Date: 27 February 2016
Before this game we’d have been grateful for a draw, especially as this meant gaining an advantage over some of our rivals for relegation, but in the end we probably had the (slight) edge overall and felt we deserved more than one point.
On a bitterly cold day, fans kept themselves cheerful before and during this match with some good banter (“Champions!” of course; and “Did you cry when Wednesday scored?”). The teams came out, and many fans were concerned about the return of Francis and Cook as the centre-back pairing – leaving out both Elphick and Distin – both how wrong could we be? Cook ended up having a great game keeping out Deeney and Ighalo. We were much happier to see King in for Gosling (compared with the previous league game), as this would mean a more attacking line-up, but in the event we were proved wrong about this too: the team actually looked better when Gosling came on for Afobe in the second half!
Deeney and Ighalo, who’ve set the league alight with their goals this season, both seemed off-form. Even when they got past Francis and Cook, their shooting today was on the wild side! Boruc had little to do except catch crosses – which he did well – but apart from that probably only had to make one significant save all afternoon.
About a month ago Gradel had announced on social media that he’d be back for the Watford match – but no-one believed him, and Howe during the week appeared to expressly deny it. But in the event Gradel was on the bench, and when Stanislas pulled up with a hamstring injury after only about twenty minutes, fans started singing his name. I didn’t think Eddie would bring him on so early, as he hadn’t even played a reserve match, so I fully expected Iturbe to come on. But – whether or not in response to the fans I don’t know – Gradel was sent on and proceeded to play nearly seventy minutes. Of course he wasn’t back to his very best, but he certainly bothered the Watford defenders (who presumably hadn’t been prepared for him) quite a lot, and reminded us what we’ve been missing.
Gradel’s arrival turned out to be the only talking point of a goalless first half. Smith sustained an injury a minute before half time, but was fully recovered by the start of the second period. And then Bournemouth had their best spell of the game so far. Between the 50th and 55th minutes a Ritchie cross found King, whose shot went over the bar; and then a Gradel shot went likewise. But we could have gone two up in quick succession. Our next golden opportunity to score, on the hour mark, was a powerful shot by Arter from distance (Arter was having a great game already, all his passes finding their intended recipient) which was ON target; but spectacularly Watford’s keeper, Gomes, got a fingertip to it. From the ensuing Ritchie corner, there were claims of handball against a Watford player in the penalty area, but the officials weren’t interested.
As already stated, we looked in better shape after Afobe (who never could work out his relationship with King) had gone off, leaving us with one clear target man, and Gosling had taken up the ‘number 10’ position. Indeed arguably the best scoring chance of the match fell to Gosling when Deeney failed to clear a ball and it surprised Gosling by landing at his feet. But unfortunately his connection with it was weak, and his ‘shot’ was easily saved by Gomes. Ritchie and King had latish chances to score too; but it wasn’t to be. So that was that: 0-0. But a more exciting game (especially second half) than the scoreline might imply. And a much bigger disappointment to the home fans (many of whom left early) than to the away ones.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Smith (7), Francis (8), Cook (8), Daniels (7);
Ritchie (7), Arter (9), Surman (7), Stanislas (7);
King (7), Afobe (6)
Smith, Francis, Cook, Daniels;
King, Arter, Surman, Gradel;