. The Smith booking would not have happened for instance. He seemed to be daunted by the hostile atmosphere and I have to sympathise in a way as the New Den has a horrible aggressive feel to it. I don’t mind going to away grounds that are intimidating as that is the home advantage but the aggression here is for me unnecessary.
Man of the match is in the end an easy decision. Whilst much of our defending was poor Steve Cook stood out and made some good and timely tackles. He had a lot of covering to do but did it well. He is my man of the match.
AFCB: Camp, Smith, Elphick, Cook, Daniels, Ritchie, Surman, O'Kane, Fraser, Kermorgant, Rantie
Subs: Allsop, Harte, Coulibaly, Pugh, Francis (for Smith, HT), MacDonald (for O'Kane, HT), Pitman (for Fraser, 72 mins)
Phil Nesbitt, Cockfosters