Much exchange of football banter ensued with a large dose of legendary Scouse wit thrown in for good measure. Not content with asking the author of this match report “Who pumped you up?” on seeing his rather inflated corporation and getting the DJ of a Liverpool nightclub to inform all those present that a group of Bournemouth fans had inadvertently stumbled upon a notorious Liverpool gay pub the night before, our newly-acquired Scouse friends readily took the mickey out of themselves as well. At the slightest glimpse of one of the Bournemouth crowd getting out his camera to record this momentous meeting of like-minded footballing folk, a sudden cry of “Duck! Crimewatch!” resulted in all of the Scousers turning away from the camera and pulling their coats up over their heads!
As you can imagine, after a gap of 12 years, I was eager to return to Merseyside and revisit a proud city with friendly, down-to-earth locals and an unfair reputation for criminal misdemeanours. Anyway, as I donned my curly wig and false tash and made sure that I had packed my shell suit along with a spare set of hubcaps, I headed north buoyed by our recent good form and our lofty position. Niggling away, however, was an upturn in Rovers’ fortunes, unbeaten since the appointment of new manager Brian Little, and me still not having seen the Cherries win this season (W 0; D 1; L 4).
Unsurprisingly, my potentially jinx-like presence was a subject I kept firmly under my hat as I met a rather thirsty bunch of Exiles in the Cowshed End just before the match. The Exiles had been deprived of pre-match alcoholic refreshment courtesy of jams on the M6. In a futile bid to escape Gridlock Britain on a Saturday, I had naively travelled up the previous day and spent over 7 hours on a so-called Rapide National Express coach from London.
With the Rockford Files’ theme tune ringing in their ears, AFCB ran out onto the Prenton Park pitch with Brian Stock replacing a suspended Marcus Browning and loanee Lewis Buxton back for another stint in the Cherries’ defence.
As early as the second minute, with Danny Harrison heading narrowly wide from Roberts’ cross after good work by Dadi, Tranmere set the tone for the first half. Making a mockery of the teams’ respective league positions, it was the home side who had the edge, playing neat attractive football and displaying a hunger and inventiveness that was largely absent from AFCB’s play. Livewire Iain Hume spent most of the first half running rings round the AFCB defence and sent a couple of thunderous shots agonisingly wide. In the 18th minute, after a flurry of Tranmere corners, Roberts powered a shot goalbound from outside the area only to see Moss dive full stretch and palm the ball onto the post and collect with some relief. Despite Tranmere looking more likely to score, it was not all one-way traffic and the Cherries had a couple of half chances but did nothing to test Achterberg in goal. After 21 minutes, however, Warren Feeney spurned a glorious opportunity to score against the run of play. With the Tranmere defence caught napping, the young Ulsterman, with all guns blazing, bounded forward with only Achterberg to beat but promptly lost his head and skewed his shot glaringly wide of goal.
Feeney’s miss was to prove costly as Tranmere went in front after 32 minutes. As the ball landed in the six yard box following Dadi’s flick from Roberts’ corner, Graham Allen reacted first ahead of Big Fletch, who was too busy admiring his biceps, and promptly stabbed the ball home from close range giving Moss no chance. Tranmere continued to dominate the rest of the half and occasionally threaten the AFCB goal but thankfully without adding to their goal tally. The air of despondency that wafted through the Cowshed at half-time, however, was gradually replaced with the occasional glimmer of hope as, after the break, AFCB started to fight back and at least string a few passes together.
Tranmere, though, still had their foot firmly on the pedal and Broadhurst had to be at his best to make a last-ditch tackle to prevent Dadi from racing through on goal and extending Tranmere’s lead. Big Dadi displayed much Gallic flair by tumbling to the ground and looking in vain for a penalty. The referee, unlike the home fans, was not convinced and waved play on. Rovers were presented with another chance after 52 minutes following Wee Fletch’s handball from just outside the area. Taylor’s free kick, struck hard and low, curled round the wall and forced Moss to make an excellent save to his left. The resulting corner was driven with pace into the danger zone with AFCB only just surviving the goalmouth melee that followed.
Instead of letting their heads drop, AFCB battled on and started to press forward. Big Fletch volleyed wide, Wee Fletch almost found himself clean through and Purches saw his teasing cross narrowly evade a couple of lunging Bournemouth heads. In the 69th minute Achterberg was finally called into action diving to collect the ball at Hayter’s feet as young James bore down on goal. Three minutes later, however, Feeney atoned for his earlier miss to score his sixth goal of the season. Feeney was the only player to react to Big Fletch’s flick towards the penalty area following a Tranmere clearance from a Bournemouth corner. With Achterberg off his line, the former Leeds man kept his head to coolly lob the stranded Dutchman and send the Cowshed into raptures. A minute later, Feeney renewed acquaintances with Achterberg after being put through by Hayter. AFCB’s Number Nine struck hard and low forcing Achterberg to make a good save. Bournemouth, now with their tails up, looked a different side and continued to press forward with a couple of long-range efforts from Elliot and Purches going close.
Time, however, was in short supply so 1-1 it stayed with most Cherries fans happy with the result given that a defeat looked likely for so long. Still no wins for me but at least I didn’t spend over 7 hours on a coach to see us lose. A draw and plenty of Cains beer will suffice.
AFCB: Moss, Broadhurst, C Fletcher, Buxton, Purches, Stock, Hayter, O'Connor, Cummings, Feeney, S Fletcher
Subs: Stewart, TIndall (for Stock, 76 mins), Maher (for Cummings, 88 mins), Elliott (for O'Connor, 64 mins), Thomas
Jon Blake, London