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Cherries: Diamonds are not forever, Paul...
ONE step forward, two steps back.
Cherries supporters probably thought Paul Groves had struck gold with his diamond formation following the team’s slick display at Yeovil.
However, just a week later and against less accommodating opposition, a system failure saw the walls come tumbling down in their own backyard.
This latest test was always likely to be a good indicator of how Cherries would fare this season – and, alarmingly, they were found wanting.
Hartlepool boss Neale Cooper had made no secret of the fact the visitors would attempt to make life difficult for Cherries at Goldsands Stadium.
Cooper as good as volunteered his likely tactics in a pre-match interview when he said Pools would probably set up differently in a bid to stifle Cherries.
In contrast to most other managers, Cooper made his intentions as clear as crystal and laid bare his plans to try to blunt the diamond.
No wonder he was still singing from the rooftops despite seeing his side denied a classic smash-and-grab away win by Matt Tubbs' stoppage-time equaliser.
If Cherries are to be considered as genuine promotion contenders then finding a solution to break down stubborn opposition at home is going to be a must.
Criticising visitors for parking the proverbial bus by packing midfield and defending as if their lives depended on it is too easy an excuse.
Considering the vast outlay on the Cherries squad, what seems to be a work in progress should be a masterpiece, especially against modest opposition.
Groves will justifiably point to the absence of Richard Hughes, whose knowledge and experience were sorely missed at the base of the diamond.
Hughes had been pivotal in vastly-improved showings at Portsmouth in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and in Cherries’ first league win of the season at Yeovil.
If points were awarded for possession, Cherries would have had this game won by half-time. The first half, however, would have caused more concern in the home dressing room than it did celebration in the visiting team’s.
Instantly forgettable, it could only be described as one of the most wretched and uneventful opening 45 minutes witnessed at the venue. For the record, the only handclapping was of the slow variety after referee Fred Graham had allowed the teams a drinks break.
Half-chances from Shaun MacDonald, Josh McQuoid and Harry Arter were barely worth mentioning, while a header over the crossbar from Wes Fogden was the closest either team came to breaking both the deadlock and the tedium.
Pools never looked likely to crack under the blandest of interrogation, while Cherries, who were booed off at the interval, were devoid of invention and imagination and bereft of attacking threat.
Groves said: “The players were edgy, they were frustrated at times and they got impatient. That gets transmitted from the fans, there is no doubt about it.
“Although we did not play with enough pace or tempo, it was 0-0 at half-time and there had been no chances against us.
“Whether it is expectation levels or whatever, there are a lot of young players and they won’t know how to cope with being booed or got at so that would have made it very difficult for them.”
Arter and Steve Cook were sacrificed nine minutes into the second half, with Marc Pugh and Charlie Daniels providing much needed width and balance. Their respective arrivals enlivened proceedings, as did the introduction of Tubbs after 67 minutes.
However, Cherries were forced to come from behind to rescue a point after Simon Walton’s 73rd- minute penalty had threatened to make a dark day even more dismal. Referee Graham pointed to the spot after deeming an innocuous challenge by MacDonald on Evan Horwood had merited the ultimate punishment.
Tubbs took centre stage just two minutes later when his glaring miss looked set to prove costly. Pouncing on the loose ball after Scott Flinders had saved smartly from Lewis Grabban, Tubbs, who was in touching distance of the line, somehow managed to head wide.
He atoned deep into stoppage-time when he beat Flinders with a composed finish after Miles Addison had supplied the assist.
“I was kicking myself after missing the first chance,” said Tubbs. “Opportunities like that don’t come around too often. But I know we will always create chances and so it proved.
“It is a striker’s dream to be |one-on-one with the keeper so close to goal and I was pleased to score.”
Groves added: “We know we can play better. You want to play with more pace and more tempo, especially at home.
“But we were in total control and they couldn’t get near our goal.
“One incident gave us a mountain to climb but the players kept going.”