Date: 20 February 2016
I confessed to divided loyalties before this match, as I had Everton’s Barkley and Lukaku in my fantasy league team. But even I couldn’t have anticipated that they‘d turn out to be the (only) two goal-scorers in the game!
There was some confusion before the game as to when the kick-off was, one website having claimed it had been put back from 5:15 to 5:30. Trusting in that, many fans sauntered up at about 5 as though they had all the time in the world. Some were queuing at the ticket office, maybe for future games but possibly for this one – as it wasn’t a sell-out (poor recent results at home, combined with live coverage on the BBC, had ensured that) despite the entire Ted MacDougall stand having been allocated to away fans. So when I got to my seat at 5:05 and the matchday announcer said “it’s just ten minutes to kick-off” I and many others were pleasantly surprised! I was then able to witness something I’d not seen before (as I’ve not attended an evening match since the new lights were installed): our floodlights flashing on and off disco-style in time with the music!
It was obvious from the team line-ups that this match was more important to Everton than to us. I guess if you’re expecting to end up mid-table, the FA Cup becomes your best chance to achieve something in the season; so Everton named an unchanged side. But we rested several players (Cook, Arter, Surman, Afobe) entirely – while moving Boruc to the bench. This couldn’t be justified in terms of fixture congestion – because we had no match for seven days before or after this one – so it had to be simply a case of avoiding injuries. The team lined up, however, in what has become the standard set-up for the first team: 4-1-4-1, with King in what is usually Afobe’s position and O’Kane in Surman’s ‘holding’ position. (O’Kane didn’t look great here; most of his passes were to our back four.)
We held our own in the first half, though Everton looked stronger and more likely to score. The half was almost over when a clear handball in the area gifted us an undisputed penalty. Daniels struck this well enough, but there was plenty of time for the Everton goalie to see which way it was going (Daniels is a left-footer, so it was predictable anyway) and punch the ball away. We had an even better chance to score, though, on the rebound – but unfortunately Francis and Iturbe went for the same ball (and two other Bournemouth players got in the way too) and Francis’ shot ended up going over the bar. This was a dreadful wasted opportunity. Everton’s players and fans celebrated as though they’d just won the match rather than saving a penalty. And in a sense they had, as it no longer seemed likely that this game was going to go our way.
From the start of the second half, though the score remained 0-0 Everton looked by far the better team. The very breezy weather conditions seemed to affect us more than them. Ten minutes in, Lukaku got himself in a good position and asked for a ball from Everton’s left; but instead it was passed to Barkley, whose looping shot deflected off Gosling and somewhat luckily went into the net beyond Federici. Ritchie was brought on for MacDonald (Stanislas moving to a more central position) and subsequently Murray came on and initially took the Everton team by surprise – winning us a corner within seconds. The corner kick (on Bournemouth’s right) sailed across the area but somehow Stanislas rescued the ball and passed it back into the centre, where Gosling could only head it straight at the keeper. This was our best scoring opportunity since just after the penalty in the first half, and would turn out to be our last.
It was from an Everton corner on their right, in the 76th minute, that the deciding goal came. Time stopped whilst everyone in the area hesitated, as though no-one wanted the ball, but then Lukaku stepped forward and put the result beyond doubt. There was some appalling time-wasting by the Everton goalie in the later stages of the game, but we can hardly claim this affected the result! My club were out of the cup anyway; and surely we hadn’t even learned anything from this match? But at least my fantasy team had scored a few points!
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), Distin (8), Daniels (7);
Iturbe (8), MacDonald (7), Gosling (7), Stanislas (7);
Francis, Elphick, Distin, Daniels;
Ritchie, O'Kane, Stanislas;
Smith, Murray, King.