The Monday verdict: Wanderers 2 Bournemouth 2
IT finished off Gary Megson, got Owen Coyle in the end and now the Reebok fear factor is stalking Dougie Freedman with menacing intent.
Successive managers have struggled to make Wanderers feel comfortable at home, each reaching the same conclusion – that there is something lacking in the mentality of their players when the going gets tough.
Megson blustered through with physical football until the supporters just couldn’t take anymore and it came to a head with just one substitution in a game against Hull.
Coyle went about things the only way he knew how, all out attack, but ended up being jeered by the same fans who used to sing his name.
The warning signs are there for Freedman, and yet his plan of action seems far less defined on the pitch.
At two goals up against Bournemouth it all seemed so simple but that euphoric feeling, so rare at the Reebok these days, lasted all of 60 seconds before Freedman’s former boot boy, Lewis Grabban, scored with a thunderbolt that set the nerves jangling.
At 2-1 up there was no need to panic, and yet every person in the stadium could see which way the game was heading.
That Bournemouth did not go on and score a third was the only surprising aspect of a depressingly familiar script. Freedman could be forgiven for thinking he was on to a loser from the start as a printing error in the official team-sheet listed him as “acting manager” and provoked a pre-match inquest in the press room.
It proved to be a genuine error but nevertheless the incident served to undermine a position that already looks far from stable.
The locals are restless and while most right-minded fans appreciate the constrictive financial lines the club are currently treading, making the job that bit harder than it had been in the past, a majority now feel a fresh voice is needed before Wanderers slip any closer to League One football next season.
Freedman spoke of some players still bearing scars of several seasons of struggle and that can also be applied to the people who continue to back the team from the terraces.
They are desperate to have something to cheer about but they are being drawn into another destructive battle against the manager, the chairman, their own club. Some of the decisions being made by Freedman are giving the fans ammunition too, such as the second-half substitution of Mark Davies for the more defensive Medo Kamara, which summed up the air of uncertainty despite holding the lead.
Players who really could give the fans something to get excited about – Andre Moritz, Rob Hall, any number of youngsters waiting in the wings – continue to feel criminally under-used.
Freedman has persisted with the players he bawled out so publically after the 7-1 hammering at Reading and may now be reaping what he sowed that day with regards to a crisis of confidence.
Other actions are equally difficult to explain. After declaring he “had to show confidence” in goalkeeper Andy Lonergan, he was dropped unceremoniously from the side in favour of Adam Bogdan. The Hungarian was one of Wanderers’ best players on the day – but the mixed message does not necessarily make for a happy camp.
The Scot’s situation is not necessarily irretrievable and a result against local rivals Burnley tomorrow night could make everyone feel that bit easier.
More football like we saw in the opening 30 minutes against Bournemouth would help as well – Wanderers purred in the early stages with Davies and Chung-Yong Lee buzzing round like their former Premier League personas.
It was the Korean who seized on a wonderful reversed pass from Davies to open the scoring 20 minutes in, with what was his first goal since January last year.
Just as they had at the Goldsands Stadium in November, Bournemouth passed the ball for fun but looked slightly toothless up front.
Bogdan made one fine save to halt Grabban in his tracks as he raced in on goal, while Andrew Surman also fluffed a simple chance close in.
When Lukas Jutkiewicz made it two on the half-hour mark, however, all the frustrations seemed to melt away.
The on-loan Middlesbrough striker worked hard all day but in picking a fine pass from Zat Knight out of the air with his chest and dinking a lovely volley over the head of the stranded Lee Camp, he showed he has a little more in his locker than simple endeavour.
All that joy quickly turned to concern when Grabban hit an unstoppable effort into the top corner from 25 yards less than two minutes later.
Wanderers had stopped after Harry Arter went down with a head injury, granting the Cherries striker time and space to line up a shot.
Arter looked in trouble for a moment as the stretcher was quickly called but he got up to see the game out as one of its more influential figures.
All of a sudden each misplaced pass was greeted by an exasperated sigh from the crowd, each clearance out of defence became that much more panicked.
Chris Eagles missed a couple of half-chances to score a third goal in the second half, but once the order had gone out for Medo to replace Davies, it seemed that Wanderers had declared.
Bournemouth took that as encouragement and after Marc Pugh had headed Ian Harte’s corner on to the base of the post, the Cherries got the equaliser their pressure had deserved.
Another Harte corner was flicked at the near post by right-back Simon Francis and somehow managed to squeeze between two players and the goalkeeper on the line.
Had it not been for Bogdan, it would have been a lot worse.
His saves to deny subs Yann Kermorgant and Tokelo Rantie warranted his inclusion in the side – but the fact he hasn’t been on the winning side at the Reebok since April 20 last year tells you just how bad things have got.
Fans made their displeasure known against Freedman, against Phil Gartside and against another frustrating home draw, the ninth of the campaign.
That those jeers and chants have become so recognisable these last few years tells you everything.
Home ceased being sweet for Wanderers a long time ago.