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Cherries: No papering over the cracks this time
AT LEAST the lyrics on the broken record were different.
During what has been a far from harmonious start to his reign as permanent manager, Paul Groves, on more than one occasion, has been left to bemoan his team’s misfortune in front of goal.
Groves, however, admirably resisted the temptation to paper over the cracks of this uninspiring showing, Cherries ’ first home defeat since early March.
“It was one of our poorest performances, certainly at home, in terms of our ability to pass the ball and to carve out openings,” he said. “There was a desperation about the performance and that had not been the case in our previous games.
“In terms of the performances that we had had prior to this game, they have been up there but we haven’t converted the chances. Today, and it looks for a different reason, we didn’t play well. There is no getting away from it.”
Most of the travelling supporters who had witnessed the debacle at Swindon would argue that this showing was a slight improvement, even if the bar had been at its lowest at the County Ground .
Fortified by Frank Demouge and Lorenzo Davids, two players with experience in the Dutch top flight, and ex-England goalkeeper David James, Cherries followers had every right to expect better.
However, and against a subdued and apathetic backdrop, Groves’s men again failed to deliver as one of the worst starts to a season in the club’s history continued.
While the paucity of Cherries’ impoverished display left Groves scratching his head, the comments of opposite number Dean Smith would have rubbed salt into his already gaping wounds.
“We felt comfortable,” purred Smith, after the high-flying Saddlers had headed back to the Midlands with all three points for the second season in succession.
“We scored a really good goal and controlled the game for long periods. Even when they had the ball, you look at how long it was taking David James with his goal kicks, trying to play out. We didn’t allow them to play between our lines and were organised, both in and out of possession.”
The “really good goal” referred to by Smith was another defensive calamity from Cherries and came four minutes before the end of what had been a fairly uneventful opening period.
Having failed to deal with Andy Taylor’s initial free-kick, Cherries looked on ponderously as Ben Purkiss teed up James Baxendale on the right flank.
The midfielder then had the choice of picking out any one of three unmarked team-mates who had been queueing up to score after arriving in the penalty area.
His pinpoint delivery found Andy Butler, who nonchalantly headed home unopposed to give an exposed James no chance whatsoever.
The sum total of Cherries’ first-half efforts were a deflected shot from Josh McQuoid which was saved by Walsall goalkeeper Karl Darlow and a Eunan O’Kane strike that drifted past the upright.
Cherries started the second half with greater purpose and O’Kane was denied a leveller when Nottingham Forest loan star Darlow got down smartly to save his effort at his near post.
If trailing at the break had not been bad enough, Cherries then had to stomach humiliating cheers from Walsall supporters as the Saddlers indulged in a spell of keep-ball.
There was little to raise the spirits among the Goldsands Stadium faithful and, as frustration and boredom took over, a section of home fans began calling for the head of Groves.
Cherries offered precious little in the way of attacking threat and could have found themselves facing a two-goal deficit had Flo Cuvelier and Will Grigg not been errant with two presentable chances.
The visitors, whose display had been full of energy, looked set to pay when Cherries restored parity through Charlie Daniels eight minutes from time.
Left-back Daniels slotted the ball under the advancing Darlow after substitute Wes Fogden had picked him out with a clever pass.
Cherries’ appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears after Fogden had appeared to be baulked by |Butler before Saddlers substitute Fabian Brandy almost scored with his first touch, Steve Cook clearing off the line following a corner.
There was, however, no reprieve for Cherries when the visitors forced another corner in the 89th minute, with George Bowerman fastening on to Butler’s header and finishing with accuracy past James.
After Fogden had twice gone close to salvaging an ill-deserved draw for Cherries in stoppage time, abuse towards Groves poured from the stands at the final whistle.