Shopping At Argos

Those of you that follow me on Twitter and have listened to my occasional ramblings on the ‘all departments‘ podcast, will know that I am incredibly positive about the football we play, our players and the management.  I will champion Eddie Howe as the best young English manager around who has consistently made players better and performed miracles in his short, but productive coaching career. You’ll know that I follow the team up and down the country, and fly the flag for the Cherries in my current home town of Milton Keynes. But, I’m sure that you also know I will be critical when I think it’s deserved.  Most often, that just happens to be about our defending. And also about our player recruitment.

Now, some of you will know I got it spectacularly wrong last season, with my reflections on the January transfer business of our direct rivals for promotion (most notably Derby) and our reluctance to improve the squad. I often get reminded of those podcast and twitter comments, and can laugh them off now.  But, being a grumpy old so and so, those same concerns have arisen again.  Have I learnt my lesson? Once bitten, twice shy? Not a bit of it – and here’s why.

I felt compelled to put something down in writing after Saturday’s game against Stoke.  Not because of a knee jerk reaction to what many would agree was our worst performance of the season, but numerous defensive errors over the course of two seasons and a frailty that’s there for all to see that is really starting to concern me now.

We were the best team in the Championship last season. Fact. We won the league.  But we made life incredibly difficult for ourselves due to defensive frailties that were always evident. We should have won that division by 8-10 points with the quality of the football we played (I’m not complaining by the way – just highlighting how bloody good I thought we were). Some will throw the ‘goals against’ stat at me, citing the fact we had the second best defensive record. But, let’s not forget the possession and territory stats that we enjoyed – relatively speaking, our goal was under so little pressure for most games – the concession of 45 goals was about 10 too many. In a nutshell, it was just too easy to score against us when we came under any sort of pressure.

I worry that a similar pattern is emerging this season – we don’t make it hard enough for the opposition attacking players. Stoke was a case in point.  The first goal was a great strike, but it was Stoke’s first foray into our penalty area (after a shocking cross field pass from Francis that gifted them their first spell of possession). The second goal came from a huge individual error from Cook, compounded by absolutely no-one taking any responsibility in picking up Afellay. And the third was just rank bad poor marking from a cross.  Interestingly with the third, it was similar to the goal conceded against Palace – we dealt with the initial ball in, but then a complete lack of organisation meant nobody picked up the goal scorer on the second phase.  That’s schoolboy stuff. And it was all far to easy for a Stoke side that have been playing very poorly recently.

We have a back four that have played together for 3 or 4 years – they should have familiarity that makes them more solid.  I know the skipper is out, and I think we miss his leadership and organisational skills.  But, I just worry that playing at this level is a step too far for them.  I also appreciate they may not get the best protection from the midfield.  Playing a three in central midfield should afford them that additional protection. On too many occasions, it simply doesn’t.  I love Surman to bits – when he plays well, we invariably play well – but he’s a simple passer of the football, not an enforcer or defensive midfield player.  He plays the deeper role of the three, but his job is not to protect, more to keep things ticking over – which he does incredibly well mostly. So, I’m certainly not ‘blaming’ him – he’s asked to do a job and does it.

As we know, Gosling is more of a box to box type midfielder whilst After provides more attacking threat and also has a great engine.  But, even so, with these three in midfield and essentially attacking players either side of them, the back four are rather left to do things on their own.

As as side point, I thought we were bloody fantastic defensively at Leicester.  With ten men.  With eleven we weren’t so good – the back four were exposed by Vardy’s pace and our midfield struggled to deal with Mahrez’ roaming in behind. The interesting thing about that game is that basically we played without the ball at all times after the sending off – Eddie said in his post match interview that he wanted Leicester to have the ball. He didn’t want transition phases of the play when our midfield would be out of position and our back four could be caught a little disorganised (which is when we concede numerous of our goals). It worked – we had two banks of four in place at all times and were very difficult to break down.

I know we play an expansive, attacking game and I wouldn’t want it any other way. But you can add an ‘enforcer’ type player or a ‘ball winner’ (a la Makelele at Real Madrid – but probably a little cheaper!) to add that protection without comprising those principals.  Why don’t we?  Or for those situations described above (the Palace goal and Stoke’s third), why don’t we have defenders that can, well, defend better? Having a more defensively minded centre half also wouldn’t compromise the attacking and passing beliefs.

Some of you may have been wondering why the title of this article is such.  Well, on Saturday, I was airing my views on Twitter and I got called out by a fellow supporter, who contrary to his usual well considered and intelligent posts, suggested that I must think Eddie is useless because he didn’t sign a defender in January.  I was advised that signing players is not like ‘shopping at Argos’.  The inference being that Eddie may have tried to sign a defender or a central midfield player but wasn’t successful due to reasons outside of his control.  That could, of course, indeed be true.  But it does seem a little strange to me.

I can’t help thinking that we do seem to be able to shop in the UK’s premier catalogue shop for attacking players.  We spent (reportedly) £17m on two central strikers (one of whom appears to be fourth choice at the moment) and another £1-2m on a loan signing, whilst picking him up a big chunk of his (reported) £80k per week wages.  Why haven’t we put work into signing defenders or midfield players? Maybe we have, there was lots of talk about the lad Cook from Leeds, but ultimately he decided to stay at Elland Road and there probably wasn’t a lot we could do about that. But what about a back-up plan? And we didn’t hear any serious rumours of a bid for a centre half.

Yes, it’s tough to sign players that will improve a premier league squad.  But, we seemed to have had around £20m to spend in January.  The £10m on Afobe was probably a no-brainer – we needed a new, central attacker who can score goals.  But why add a winger and another striker? And if that other £10m had been used to sign a centre half or central midfield player, then having that sum of money available meant that we could have picked up a top quality player (or two).  I’m not forgetting wages – Grabban cannot be on much less than £25-£30k a week after his short spell in Norfolk, whilst Iturbe’s wages are substantial (albeit we are not paying all of them).  If we had prioritised signing a more defensively minded player instead of these two, wages shouldn’t have been a stumbling block to a signing.

Most of the readers of this will also be fortunate enough to live in or around Bournemouth – one of the most desirable places to live in the UK. So, all in all, a move to the South Coast to play your football is hardly a tough sell. Especially when compared to a move to Sunderland (anyone with recent experience of visiting Wearside will know what I mean).

I also appreciate that January is not the easiest time to do business.  Fees can be over inflated (Grabban??) and teams don’t want to sell.  But what about last summer? I was not the only one asking for a new centre half, claiming it would be vital to our survival this season.  We ended up with Distin, who now appears to be fourth choice centre half (behind Cook, Elphick and Francis).  What was the point?  We had over three months to identify and get our targets last summer. What happened? Either Eddie thought what we had was good enough, or our recruitment and scouting network is flawed. I know we signed Mings, and some have said that was maybe with a view to moving him into the centre of the back four.  I can see that argument, but not this season – no way was a young, raw left back going to go up against Aguero, Costa et al (or even Agbonlahor) in his first season in the Premier League.

I’m not forgetting the horrendous injury problems we’ve faced this season.  I reckon with Wilson and Gradel fit, we’d have scored enough goals to get us comfortably mid-table – even with those same defensive concerns.  What Eddie has done since the realisation at half time at St Mary’s that something has to change is nothing short of remarkable. The quite marvellous run in December and performances since then have generally been good.  We’ve spent a pittance compared to other sides in the division, and yet without our top goalscorer, captain and two record signings (before January) we’re still clear of the relegation zone.  That’s down to good coaching and belief instilled in the squad that we are good enough.  The players are obviously the ones that do it on the pitch, but Eddie is the catalyst for all that – he is a quite brilliant coach.

But, I still think we could be better.  That’s not overly critical, but based on what I’ve seen and much of my comment above.  I honestly don’t think any fan wouldn’t want us to be better. And looking at our squad at the start of January, ask yourself how could we have got better?

  1. Sign a new striker. Tick
  2. Sign a new (and possibly different type) central midfield player. Fail
  3. Sign a new centre back. Fail

Did we need to sign a new winger? Probably not, although as a loan signing, there’s possibly an argument for doing it.  Although it has probably taken around £3m in fees and wages to do it.

Having said all of that, I still think we can stay up with the players we have. We have some very winnable games between now and the end of the season and assuming we don’t put in too many performances as poor as Saturday, then we’ll be just fine.  Albeit, we could have made it a bit easier for ourselves!

I’ve never been on the inside of a football club (apart from Corfe Mullen United juniors in the early 1980’s – which was probably more political than AFCB) and I don’t believe for one minute that things are easy.  But I do have an opinion on what I see from the outside. That opinion may or may not be considered correct by some people, but I just sincerely hope people can see that all I want is the best for AFC Bournemouth.

 

 

Derby Days

From one county to another, but it's still a derby
From one county to another, but it’s still a derby

It’s typical to see football fans of opposing clubs put each other down and run the ‘my clubs better than your club’ line in various ways.  This past week it has been interesting to view the social media presence of Cherries and Saints fans, arguing the merits of the match taking place at St Mary’s on Sunday.

Is it a derby? Is it a rivalry?  These are just two of the questions asked and dealt with on the various online forums and social media sites such as Twitter.  Here’s my take on it.  As a teenager, I went to both legs of the League Cup games in 1987. I vividly remember my excitement ahead of the first leg at Dean Court.  We’d recently been promoted to the old second division, and Saints were an established first division side.  It was the first time I had seen this match-up.  The atmosphere on the South End (and in the ground in general) was electric that night – I am sure it even surpassed the Boro game in the 3rd division title winning season just months before. The Saints fans had travelled in numbers too, adding to the sense of occasion. It was quite clear this was special. For both sets of fans.

The second leg fixture at the Dell was better still.  We packed out the Archers Road end and celebrated the aggregate win with the players and Harry Redknapp until we were allowed to leave the ground an hour after the final whistle. The walk back to the station was interesting to say the least – a full police escort and objects thrown at us from windows of some of the houses and Saints hoodlums waiting on street corners. Obviously, the Saints fans didn’t care about us then.  Like they don’t care about us now. Some Saints fans have questioned on Twitter why we don’t like them. For me, and a few others of my vintage, this night in 1987 might just be the reason.

Saints seem to think this is a 'big' game
Saints seem to think this is a ‘big’ game

In all honesty, does this fixture mean as much to Saints? Probably not.  I’ve heard fixtures involving clubs in our region described as follows:

Saints v Bournemouth – A south coast derby

Saints v Pompey – THE south coast derby

That’s probably about right, and I would’t argue with it.  It’s a bit like Fulham and Chelsea I think.  Fulham like to think that Chelsea are their rivals, whereas Chelsea couldn’t really give two hoots about them – their rivalry is much, much bigger with Spurs, Arsenal and West Ham.  But, it remains a derby.  A bit like Saints v Cherries.  It’s a derby, but not yet a rivalry. I don’t think anyone can argue with that.  Although a couple of Saints fans on Twitter tried – by saying that because we were not even in the same county, it could not be a derby.  Nonsense. Swindon v Oxford anyone? Or Forest v Derby? Or Ipswich v Norwich. The distance between Norwich and Ipswich is 39 miles – it’s only 33 miles between Southampton and Bournemouth. Living in the BBC East region, I know how intense the rivalry is between Norwich and Ipswich and that they definitely consider it a derby.  And not forgetting that Bournemouth was once in Hampshire – only becoming part of Dorset in 1974.  So, when the Dell held its first fixture under floodlights with Bournemouth the invited opponents in 1950, both teams were in the same county anyway.

It was interesting to read Eddie Howe’s thoughts on the matter. As usual, he’s pretty much spot on.“This fixture could turn into a decent rivalry due to the proximity of the two clubs but I think we would need to build that with the games“.   It’s probably up to us to make it a rivalry – we need to stay in this division and play each other more often.  The longer Pompey stay down in the lower reaches of the professional game, and Bournemouth stay in the premier league, there is more chance of it growing as a rivalry.  But, it will always be a derby, due to the proximity of the two clubs.

In all honesty, I’d love Pompey to get back into the higher echelons too – having four derbies to look forward to each season would be epic for all three clubs.  I don’t think anyone would deny they wouldn’t really want that.

And besides, I then get to call the Pompey fans ‘skates’ as often as I get to call the saints fans ‘scummers’.  To be honest, I think the Saints fans have got off lightly with the scummers tag – skates is much, much worse 🙂

A Skate. Nice.
A Skate. Nice.

Only Here for the Bournemouth

AFCB fans fill 3 tiers and remain behind at the end
AFCB fans fill 3 tiers and remain behind at the end

Away days continue to be fun, whatever the score.  Honest.

A relatively early start for me and Jamie, albeit as pointed out to some on Twitter, I was still in my PJ’s enjoying a cup of tea on the sofa whilst others were hitting the A34.  Anyway, arrived at MK station for 9.30 and spotted Simon – it turns out we were on the same train for the journey to Manchester.  We made our way to the platform and waited patently for the train.

Having pre-booked seats for Jamie and me, we ended up in a different carriage to Si.  We were fortunate to be next to the buffet car.  I went to buy some beer, having been wholly disappointed by the options available at the ‘off license’ just outside the station.  A sad indictment on modern society when it only sold lager, treacle (aka Special Brew) and copious varieties of energy drinks.  And Virgin rather let me down too – just Carling and Cider.  Or a bottle of wine.  Not fancying a Shiraz at 9.50am, I went for the Carling.  Hey ho, that would keep me going to Manchester.

A pretty uneventful journey followed, the highlight being a little old lady stealing my copy of Private Eye whilst I went to the loo. I shouldn’t have been too surprised – she did get on at Stoke.  I noted that I seem to be spending an unhealthy amount of time either in, or passing through Stoke recently.  Partly football, partly work.  But, it’s fair to say the place is not growing on me.

We hit the first pub – the Bull’s Head – at about 11.45 and had a quick livener before moving on.  It was planned to be the Exiles pub of choice, but it seems that Andy wasn’t allowed in, so they moved on elsewhere.  He’s trouble that Burton fella, I can tell you.  And without letting Mark and Amit know I was going elsewhere (sorry lads) we wandered into the centre and found the Ape and Apple.  What a great little find.  Superb beer from the Holt’s brewery and a fantastic meal and drink deal for £7.95.  And they had too many bar staff.  Yes, too many. So, when you ordered a round, you had two, sometimes three, bar staff getting it for you in double (or even triple) quick time.  Nice.

Moving on to the B Lounge, where they employed a strange door policy, which meant all of our party couldn’t get in.  Something to do with beards, I think.  Or maybe it was looking under age.  Who knows? Anyway, in what turned out to be a blessing, we moved to the Waldorf. A cracking little pub, with both City and AFCB fans mixing freely and ‘enjoying’ the Spurs/Liverpool game on the big screens.  We then had a 5 minute walk to the tram stop at Piccadilly and the 6 or 7 minute ride to the Etihad. Which we didn’t have to pay for.  Drinking in the city centre had been an inspired choice.

The Etihad
The Etihad

The Etihad looked amazing.  And even better when we got in.  Jamie and i were in Tier 3, with a fabulous view of the action.  We were also very close to the City fans.  Lots of friendly banter ensued throughout the game. I really don’t think fans of the ‘big’ clubs know what to make of us.  They all seem to quite like us, so don’t really want to mock us.  Even at 5-1 down.  It has to be said, Jamie and I got lots of compliments about our football both before and after the game.  They obviously like us, because it was the biggest ever attendance at the Etihad and their fans were ‘only here for the Bournemouth’.

As I’ve stated before, I’m not here to talk about the game – others will do that.  But, I am actually doing the @alldepartments podcast on this one, so if you really want, you can listen to me opine on watching the champions elect, shambolic defending and that we’re crap at playing 4-5-1.  But, here’s some quick ratings for the day:

Manchester: 8 out of 10 – a proper football city and some great city centre bars if you’d done your homework (thanks Si and Pete)

Beer: 9.5 – brilliant.  Joseph Holt’s bitter an absolute diamond.

Food: 8.5 – a lovely cheese and bacon burger at the Ape and Apple.

Stadium: 8 – rather good, but just slightly let down by the fact we were over 3 tiers and it was difficult to get any singing going

Match: 5 – it’s always pretty crap being hammered.  But no real disgrace in this one.  I reckon starting XI for City cost about £200m.  Ours was £5.5m.  City played some lovely stuff, and our goal was pretty good too.

A Pain in the Potteries

The one bright spot of a depressing day. Gosling celebrates his goal.
The one bright spot of a depressing day. Gosling celebrates his goal.

Another away day was upon us, and being based in MK, a relatively short train journey to Stoke-on-Trent.  The decision was taken to wear the pink shirts, which we were sure would endear us to the locals.  Them being in touch with their feminine side and all. They are from the North remember.

My wife kindly dropped us at MK station 20 minutes before our train was due to depart. This worked out well, as we probably annoyed plenty of Derby fans arriving for their early game with MK Dons.  Numerous glances at our shirts, firstly to work out exactly who we supported and then to mumble under their breath ‘bloody Bournemouth, that should have been us in the Premier League. If it wasn’t for McLaren being crap and all of those January window signings destabilising the squad’. They definitely all said that. I’m sure of it.

I purchased a couple of magazines in the shop, although I don’t know why I do this every time I travel on the train.  Jamie always manages to have a good go at FourFourTwo or some such similar footballing title.  Whilst my edition of TopGear remained largely closed.  But, I reckon that review of the Pagani Zonda will come in handy the next time I come to buy a car.

The train pulled into MK only a couple of minutes late. OK so far then, until we got on the train and realised (1) our seat reservations were invalid because Virgin hadn’t bothered to download them at Euston and (2) the train was full of Manchester United fans.  And when I say full, I mean full.  The gags about Man U fans coming from everywhere but Manchester are well known, but if I’m honest, the same could be applied to Liverpool and many other ‘big’ clubs.  But, blimey, I’d never seen anything like it.  Not one seemed to have a Mancunian accent either. Having said that, the irony of a Bournemouth supporter getting on at MK was not lost on me.  Living in MK for the past 18 or so years, I’m just glad I don’t support my local team!

Two completely innocent people (well, innocent of knowingly sitting in someone else’s seats, but for all I know, guilty of some other heinous crimes they may well have been – like supporting Man U but being born and raised in Bexleyheath) were sat in Jamie and my ‘reserved’ seats so we moved on down the train, where we spotted a few fellow Cherries – Keith and Mark to name just a couple – eventually finding ourselves in first class, where the guard was happy enough for us to stay.  Unsurprisingly, sat opposite two United fans.  From Aylesbury, via Poole.  Ho hum.

Upon arrival into Stoke, I met with Keith briefly on the platform, but we went our separate ways – he was getting a cab to the ground for his VIP seats and nosh, whilst I was heading to a pub for ale and fish, chips and mushy peas. Bumping into Mark and his mate Matt (who Jamie said was very ‘hipster’ with a beard greater than Boruc’) we made our way to The Glebe.  Arriving just before it opened, Matt had time for a roll-up (increasing his hipster points with Jamie) while we waited for the doors to open.  The pub was fine once we got in, a mixture of home and away fans with a mini delicatessen situated at one bar.  Yes, that’s right.  It was selling cheese and chutneys. Along with massive pork pies.  But, none of that nonsense, I went for for the fish and chips, which went down very well.  Unlike Liverpool no gravy was offered – a good thing in my eyes.  The Joules’ Pale Ale was also a very good pint.  Tip for the future here (if we ever come back to Stoke again – as we were singing when 1-0 down later – ‘we’re only here for the season’) order your food early.  Mark and Matt made the schoolboy error of not ordering until 1pm, and the food took almost an hour to arrive.  But the gammon ham was about an inch thick when it was served at the table, and it went down well, albeit very quickly.

The shuttle bus to the ground worked really well, costing £3 return and taking about 10 minutes.  They were an awkward 10 minutes though.  Jamie and me were sitting behind a fella who wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box.  And he wanted to make conversation with us.  About his daughter. Her marriage.  Her husband. And show us photos on his phone of her wedding day.  Shifting uncomfortably, Matt was relieved he hadn’t made the mistake of sitting next to this chap, as he had tried to do when he made his way up the bus.

Walking into the ground, the obligatory bag search for me, letting Jamie go through the human barrier without anything more than ‘are you under 18 son?’ ‘yes’ ‘then go through’.  Next time anyone wants to smuggle in a piece of celery, or other such dangerous weapon, like an inflatable, just give it to Jamie. We met Phil on the concourse, optimistically wearing shorts. And I lent Mark £20 – apparently they don’t seem to have grasped the concept of ‘debit card’ or ‘contactless’ this far North.  (Mark – I only put that bit in to remind you that you said you’d bank transfer the money over today).

A healthy 1,600 strong AFCB following
A healthy 1,600 strong AFCB following

In my eyes, the game was lost as soon as Wilson picked up that injury.  Much like the Leicester game when we lost Mings, the players seemed to be mentally beaten by the magnitude of the injury.  We lost our shape and looked like we had no idea for the remainder of the half, albeit we did have a great chance with Ritchie and had some good possession for the last 10 or 15 minutes. Wilson looked in deep trouble as soon as he did it.  I know there’s been much speculation, but it really doesn’t look good at the time of writing.

Without pace (Gradel and Wilson both missing) it seems that our whole season plans are out of the window, especially for away fixtures. But, credit to the players in the second half, we got stuck in and thoroughly deserved the equaliser.  But, yet again, we switched off defensively (we’re not good enough at the back in my opinion) and got punished.  But what was more annoying was the lead-up to the goal.  In real time, Murray’s challenge no way looked like a foul.  And then the free kick was taken ten, maybe 15 yards away from where the foul took place.  I was able to confirm that Murray’s challenge was not a foul when the big screen conveniently showed it again.  And there I was thinking clubs weren’t allowed to show contentious incidents on the big screen?  But, imagine if this was the Rugby World Cup – the referee would have looked at the screen, noticed it wasn’t a foul and chalked off the goal. Based on the fact that I don’t think any of us would have got out of the ground alive, maybe that was a good thing!!

The Britannia Stadium - quieter than we thought and no Delilah rendition :-(
The Britannia Stadium – quieter than we thought and no Delilah rendition 😦

So, we lost the game, but more worrying is that without Wilson, we may well lose the war.  Wilson allows us to play in a certain way, and without him we’ll have to change the way we play.  And without the most deadly finisher in the league (according to the Opta stats on goals vs shots) then we’ll struggle to score enough goals to keep us up.  Yes, we’ll give it a damn good go and anything is possible, but it’s significantly more challenging now if reports about the seriousness of his knee injury are to be believed.

Enough of the game, it was funny to get back to Stoke station and be approached by a fella probably in his mid-50’s who said that we had ‘brought a tidy firm’ up to Stoke today.  I doubt he thought Jamie and I were members of said firm, but if he did, we were ready for him.  After all, we were wearing our pink shirts, Jamie had blow dried his hair that morning in readiness for a bundle and I had moisturised after a shave.  Remember, we are from the south.  And really in touch with our feminine sides.

N.B. After composing this, it has come to my attention that club legend Mick Cunningham was taken seriously ill at the game yesterday.  Best wishes to him, his family and friends at this difficult time.  You know what, all of the text above seems irrelevant now.  It’s only a game after all. 

Is this a sauna? No, it’s a library.

Well, I’m back.  Not that you’ve probably been that bothered about me being away over the summer break.

It’s the day after our beloved Cherries fell to a single goal defeat at Anfield versus Liverpool.  It was my first live game of the season, having missed the Villa game whilst on holiday in Mallorca (yep, schoolboy error).  As mentioned previously on this site, I’m not doing match reports – we had enough of them last season, and now in the Premier League, there will be even more. But, I’ll try and give a different view and highlight any humorous elements of my day out.

Even the car got a pre-match clean!
Even the car got a pre-match clean! But the hedge clearly needs a trim.

Yesterday started in Milton Keynes, where Jamie and I left at 1pm. But, rather than head North, my son and I headed East – to Flitwick (that’s Flittick, not Flit-Wick for those who don’t know – don’t say this blog isn’t educational).  Why? To pick up two Cherries from London, who, because of the kick-off scheduling couldn’t get a train back to London after the match.  Big shout out to Mark and Amit who brightened up a 3.5 hour journey with stories of old Cherries games. To be honest, Amit was much more interesting than Mark, who works in IT and spent much of the journey checking property rental prices ‘within a 45 minute commute of Liverpool Street’. Do you know how many available rental properties are within a 45 minute commute of Liverpool Street? Probably not, but I’ve got a pretty good idea now that most of them cost far too much money and have stupidly tiny bathrooms!

But, kudos to journalist Amit who had managed to upset some Stoke fans on Twitter with his most recent interview with Aaron Ramsey (published on the previous Friday) and commentary on that Shawcross challenge.  The best of it was that the Stoke fans’ trolling came as we were driving through Stoke to avoid the M6 delays. Amit turned his location services off before responding any further!

It was as we were coming into Liverpool that we realised none of us actually had our match tickets.  For various reasons such as friends having them, ticket office cock-ups (who’d have thought?) we were 3 hours from kick off and none of us had a means of getting into the ground.  Would it all work out? I bloody well hoped so.

We reached the 2008 European Capital of Culture at just after 5pm. Now, I lived in Liverpool (Anfield actually – about 600 yards from the away end) in the early 90’s while I studied at the Polytechnic (remember those?) and thoroughly enjoyed the place, its people, nightclubs (Macs, Mardi Gras, 051 club, the Cavern to name but a few) and its alcohol.  But, there’s more culture in Matt Ritchie’s left foot than the whole of Merseyside, as would be demonstrated later that evening.  As it turned out, we parked in a car park with a worse exit system than Kings Park on match day.  But, anyway, onto my old ‘local’ in those student days –  The Arkles.  Reasonably priced beer and a friendly atmosphere with the Cherries faithful in fine voice, which was a sign of things to come later. Just a shame no bowl of scouse like in the good old days! Instead, to the chippy two doors down, where much banter took place between the locals and my lad about gravy. Apparently, it’s a good thing to have gravy on your chips, whilst they weren’t having the pea fritter argument.

Mark and Amit joined us having collected tickets from the Liverpool ticket office, whilst mine were apparently somewhere in the city centre with the Exiles.  Relief was the order of the day when contact was made and confirmation they’d meet me outside the away end before the game. So, into the ground at about 7.45pm.

My View of Anfield
My View of Anfield

Our seats were close to the back, but not restricted view so we were quite happy.  The game started after the rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone, which all seems a bit contrived now, with noise levels helped by piping in the music to start with. That was the best it got from the Liverpool fans for the entire evening – the only noise coming from the Bournemouth boys for what seemed like the whole 90 minutes.

A lot has been said about the big decisions – I won’t add much here. Tommy’s disallowed goal was unfortunate to say the least, but the Benteke strike was pure incompetence from the linesman. He forgot the new rule, simple as that. Some you win, some you lose and we definitely came off worse last night. It also seemed Liverpool players fell over very easily and got decisions from the referee which were not deserved.  I doubt that’s the last time I’ll think that of the opposition this season. The handball against a Bournemouth player in the second half when the ball was smashed at him from about a yard was particularly galling too.  I thought we played very well, but lacked a cutting edge.  Liverpool obviously caused us problems, whilst Clyne was outstanding at the back for them. But a draw would not have flattered us by any means.

If only we'd seen this in the 26th minute
If only we’d seen this in the 26th minute

The journey home was uneventful, apart from the obligatory M6 and M1 roadworks and one lane sections, and I dropped off Amit and Mark at Flitwick at 1.25am. Home for me at 1.40 and my head hit the pillow reflecting on what might have been.

Key Facts:

AFCB Ratings:

Boruc 7 : Didn’t have a lot do, no chance with the goal, but looked assured

Francis 7.5 : Solid defensively and helped in attack when able

Cook 7 : Looked relatively comfortable, but the odd misplaced pass out of the back could have had worse consequences

Elphick 8 ; unfortunate not to score, defended better than i thought he could

Daniels 9 (MOM) : his best game for the Cherries, in defence he was magnificent and didn’t stop rampaging forward

Surman 8 : another solid game, kept everything ticking over, worked his socks off

O’Kane 7 : first start for months and settled quickly. Early booking meant he had to be careful for rest of the game

Gradel 7 : early promise but never really got past Clyne and faded in the second half

Ritchie 8.5 : top drawer. A couple of his cross field passes were Gerrardesque

King 5 : early days, but not sure what he brings to the team in this position

Wilson 7 : needs stronger support up there with him. Never stopped running

Subs: Tomlin 6, ran around to little effect, hopefully more to come; Smith and Gosling not enough time to have any impact

Best AFCB Fans Chants: 

‘Is this a sauna’; ‘Your ground’s too hot for us’. But my favourite was ‘Are you painted on the seats?’

Villain of the Match: 

Assistant referee Lennard. This guy is supposed to be at the top of his profession.  Not on last night’s performance.

Pre-match food: 

The chippy 2 doors down the Arkles.  Sausage and chips for me, fish and chips for Jamie.  Cheap and good portion sizes, albeit the chips were a bit anaemic. Friendly service but gravy everywhere. 6.5/10

This isn't right
This isn’t right

Alternative End of Season Awards

Nothing alternative about this one
Nothing alternative about this one

When, exactly, was the end of the season? Ours finished on Saturday 2nd May, rather gloriously as it happens.  But the play-off final wasn’t until 25th May, with the Champions League final just last weekend.  We’ve even got some internationals tagged on now. Albeit, based on England’s performance against the Republic of Ireland on Sunday, you’d think the players had been on holiday for months.

Anyway, now is as good a time as any to dish out some rather meaningless end of season awards.  Please bear in mind these reflect my attendance at certain games – I don’t have a season ticket, and don’t make it to all home games. I do more away, but not all. Therefore, please feel free to come up with your own, even more ‘alternative’ suggestions if you wish.

Best Pie – Rotherham (a rather delicious steak pie, albeit it repeated on me all the way back down the M1, much to my son’s dismay)

Hottest Pie – Reading away, purchased at about 7.15pm and not yet finished when Wilson slammed home the only goal of the game. Cue pastry and gravy all over the poor soul in front of me

Best Beard – Boruc, which ran in parallel to his best form

Worst Beard – Eunan O’Kane.  EOK looks young enough anyway, and the addition of teenage bum fluff doesn’t do him any favours at all (compare to Boruc, for example, and it’s no contest)

Best Away Pub – The Bridge Inn, Rotherham.  The sign outside is particularly encouraging and thankfully reflects the clientele.

My kind of pub
My kind of pub

Best AFCB Fans Chant – ‘Is that your first team?’ – directed at a group of identically suited and booted teenage lads walking down the stand at St Andrews when we were six or seven up. To be fair, they took it all in good spirit. Unlike some of the Brum fans that day.

Best Opposing Team Fans Chant – Well, not strictly opposing us, but you know what I mean.  After THAT late equaliser at Vicarage Road, Sheffield Wednesday fans piping up with ‘AFC Bournemouth, they’re top of the league’.

Best Celebration of a goal – Ritchie’s at home to Bolton. Over the seat in front, ending up on my arse but realising the dream was on and revelling in the quality of the strike.

Worst Celebration of a goal – Ritchie’s at home to Bolton. Getting to my feet in the row in front, realising I’d done something to my knee. Turns out it was ligament damage, and no running for 6 weeks!

Best Away Day – Lots to choose from. Norwich for the beer. Fulham for what was a brilliant evening of drinking, friends and football. And a Pitman wonder strike. But it has to be Charlton. Being told by Wetherspoons that I was ‘9 minutes early to be served alcohol’ was a first. The performance, the atmosphere, the result and then the evening back in Greenwich. And then the joy of the train doors opening at Watford Junction on my way back to MK. Never, ever to be forgotten. Or probably bettered.

Best Fan Cam – Brighton away. Check out Bernie Clifton. The ostrich even kisses a steward.

Most annoying person at Dean Court – the steward in the baseball cap at the North Stand who gets in the way of every fan cam.

Best Half Time Entertainment at Dean Court – the ‘run around the broom handle 15 times and then take a penalty’ competition. Still not as good as parachutists, dog display teams or scout bands back in the day.

Best Player Celebration – The Franno. Rotherham away in the league. Fans were even doing it themselves and posting it to Twitter.  Cult status.

Villain of the Season – Pudil of Watford, for THAT tackle.

Potential Leg Breaker. No excuses.
Potential Leg Breaker. No excuses.

Warren Buffet Award for Great Bit of Business – Selling Grabban, buying Callum Wilson and having some change.

Derek Trotter Award for Dodgy Dealings – Derby loaning Bent and Ince and completely destabilising their squad.

Norris McWhirter Award for Breaking Records – The whole AFCB squad.

Weirdest Fans of the Season Award – Villa. Chips. What was all that about? Can anyone enlighten me?

Potty Mouth Award – Mostyn. Live on Sky. You know the rest.

Jeff enjoying himself. A little too much.
Jeff enjoying himself. A little too much.

Best Piece of Commentary – ‘They’re turning on the style now Bournemouth’

So, all in all, not a bad season I think you’ll agree. UTCIAD.

What do I know?

Got a few things wrong this season...
Got a few things wrong this season…

As much as I like to think of myself as reasonably knowledgeable about the game of Association Football, having played to county standard as a youngster, and watched probably around 500 professional matches live, it has become quite apparent to me over the course of this season that I know far less than I thought! Here’s why:

Loan Signings

While every single club in the Championship was adding loan players to their team in January, AFCB made no moves into the loan market (I’m not counting Boruc here – although he was technically signed again in January, he wasn’t really an addition).  I made my feelings known on this at the end of February on the ‘all departments’ podcast having watched us lose away at Forest after having 75% possession.  I was clearly frustrated after a winless run of four matches too.

I was convinced that from a fantastic position at the end of January we were going to throw it all away, in Devon Lock style. And this was due to not freshening up or strengthening certain key areas of the team (creative midfield player, support striker, centre half). Eddie went on record saying he was happy with his squad and would only bring someone in who would be better than we already had and wouldn’t break the bank.

To make me feel worse about things at that time, Derby were going on the rampage in February with their two key signings Ince and Bent scoring and assisting for fun.  Look how that ended up.

The one thing I can hold on to as a crumb of comfort was the signing of Kenwyne Jones. His goal was vital at Ipswich (and was our 100th in all competitions last season). We had 63% possession in this game, but to be honest, it looked like we were never going to score. Oh the irony of ‘launching it into the box’ (c. Mick McCarthy) from a corner (yes, launching it from a CORNER) and scoring with a header. Which leads me onto my next erroneous view….

No Plan B

It was probably around the end of February where I was also questioning our system and style of play.  I felt we had been worked out to some extent.  Teams were wise to how we played and were pressing high up the pitch, putting men on Cook, Elphick and Surman from goal kicks, or keeper throw outs. This meant Boruc was kicking high up the pitch (or, more to the point, high up in the main stand). We couldn’t build from the back and our players were not big enough to consistently win aerial balls.

Plan B does not mean ‘hoof it’. I never wanted that.  But just something a little different. Jones offered that, albeit Eddie didn’t play him that often and stuck his his pure footballing principals. But, we did see occasions with Ritchie and Pugh switching wings – this is different, and gives the opposition something else to think about. However, it was just on the odd occasions.

Eddie was of the view that if our brand of football was good enough to get us to the top of the table, it was good enough to keep us there. How right he was.  I am now of the view that if we played well, we won.  It had nothing to do with the opposition. Eddie obviously thought the same.

Not good enough defensively

I always felt that we weren’t quite good enough at the back facing the top teams. When it really mattered, I just felt we would concede. But the stats don’t really bare that out.

We conceded 12 goals in 10 games against the other teams in the top 6, averaging 1.2 goals per game. The other 33 conceded in 36 games equates to 0.91 goals per game – not a huge difference. We also had the second best goals conceded column in the division.

And something else I shouldn’t forget is that the way we play, we will always concede.  Full backs high up the pitch, no real holding midfield player. But, typically, we’ll score more at the other end.  And in fairness, when it REALLY mattered, against Boro at home for example, Cookie and Elphick were magnificent. And away at Boro too. This Bamford fella – who is he exactly??

Pitman v Fulham (away)

My infamous text on seeing Brett had made the team against Fulham away. FFS.

I still don;t think he's good enough against the good teams though :-)
I still don’t think he’s good enough against the good teams though 🙂

Cup Rotation

It’s a bit galling to see Villa in the FA Cup Final. I still think we would have won or at least drawn that game with our usual starting XI. But, what’s the bigger picture? Promotion, which was achieved.  A few AFCB fans grumbled at the selections against Liverpool and Villa (including me).  But, who knows if Wilson or Ritchie had picked up an injury? Would we have won the league? Possibly not. So, Eddie was right. I was wrong.  Surprise, surprise.

I will continue to be opinionated about AFCB and all that surrounds the club.  I feel I am entitled to that.  And rest assured, I’ll continue to make a fool of myself, but life would be boring if we all thought the same wouldn’t it?