Date: 29 August 2015
This was always going to be a lively game as the Cherries (whose first and second eleven between them had scored eight goals in the previous week) took on the Premier League’s in-form side, Leicester City.
Pre-match speculation was about who out of Ritchie, Pugh, Gradel and King would be dropped for this game; but, in the event, despite King being injured, Pugh still found himself on the bench. Instead it was Lee Tomlin who made his first league start (and home debut) for the Cherries in the ‘number ten’ role. To be honest, it took him a while to settle into an otherwise fairly established side; but if it had been Eddie’s intention to substitute him on the hour mark any such plans went out of the window when all three substitutions were today ‘forced’, as a result of injuries during the game!
Before that, the game was played at a frenetic pace. There was so much pushing and shoving all around the park that the referee really needed eyes in the back of his head! None of it was dirty; it was just that both teams are high-spirited and like to go out, play football, and score goals. It was a tough game to referee but the man in charge roughly favoured the home side in the first half and the away side in the second. We dominated the first half, especially down our left wing where Daniels and Gradel seemed to be involved in almost everything that took place. Boruc had very little to do, but performed well whenever he was called into action. Our first home Premier League goal came in the first half from (who else?) Calum Wilson with a spectacular overhead ‘bicycle’ kick while he had his back to goal; and we went into the break 1-0 up.
But by now the first injury had already occurred: to Charlie Daniels, just before half time. He saw the first half out, but was replaced by Mings from the re-start. And this was when our luck really started to run out – because Mings only played for six minutes before himself getting injured and needing to be stretchered off to an ovation from the crowd. Alan Smith became our third left back in not much more than 50 minutes. And still there was to be a final blow: Gradel, up to this point our man-of–the-match, also got injured, and was replaced by Pugh. This meant that all three injuries had been to left-sided players; and in fact before the end of the match Pugh himself appeared to receive a knock, but by now we had no substitutions left! All of this meant that players like Wilson and Tomlin who started to tire had to see out the full ninety minutes. Thank goodness we have now two weeks (during the international break) for players to recover from their injuries or tiredness; for Arter to return from his longer-term injury; or maybe even for a few extra recruitments (permanent or on-loan) to be signed up, before we play again.
Even without our injuries, Leicester were looking dominant in the second half. On the few occasions players such as Ritchie or Tomlin had sight of goal, they invariably made an extra pass instead; Eddie needs to encourage players to shoot on sight more. Meanwhile Leicester pressed and pressed, and surely it would only be a matter of time before they’d equalise? In the event a mistake by O’Kane (who was having a relatively poor game, for him, already) in the middle of the park gifted the ball to Leicester’s Vardy; Cook then brought down Vardy in the area and the referee pointed to the spot. Vardy himself stepped up to take the penalty. Boruc jumped the right way (to his left) but was unable to save it. Someone had earlier commented that the two or three stewards in front of the away stand wouldn’t have a chance if there were a pitch invasion, and sure enough this was now put to the test! City fans surged forwards, many spilled onto the pitch, and several were escorted off the premises.
And most Cherries’ fans would have expected us to go behind in the remaining ten minutes of ‘normal’ time, especially when an extra eight minutes were added to that! So in the end our coach, players and fans were relieved to hang on to a 1-1 draw right up to the final whistle. Given the injuries received, and the quality of the opposition, this has to have been a very good – and certainly more than fair – outcome.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (7), Elphick (7), Cook (6), Daniels (7);
Ritchie (6), O'Kane (5), Surman (7), Gradel (8);