Cherries picked off by Orient
A lot has happened at AFC Bournemouth since we last featured their unlikely assault on the summit of League 1. Eddie Howe’s departure for the less genteel surroundings of Burnley’s Turf Moor was not without controversy and Cherries’ fans can be forgiven for hoping that the local hero would at least bring the season to its conclusion. The subsequent appointment of Lee Bradbury as his replacement was clearly driven by a desire for continuity. But, on the evidence of Saturday’s dispiriting draw with Leyton Orient, the man everyone at Dean Court seems to call `Bradders’ may struggle to maintain the form that won Howe so much attention.
Not that the game itself was a washout. Bournemouth’s positivity in the first hour of the game was a joy. The home side found space between Orient’s two banks of four from the kick-off and Jamie Jones was tested time and again in front of the Steve Fletcher Stand. Michael Symes proved particularly effective in working the defence, his movement and sure touch feeding the Cherries’ midfield. The former Accrington man’s opening goal, however, came from a more prosaic build up: controlling a long punt forward from ‘keeper Shwan Jalal just inside the O’s territory, Symes turned and thrust toward the penalty area, before curling a right-footed shot around Jones into the corner of the net. The Steve Fletcher Stand erupted into polite applause and the club legend’s plastic effigy atop the roof wobbled approvingly in the wind. By the half-time whistle, the balance of play pointed toward a comfortable home win, or so I thought as I retired underneath the main stand for refreshment and shelter.
A Bournemouth attack as I returned to my seat did nothing to challenge that assessment. While my Arsenal supporting friend’s attention wandered, the Cherries pinned their opponents back and created an opportunity to seal the win. A pass from outside the area cut through the Orient defensive line and left the latest product of Bournemouth’s prolific youth scheme, Danny Ings, alone with just Jones to beat. However, the youngster – along with most of those in attendance – watched between his fingers while his shot dribbled around the post. As a text message came through to further torture my friend with news of the excitement at St James’, the crowd on the South coast were overcome with doubt. That apprehension was well founded, with Ings’ mishap proving a turning point in a hitherto predictable plot. The last ten minutes were set almost entirely in Bournemouth’s half, the Cherries appearing content to allow their opponents sole possesion of the ball. An opportune time for Bradbury to make some adjustments, I thought, but none came. Instead, a cross from the right met the outside of Dean Cox’s left boot and looped over the otherwise impressive Shwan Jalal. The Orient fans huddled opposite my seat suddenly rediscovered their voices and Bradbury sprung forth with a double subsitution, but it was too late. Two points dropped for his team and a bitter taste for the home fans trudging though Kings’ Park.
Despite the uncomfortable ending, a few performances gave some cheer. The name of left midfielder Marc Pugh has featured in many Sunday morning match reports this season, and the former Hereford man used his strength and pace to good effect, project the ball enticingly into the middle of the Orient box on a number of occasions. Though, Pugh’s contribution declined as the game wore on and my eye wandered ever more to his midfield colleagues. The neat control and probing of Anton Robinson in the centre and Liam Feeney on the right were a threat to Orient throughout; the latter also displayed a determination off the ball that will recommend him to clubs at a higher level.
At the back too, things look in reasonable shape. Jalal dominated the penalty area, while centre-back Jason Pearce’s head acted as a magnet for high balls. The performances of full-backs Warren Cummings and Spurs loanee Adam Smith, however, were in stark contrast to those of Oxford’s marauding pair reported on by Ben last weekend. Cummings’ reluctance to move up the field contributed a great deal to Pugh’s isolation from the play, while both allowed Orient to accelerate beyond them far too often. It was clear to see why Rhoys Wiggins has supplanted Cummings this term and Ryan Garry‘s return from injury must be just as eagerly awaited. Some encouraging signs for the rest of the post-Howe era, although some apprehension on and off the pitch was palpable. The play-offs remain a distinct possibility and a victory or two in the comg fixtures may well settle those nerves. It would be a great shame to see AFCB fall short.