Date: 19 September 2015
Today I got the chance to witness two more landmarks in the history of AFC Bournemouth: our first home win, and first clean sheet, in the Premier League.
The big news pre-match was that Tommy Elphick was injured so Distin would be making his first league start for us (and what a great game he had). No sign of Cargill, though: the reserve defenders were Bennett and Smith. As soon as the teams lined up it became clear that Distin would take the left-side berth in central defence with Cook switching to an unfamiliar right-side position. Interestingly Surman also switched from left to right in central midfield, so that he still lined up in front of Cook. Gosling returned in place of O’Kane, who’s had several poor games in a row, but there was still no place – even on the bench – for MacDonald. Tomlin retained the ‘number 10’ role, thus denying a starting place to either Kermorgant or – more significantly – Murray. Both Gosling and Tomlin would have better games than of late, but they do need sometimes to shoot rather than making an extra, wasteful, pass when they’re in sight of goal themselves. But the most welcome sight was the return of both Daniels (from injury) and Pugh (from exile) on the left.
And it was the Daniels/Pugh partnership that set the game alight from the kick-off. In the first half, I (basking in the unseasonal heat in row ‘E’ of the East Stand) was able to witness their excellent teamwork from close hand. They were controlling the match between them within the first five minutes, making it all the more surprising that our first goal – when it came – came from the right wing! Gosling fed Wilson on the edge of the box, and he turned and scored. 1-0 with less than five minutes on the clock!
And within another five minutes it was 2-0, though many fans must have missed the second goal at the time because they were looking in the wrong place! There were disturbances among the away fans, some of whom were being escorted out of the ground, and a Bournemouth corner kick went in from the corner right in front of them. Ritchie wasn’t in the box; he was 25 yards out. But he received the ball, chested it, and then somehow slammed it through the narrow gap between a host of players into the back of the net. Only the reactions of fans behind the goal, and Ritchie’s own behaviour as he ran in triumph towards the Main Stand, confirmed that he had in fact scored. Most of us would have to wait to see it later on TV to realise what a spectacular strike it had been! And effectively this was a third landmark witnessed today: Matt’s first Premier League goal.
I know AFC Bournemouth (and Eddie’s tactics!) too well to have suspected that we would now go on to win by a very high score. Indeed at this point I would have predicted 2-1, with a very tense final half hour! Fortunately it didn’t come to that. Sunderland did come back into the match somewhat. Jermain Defoe was one-on-one with Boruc late in the first half, but his shot was saved. A Sunderland header found the back of the net very early in the second half, but it was ruled offside. And only then did Sunderland start to fade away, disillusioned. On 64 minutes Tomlin was replaced: not by Murray or Kermorgant, as we may have wished, but surprisingly by O’Kane. It was like-for-like; O’Kane occupied the ‘number 10’ berth for the rest of the match, but his distribution was as poor as ever. Jermain Defoe went off soon after this, and received a standing ovation from Cherries’ fans (many in the North Stand having already been singing “We had Jermain Defoe, he scored ten in a row” – showing what long memories some people have!).
Another chance for us to add to the scoreline appeared to come when Sunderland’s Kaboul received a second yellow card and was sent off. Murray readied himself to come on, but still we weren’t going to see him and Wilson together, because it was indeed Wilson who made way. Wilson was my Man of the Match today, not just for his goal (he remains one of the Premier League’s top scorers) but also for his ceaseless involvement in the game, frequently going wide (usually to the right) to collect the ball and then holding it up till reinforcements arrived. Meanwhile Sunderland continued to press, as well as they could with ten men, but they were tiring now in the heat – as were we. Despite shots from Pugh and Ritchie the score remained at 2-0. One of our goal scorers – Wilson – having already been substituted, on 89 minutes the other – Ritchie – went off. Smith, who’s played some part in virtually every game of late, saw out the last few minutes on the right wing. At the final whistle, the team was applauded for a memorable victory, and Eddie’s name rang around the ground because once again he’d got both the team selection and the tactics exactly right.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (8), Cook (7), Distin (8), Daniels (8);
Ritchie (8), Surman (7), Gosling (8), Pugh (8);