Date:Sunday January 8 2012
7th January 2012, 3pm
I`ve never liked away trips to Walsall, which is odd, because I`ve never seen us lose there. They grew on me today with one of the most generous second half performances I`ve ever seen. The game will only be remembered for Fletcher`s brilliant late goal, but it`s impossible to write a match report without mentioning how astonishingly poor we were in the first half. I don`t think we got out of our half for the first 5 minutes, but then settled down a bit, & a firm Thomas shot from the corner of the penalty box hit the side of the post and flew into the side netting.
The next major incident was after appx 12 minutes. Against the run of play, Pugh was put through in a one on one with the keeper, the ball was equidistant between the two of them and they both slid for it. The ball bobbled up between them and struck the keeper on the arm. Our fans called for a red, but I think the referee made the correct decision in giving the keeper a yellow. You couldn't call it a "clear goal scoring opportunity," given that Pugh was also sliding and outside the area, and considering that it bobbled between them, you also can`t adjudge that the handball was deliberate either. Good refereeing, and he performed well all day.
That was about as good as it got in the first half, during which we were extraordinarily poor. We constantly gifted them possession, on the rare occasion we managed to find a forward, they were offside, and the defence were absolutely all over the place. It cost us in the 15th minute. Bournemouth failed to clear a corner properly (just for a change!) and the ball fell to Richard Taundry on byline, who produced what would normally be a very poor cross. What actually happened, was that the left half of the defence pushed out in an attempt to play offside, whilst the right side (Francis and Zubar) failed to predict what was to come and played MACKEN onside. He received the ball on the 6 yard line, in a criminal amount of space, had all the time in the world took it down from knee height, and calmly placed it past Flahavan. No defender was even close to him until the ball had already been kicked, in our own 6 yard box. Absolutely awful.
Things didn`t improve from there. Bournemouth were just dire for the rest of the first half, about as bad as we`ve been all season. Gifting possession, offering no attacking threat, lumping long balls up to a totally ineffective strike force, and what was truly incredibly bad, was the shape of the team, particularly in defence. I don`t know where Francis thinks he is playing, but he never seems to be aware of where he is, or where he is supposed to be. I first noticed it at Wycombe away, he`s just all over the place, and rarely in position, but Wycombe weren`t good enough to make us pay, today it probably should have cost us. He wasn`t alone in his shocking performance, whilst Zubar as excellent in defence, his distribution was exceptionally poor today, Symes found it very hard to find his team mates, and Gregory managed the incredible achievement of being both inept and anonymous in the same 45 minutes.
It took Walsall a while to make us pay for such a poor showing, although they did come close, Walsall`s chavvy little number 15 rounding Francis with ease, forcing a strong save from Flahavan. The ball dropped to their centre back, who managed to hit the bar with the goal gaping, a midfielder or striker would certainly have been disappointed not to score.
Bournemouth`s charity with the ball continued and eventually Walsall did make us pay, the corner dropped to yet another unmarked Walsall player who powered a shot at goal. it was saved by Flahavan, and then looped along the 6 yard box to be headed in by BUTLER through a crowd of players. Bournemouth will be disappointed to have failed to deal with yet another corner, (the second of the game) but the reality was that it was nothing less than Walsall deserved. Bournemouth limped to half time, & moped off to the deserved boos of the away support (and I very, very rarely say that).
Bournemouth started the second half with a lot more urgency, presumably after an absolute bollocking from Bradbury, but all the bluster still wasn`t amounting to much. Pugh was far more involved in the second half and was getting significantly better service from Purches, who had been bought on after Gregory`s terrible first half showing. He had the beating of his full back in terms of both skill, and pace, and Bournemouth were rewarded on 62 minutes, Pugh tapped the ball past Beevers, beat him for pace round the outside, and once in the box Beevers dived in for a tackle that was never realistically going to win him the ball, made clear contact that sent Pugh flying. The referee awarded penalty, an absolute stonewall as evidenced by the total lack of protest from the Walsall defence. Symes stepped up confidently and sent the Walsall keeper the wrong way, and we were back in it.
The remainder of the game must have been infuriating for the Walsall fans to watch, with Bournemouth increasingly growing in confidence, dominating possession and slowly getting a hold on the match, albeit without creating much. Walsall were dropping deeper and deeper and becoming increasingly wasteful with possession, their charitable play being reciprocated by Bournemouth who squandered possession with some terrible link play and ridiculous efforts from Cummings & Francis, both from around 25 yards, and both equally woeful. These sorry snap shots were about as close Bournemouth came to an equaliser until the later stages. Pugh was tormenting his full back and getting crosses into the box about 80% of the time, even with 2 players marking him, which started Bournemouth flooding forward in search of an equaliser.
A Walsall break almost finished the game at 3-1, but what looked a superb save from Flahavan saved the day and the ball was pumped up the field again. Bradbury introduced Taylor and Fletcher in an effort to win the game and Fletcher was very poor for the first 5 minutes. Miscontrolled a few simple balls, fell over, and fouled the defence. "Fletch just can`t do it any more," sighed the cretin stood next to me. But around 80 minutes he found his feet, started winning headers, controlling and passing perfectly, and then scored a sensational header, one of the bet goals have ever seen him score. The ball was played out to Francis on the right wing, who produced a superb cross (almost literally the only thing he achieved all day) met firmly by a sprinting FLETCHER above a couple of defenders and powered into the top corner. Cue delirious celebration, and a unforgettable end to an otherwise completely forgettable performance. Had we 'earned` draw? I think probably not, but I do think Walsall deserved to concede for being so astonishingly wasteful with their possession. Most other teams in the league would have been out of sight at half time and spent the second half carefully controlling possession and running the clock down. Walsall`s failure to achieve either essentially gifted us a point.
Flahavan 6 Kicking worse than usual and conceded from 2 corners but made a point rescuing wonder save towards the end of the match. I`ve seen him play better, but nothing to worry about.
Cummings. 6 Exposed for pace at times and positionally poor along with the rest of the defence. Distribution better than Zubar and Francis although that`s saying very little!
Cook 7 Best of the back four by far, positioning, touch and distribution were way above anything produced by his counterparts.
Zubar 5 Very strong in the tackle, great in the air, great in defence but holy cow was his distribution poor. Passed, sorry, hoofed it all over the place as if he had his foot stuck in a bucket. Great defender, terrible ballplayer.
Francis. 5 Wonderful assist for Fletcher`s goal saved him from getting a very harsh mark, (probably a 3/4) as he was astonishingly bad today. Didn`t stop crosses, rarely seen in his position, wasteful in possession, shot from 25 yards late on with no hope of scoring and was generally absolutely shocking. Performs much better when played at centre back IMHO.
Fogden. 6 Usual heroic work rate, but less effective than usual. Excellent link play throughout. One of the few players to realise the value of possession towards the end.
Gregory 4 Wasteful, off the pace, struggling to think of anything positive to say. Deservedly hauled off and replaced by Purches at Half time.
Arter. 5 One of the better players in the first half, but fairly anonymous in the second. Played a superb ball through to Thomas towards the end of the first half which took a heroic tackle to defend, but a pretty average performance overall.
Pugh. 7 Had the beating of his full back, constantly put in crosses, always wanted the ball, and won a penalty. Poor in the first half but so was everyone else.
Symes. 5 Way below par, doesn`t look confident and was easily outplayed by the Walsall defence in the first half. Improved after the break and took his penalty really well, but I know he can play better.
Thomas. 6 Slightly better than Symes but not by much. Hit the post in the first half but handled well by Walsall`s defence.
Fletcher. 7 What a goal. The game will be remembered for little else. Great impact after he warmed up a bit and this is exactly the kind of situation in which he`s a wonderful addition to the side. Still has plenty to offer.
Purches. 6 A significant improvement over Gregory, added his usual sense of calm and industry to the midfield. Made a number of good tackles and put in a good performance.
Taylor. Only touched it a few times so unfair to give him a mark. Industrious & good control though, had very little service.
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Date:Sunday January 8 2012
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