With this in mind I made the short journey to Crewe more in hope than expectation. Before the game the Exiles met in the Borough Arms, a pub that from the outside looks so shabby it seems to be pleading to be demolished, but inside is warm and homely with an excellent range of real ales. The pre-match talk was the usual beery banter spiced with the gallows humour that only comes from being bottom of the table. This demonstrated the curious forms of denial committed fans use to avoid facing the disappointment of their worst fears (i.e. relegation) being realised. Sharing my life with a Man City supporter has introduced me to the parallel universe of the fans of the "Invisible Man" and their spooky surreal chants of "We're not really here". I reflected that Cherries fans will need oodles of such existential humour to survive the long winter. I'm certainty up for the challenge.
All of which cerebral nonsense brings me inexorably to Maxi-Alain Gradel, a name that features large in this match report and hopefully in many more to follow. There are three things to say about Max. With a name like that he must arguably be a philosopher straight out of the school of Jean-Paul Sartre (and what a player he was!). Secondly Max is of very slight build, being almost as short as SWP (Man City/Chelsea) but with legs so thin he looks as though he has walked straight off the canvas of a Lowry painting. Indeed if he had been born a hundred years ago in the North of England he surely would have spent his boyhood being inserted upside-down into chimneys.
On a football pitch it appears the merest breath from a Barnsley full-back would be enough to blow him over. At Doncaster Max looked not strong enough for this league and at times flattered to deceive. However the best things come in small packages and despite his shortcomings (sic) the third thing to say about young Max is that on this form he is going to be one heck of a player. If we are ever lucky enough to sign him permanently then as his value increases one day we may celebrate having a "Max a Million" in the team. Little did I know that by 5 o'clock I would be singing "We're not really here" for entirely different reasons. It's a funny old game.
Cherries lined-up in their now traditional (and much hated according to one Exile) 4-4-2 with some crucial differences. Behind Mossy was a makeshift back four of Pearce, Gowling, Wilson and Telfer at right back. The midfield four were Kuffour (on the right), Anderton, Hollands (in the middle) and Gradel (on the left) with Bradbury and Vokes up front.
The game kicked off in mild conditions with the faintest hint of northern sunshine and it was pleasant to sit in a covered stand on the half-way line. After only a few minutes it was clear something strange was happening, the ball was being caressed and passed along the ground, as perhaps one would expect of Crewe and Cherries. This was good news and not so good news. It meant our midfield was allowed to play without being clattered by hulking northern brutes, however the downside was the through balls that Crewe were able to thread down the middle, which needed concentration from the defence and a quick save from Mossy after only 3 min's. Despite the occasional scare we settled into a passing game and after 15 min's were dominating with good possession. Crewe were unable to bring their full backs forward as they were pre-occupied with the deep lying Kuffour on the right wing and with Gradel on the left. However this would be of little significance without goal-scorers up front and "old" Mr Bradbury and "young" Mr Vokes were posing a threat with good runs and smart link up play.
This was not what I expected to happen and even the back four were showing a willingness to tackle and move the ball forward creatively. As the half progressed, with no real response from Crewe, the confidence of the Cherries players grew, maybe because Crewe (bless them) thought they could eventually "out-pass" us, but in truth they looked subdued and out of sorts. The action culminated in a Bradbury side-foot chance after 21 min's from a cross by Gradel that was saved. Crewe then woke up and started to pick up the tempo and the game became an intriguing midfield struggle with both teams sounding out each others weaknesses. Cherries gradually became more dominant and following three corners we were ahead ( after 36mins) with a Bradbury goal from a curling left wing cross. The Crewe response was not too emphatic and we ended the half with another good Bradbury shot on the turn that went just over the bar. Half time 0-1 to the Cherries.
The second-half began with a Cherries corner and Crewe made two early substitutions, bringing on a strong tall forward, Tom Pope (46 min's), who put himself about impressively asking questions of the Cherries defence - a clear case of a Pope-mobile! Crewe also brought on their splendidly named No10, Eugen Bopp (51 min's) and whilst both players made a difference they could not alter the overall pattern of play which remained with the Cherries in the ascendancy. As Jo Kuffour became less of an influence on the game it was suddenly the young Max Gradel who started to catch the eye with his intelligent runs in the box and smart lay off's. After a couple of lovely Cherries passing moves between Gradel, Anderton and Bradbury we scored a memorable goal on 61 min's.
After similar approach play by Gradel, he then spun away and moved ghost like into the penalty area and as the ball was played into space Max arrived right on time to hit a powerful drive high into the net from about 20 yards. What a classy move and a great finish. We were now rampant, unleashing the frustrations of our bad start to the season on the Crewe team, who in turn provided a ferocious response, making a number of good chances. The game was now free-flowing and a joy to watch.
Crewe made another substitution bringing on Miller (72min's) but we were not to be denied and playing on the break, Gradel cut in from the left and hit another strong shot (77 min's) low passed Ben Williams, 3-1 to the Cherries. Max then picked up a knock, or was perhaps a bit giddy from his exploits, but his substitution (by Cooper on 79 min's) was greeted with warm applause from the home supporters in the big main stand as he walked along the touchline towards the tunnel. This was a genuine sporting moment from fans that know their football and recognise a virtuoso match winning performance.
The game continued with more Crewe pressure. We were then transported into "away" fantasy land as another good break away move saw the Cherries hit the right hand post leaving Anderton (86min's) with a simple tap-in, 4-1.
Crewe continued to battle, playing more for pride and after a number of close shaves in the Bournemouth box, scored a consolation goal after 88 min's from the substitute Miller. Crewe continued to push forward and made three more good chances, with an excellent tip over by Mossy from a strong Pope header. There was still time for Pitman to come on for Vokes (87 min's) and delight us with his unique running technique, which seems a combination of Darren Huckerby meets Donald Duck!
The whistle eventually sounded and Cherries had memorably won 4-1, away from home!
All in all an excellent game of football, played in a fine spirit, with no bookings, between two teams determined to pass the ball. I don't know how we would fare against better and more physical "closing down" sides but who cares. The day belonged to "Max", the flying ace who left Crewe feeling "Blue". We do need to pull away from the relegation zone before Christmas or to quote Paul Merson "if you keep going into the Barbers shop then eventually you'll get a haircut". At least today we avoided the Crewe cut!
Anyway this was a day to celebrate and I quickly scooted back to the bright lights of Didsbury and a few well earned pints of the aptly named "Thriller" (Hyde's) in my nostalgic local pub, the "Fletcher Moss". Whew!
AFCB: Moss, Telfer, Pearce, Gowling, Hollands, Gradel, Wilson, Anderton, Vokes, Kuffour, Bradbury
Subs: Begovic, O'Connor, Newman, Cooper (for Gradel, 79 mins), Pitman (for Vokes, 87)
Jack Parker, Didsbury, Manchester