Who else – Bartley (not until summer if there’s a gentlemen’s agreement), Feeney, Robinson? And who would go to make space?
Over the pre-match pub meal I suggested a 1-1, and that Grabban had used up his goal quota for this half-season with that hat-trick. When would this amazing run, following the return of the Terrific Twosome, come to an end? The 18 was the same as on Sat. Arter would serve his suspension the next match.
Boscombe k.o. towards the South Stand; Stevenage’s no.9 seemed to be as tall as your correspondent. His team was quick to come out, press and close down. The no.11, Akins, had done well for Tranmere last season and here seemed to be trying to disrupt the Daniels-Pugh pairing, but this was compromised by his colleagues’ passing ability. Stevenage had a free, but the header was easy for James. Boscombe passing was not too good either.
Pugh produced some magic that led to Daniels being felled on the short edge of the area; the free led to a corner and Daniels charged into the area, passing square for Barnard to toe-poke at the keeper who was fortunate to be in that spot. Home defenders were cool & calm, with Addison & Elphick keeping it simple; MacDonald was reading & tidying well again. We can thank Seagulls for releasing the home no.13; evidently they thought that they had a surplus of Spanish players & had misunderstood his surname to be El Fique.
Grabban was all across the pitch again and aiding Arter. A lovely left-wing triangle led to Daniels crossing and Grabban’s header being palmed out. Then Addison held back the no.9, was suckered, appealed (instead of staying with the forward), the 9 went on and crossed low for the unmarked no.6 to belt it over James’s hands & under the bar. 0-1, 27. Rats. Their first on target. A home corner saw Francis’s centre from the left go way over the bar. Stevenage seemed to find men better, filling midfield – essentially 4-1-4-1. Barnard couldn’t quite dig it out for a proper shot, & generally needed a 2nd touch giving defenders more time to gather.
Arter & McQuoid had runs closed down, as Boscombe had done to Donnie. Daniels over-hit a cross, but again went into the area and again met a cul-de-sac. But the home side was definitely back in it, with Daniels hitting a long shot at the keeper after good approach play. Stevenage appeared resolute, always in the way, often 9 in the away area as well as the keeper. So the half ended; H-T: 0-1.
Barnard was replaced by Tubbs on the restart – tactical, or an injury? Grabban did some good work but the away formation was effective. MacDonald worked like a Trojan but was crowded out. Then he had a header just wide at the far post, being clobbered in the process. He & the opponent both went off, MacDonald for 2-3 minutes for attention to his head. Good work by Francis, ending with a cross, led to a corner, but Stevenage always had that extra defender to close off. Pugh put in another great run & cross, with Grabban beyond the far post only managing to clip it over. He & Tubbs were mobile, but not quite MacDougall & Boyer, although Tubbs did tackle back successfully on at least one occasion. Daniels ran from the half-way line, but the end-product was just a weak toe-poke to the keeper. Two Pugh shots were blocked; Grabban & McQuoid were swapping often to try to prise an opening, with Grabban more often wide. This was a bit like the Donnie game in reverse. The ball was taken in, worked wide for Grabban to shoot wide as the defender bore down. Then the ball came across the area again, Grabban managed to twist to chip back across & there at the back stick was an unmarked Tubbs to nod in. 1-1, 74. That’s why he was put in the side.
Yet another corner saw MacDonald try with a long dipper. Then up the left wing, Pugh released Daniels with a lovely aerial back-heel, the cross was immediate, & Addison, still up after the corner, planted a deliberate header wide of the far post much to his & everyone else’s anguish. It would’ve been goal of the season, & he really should’ve done better, & he knew it. The main problem for Boscombe was the Stevenage no.7 who sat in front of the back-4 and essentially dictated both sides’ tactics. But Arter & Pugh produced some more brilliance, with Grabban turning to shoot over.
Fletcher replaced McQuoid on 84, and generally caused mayhem, winning more frees than conceding. McQuoid hadn’t done quite enough; there had been little room for his trade-mark driving runs. Addison nearly had it at the far post, but a corner was the result. James, with little to do otherwise, had to tip a low one away. Grabban hit a left-footer; the keeper was fortunate to be able to stick out a leg to divert it. This was a rattling good game, both sides giving everything; this observer had much admiration for the away side’s game plan and strength of purpose – organised, solid, committed – even if the home side was better technically. Arter was felled 20 yards out; Francis hit Fletcher & it went over. MacDonald couldn’t quite produce the right body shape & again it went over. F-T: 1-1.
A cracking game, both sides committed fully. As Phil H said, “we battered them 1-1”. The main worry is that now coaches have sussed Howe’s game plan & have worked out how to deal with it. But it took 90+ minutes of a packed away area, bodies being thrown on the line, and some good fortune, to deny the home side. So let’s have less of this promotion talk, at least for the time being, and more of clearing as quickly as possible the 22 points deficit for the 50-point safety mark.
Daniels was a force of nature; sponsors said MacDonald; texters said Pugh. The winger enjoyed himself immensely but the midfielder did so much work around the pitch, hardly a foot or decision wrong, that this correspondent gives it to MacDonald.
AFCB: James, Francis, Elphick, Addison, Daniels, McQuoid, Arter, MacDonald, Pugh, Barnard, Grabban
Subs: Jalal, O'Kane, Cook, McDermott, Fogden, Tubbs (for Barnard at HT), Fletcher (for McQuoid, 84)
Peter Wicks, Bulford