AFC Bournemouth 1 Swindon 1: Wet, Wet, Wet…
Swindon salvaged a valuable and deserved point at a rain soaked Dean Court, writes Richard Baynard.
Town’s goal from Andy Williams followed a weak clearance from Bournemouth keeper David James, levelling the game with just five minutes remaining. The result was really no more than Swindon warranted overall, but after going in at half time one down having been on top for most of the first period, in the wet conditions it felt like the game might be getting away from us in the second.
We could have taken the lead as early as the fourth minute. After playing the ball out to the left side, Roberts played a low ball into the area – initially, Collins wasn’t able to get onto it, Ritchie also tried to but was blocked – the ball eventually falling to Miller, who struck a powerful shot at goal, which was well saved with a strong arm by David James.
The game was pretty open. Bournemouth got into positions to play in some dangerous crosses in the opening fifteen minutes, but Swindon were creating the better openings. On eighteen minutes, after Ritchie’s first cross had been cleared, Nathan Thompson picked it up in the middle, playing it out to Miller on the right side. With his back to goal, he played a neat reverse pass down the line to Ritchie in space – his right foot cross found Williams in a central position, but his headed effort was straight at James when anywhere else would have been in. But the Town striker had possibly been unsighted by a Cherries defender who had tried to cut the cross out.
By this point though, the weather was beginning to play its part in the game. The pitch was fine before the game, but it had begun to rain heavily just before kick off, and in some areas – most notably in the half that Swindon was attacking – water was beginning to sit on the surface. On 21 minutes, the conditions almost helped us to open the scoring.
It came about as Collins chased down what had been a rather ambitious through ball – David James advanced to cut it out, but as he slid out to claim it, his momentum on the wet surface took him out of the area, and he was forced to let go of the ball to avoid giving away a free kick. The ball fell to the feet of Roberts – and from where we were stood, it looked like he should have shot into what looked like an unguarded net – can only assume that his path was blocked though, as he tried to slip the ball into Collins, but the pass was cut out and cleared.
On 26 minutes though, Bournemouth took the lead, slightly against the run of play. Lewis Grabban moved down the Town’s right side, crossing a low ball into the box – Ward should have cleared it, but he failed to make a good connection, and the ball was picked up by Pittman in the area with his back to goal. He swivelled to shoot, but Devera did well to get in the way – again the ball fell to a Bournemouth shirt though, and it was played out to Harry Arter on the edge of the area. Arter had time to pick his spot, and he did so with a well taken strike into the corner of the net.
Ten minutes later, we created a golden opportunity that should have seen Collins level the scores. After a patient build up in which the ball was swept from left to right and back again, Hollands played the ball between two defenders and into Gary Roberts. The winger played a dangerous ball in, as both James and a defender tried to collect it, but ended up getting in each other’s way. With both players on the floor, the ball dropped at the feet of Collins, he manoeuvred it around them, but though he had the goal at his mercy he seemed to go for power when it wasn’t required, resulting in his shot sliced off the outside of his left foot, bending wide of the post. Before half-time, at the other end Lewis Grabban also shanked a shot wide for the hosts, from a position where he never really looked like scoring.
When the half time whistle went, the condition of the pitch was looking dubious. The referee though took the bizarre decision of extending the interval by five minutes allowing the ground staff to work on the pitch… But of course also allowing more rain to fall. The groundsmen also seemed to be concentrating on areas that were not the worst affected, and even though it was announced that the second half would go ahead, it was still a little bit of a surprise when it did… Personally, I thought the pitch was just about playable and at this stage I was still pretty confident that we’d get something our of the game.
That confidence almost drained out of me during the first twenty minutes if the second period though. Obviously struggling in the conditions, both sides were making numerous mistakes on the ball, and the referee didn’t make any concessions for the poor surface, giving free kick after free kick when players couldn’t keep their feet after the slightest of contact.
Bournemouth were doing most of the attacking, getting some joy in running with the ball through the wettest part of the pitch, with Town players reluctant to make a challenge and giving a free kick away. On 48 minutes, one such run almost ended in a goal. Swindon failed to make a tackle or a clearance as Arter danced through – only a superb save via the feet of Foderingham denying him his second of the game.
Finally though, on 65 minutes, Swindon sprang into life again, after the introduction of Martin, Ferry and de Vita for Collins, Miller and Roberts respectively. De Vita’s first contribution to the game saw him get down the left flank, making a yard to enable him to play a low ball square into the area. It bypassed everyone in the middle, finally finding Ritchie about ten yards from goal – I was expecting the net to bulge, but again it was blocked by James.
Four minutes later, a Ritchie cross found the head of Martin, but stretching for the ball, he could only direct straight at James. The Cherries went straight up the other end to force Foderingham to make a diving save from a long range effort. A couple of minutes later, Grabban came close to sealing the game with a headed effort after Swindon had again failed to clear in the conditions – only a superb stop from Foderingham keeping him out.
Swindon were still pushing forward for the equaliser, but with the clock ticking down, we needed to be quick. Both De Vita and then Ferry were frustratingly flagged for tight offside calls when in good positions from the second one though, Swindon profited from a little good fortune.
After not converting either of the two other opportunities that David James had gifted us, it was third time lucky. James’ weak clearance failed to get further than forty yards from goal, only finding Matt Ritchie, who headed back towards goal, in the space between the defence and keeper. As Martin chased it down, James rushed out and slid the ball away – two Bournemouth defenders seeming to get in each other’s way – allowing Williams to pick it up. As the remaining Cherries defenders backtracked to protect their goal, Williams took his time to ensure he hit the target, his placed shot zipping off the surface to elude the last defender on the line and into the net. Moments later, James was named as man-of-the-match – a decision presumably made prior to the goal!
After the goal, Swindon continued to press and had the game gone on any longer, I’m sure we would have claimed a winner. Williams played one ball across the face of goal that was cleared by a defender from under his own crossbar, then, with the final move of the game, a weaving run by Danny Hollands was ended when he was tripped from behind. Ritchie and Chris Martin lined up to take it, and it was the latter who struck at goal; taking a deflection on the way through, the ball whistled just past the far post and the ref blew for full time before the corner could be taken.
It was certainly a shame that the weather had such a huge part to play in the game. Two decent footballing sides would obviously have preferred to have got it down and played the ball, it just wasn’t possible on the saturated surface. In the end, a draw was probably reflective of the game.
I suspect Bournemouth will no doubt feel aggrieved at the late equaliser, and having had two good second half chances. On the other hand, Swindon were the better side for most of the first half and the last twenty minutes, with at least three decent opportunities of our own that we didn’t convert. With a number of tough away games coming up, it’s important that we take points off as many of our promotion rivals as possible – I’m sure the Cherries will be right up there at the end of the season.