But as I stood on the terraces tonight, with the rain sweeping in, and watched my own expensively-assembled team being comprehensively outplayed in every department by Crawley Town (yes, that Crawley Town, so recently a Conference side), I seriously wondered why I – or any of us – bother any more.
Crawley looks a decent little town (this was my first visit), with a pleasant mix of buildings old (such as the delightful Tudor-beamed pub where the Exiles met up) and new. The Broadfields Stadium itself (a new tick-off for me) is, at least at present, somewhat eccentrically laid out: so the ticket office for away fans is the furthest end of the car park from the away turnstiles, and then you have to walk half way round the ground inside, to reach toilet and refreshment facilities which are within a stone’s throw of those same ticket offices via unused turnstiles! I’m sure it will all make a lot more sense if and when current construction works have been completed – though with home crowds scarcely more than 2000 when the club is third in the league, one must wonder where the money’s ever going to come from.
We lined up 4-4-2, which is more significant than it might appear at first reading. It meant there were two strikers (Demouge and Barnard) but they were handicapped by the fact that there was no-one to cross to them. The midfield ‘diamond’ was again employed – with Carmichael on the right (being rewarded for putting in a good shift against Walsall), Davids on the left, Hughes holding and O’Kane theoretically getting forward. But this didn’t work, as all four ran around in circles. Meanwhile Zubar (presumably picked for his pace) and Daniels were the full backs, trying to cover the wing and defensive positions and too often failing at both, while Elphick and Addison returned to their former partnership in central defence (and were as ineffective there as they had been last time – against Swindon). Finally James was in goal, putting on an excellent individual display but somewhat hampered by his teammates.
The first fifteen minutes of the match saw the wettest downpour, and the best performance from Bournemouth. Zubar and Daniels were playing on the wing while our defence was being neglected, but we were getting away with it. The play was all in Crawley’s half and, whilst the ball stayed that end, we were safe. From the Exiles’ vantage point (virtually at pitch level behind James’ goal) it was hard to see everything that was going on, but an elderly Crawley fan told us after the match that Bournemouth had looked very good during this spell. The most memorable incident in this early period, though, was an injury to Demouge after eleven minutes, resulting in him being stretchered off and replaced by Tubbs. Tubbs almost scored with his first touch of the ball – but it wasn’t to be. Then, against the run of play, just after the half hour mark, Crawley got a sudden break. They steamed down to our end of the pitch and a panicking Zubar almost scored an own-goal. The resultant corner kick was cleared by James but the ball came straight back and Akpan’s low ball into the net put Crawley 1-0 up. At the time, based on possession, this lead was undeserved. But Crawley were on a roll now. James had to make a number of saves in the rest of the half and, as so often happens for us, it was on the stroke of half time that he was unable to prevent an unmarked Walsh scoring off a Sadler free kick as all four of our defenders simply stood motionless and watched. So, 0-2, and the inevitable half times ‘boos’ and now-familiar chant of “We want Grovesy out.
The worst, though, was still to come. Any hope that playing towards their own fans would give the Cherries’ players a boost, failed to be realised. Barnard did score a goal on 52 minutes, following a move involving Tubbs and (twice) Daniels, and came straight to the away supporters to celebrate with us. A minute later Groves, having been forced to make one substitution when Demouge had been injured, used the opportunity to take off Davids who doesn’t appear to be match fit nor to have familiarised himself with the English game yet. O’Kane took over the position on the left of midfield while Partington joined Hughes in the centre. We briefly hoped it was ‘game on’, and indeed there was a brief spell in which Bournemouth seemed to be looking for a second goal. Carmichael and O’Kane were playing wider, opening up the possibility of a decent cross to Tubbs or Barnard; but maybe this was the time Groves should have adopted ‘plan B’ and brought on Fletcher (rather than, as he did, waiting till the 78th minute when it would be far, far too late). Anyway, the match was all but over when, in the 62nd minute, Elphick lost his man (Alexander), so a cross found Adams via Ajose – and Adams, whose fast break had already led to Crawley’s first goal, now scored one of his own by hammering the ball home. For the remainder of the match, Crawley totally dominated and Boscombe had hardly any shots (not that they’d had many all game). Only a number of excellent saves from James prevented a total massacre. Crawley fans picked up the chant “You’re getting sacked in the morning”, which Cherries’ supporters had been singing for three matches in a row, and sang it in unison with us. Little did anyone know that, this time, it would prove to be true...
Man of the match? Well Carmichael did stand out as someone showing some passion for the game when everybody else looked disinterested or maybe the others were working to an agenda to get Groves out?! Carmichael certainly got in more passes than anyone, and early on they were quite accurate; but by the second half far too many of them were missing the target. Either he was losing concentration, or he still needs more coaching in the technical aspects of his game. Tubbs got into good positions and got one or two shots in (as indeed did O’Kane); but man of the match can’t be awarded to an attacking player if he doesn’t score. And Barnard’s goal was a sweet one, which he seemed genuinely pleased to have scored; but he missed too many further chances after that – including one absolute sitter when Tubbs crossed to him.
So man of the match goes to “England’s number one”, David James. He made some outstanding saves, some literally with his fingertips, and varied the style of his clearances thus keeping the Crawley players on their toes. I don’t blame him for the three goals, and I think he should be given a free rein to organise our back four using his wealth of experience. Surely that would be our best chance of stopping the rot?
AFCB: James, Elphick, Addison, Zubar, Daniels, Hughes, Davids, O'Kane, Carmichael, Demouge, Barnard
Subs: Jalal, Cook, Fogden, Grabban, Tubbs (for Demouge, 11 mins), Partington (for Davids, 53 mins), Fletcher (for O'Kane, 78 mins)
Graham Pearcey, Walton-on-Thames