Date: 12 March 2016
This would have been a great game for neutrals (which is probably why it was first up on Match of the Day!) as the two sides took it in turns to score in a five-goal thriller. Not that there seemed to be any neutrals in the stadium! And Swansea fans will have been disappointed that their team played so well but came away with nothing.
There were no surprises in Boscombe’s starting line-up once it was clear that Arter wasn’t even fit enough for the substitutes’ bench. Murray wasn’t on the bench either – Grabban evidently being ahead of him in the pecking order now – but Iturbe was back. Both teams started lively – Swansea obviously having been briefed to play a fast Boscombe-style game – but the Cherries would have three great scoring chances in the first quarter-hour. For the first and second, balls from Gradel found King, and on both occasions his shot went over the bar. The third chance was a wild shot from distance by Ritchie, that was so far off target that it was jeered by the away fans. Ten out of ten for endeavour though! There was also a free kick that Surman took: a well-worked set piece that unfortunately hit the post when it would otherwise have been unstoppable. Swansea had some goal-scoring chances too, but the deadlock was broken by those same two guys – King and Gradel – in the 37th minute. A King shot was pushed away by Swansea goalie Fabianski, but fell to Gradel who didn’t hesitate to shoot from Boscombe’s left. 1-0, and the cue for Gradel to run all the way from the southeast corner of the ground to the technical area to hug Howe!
But Bournemouth’s lead lasted no more than two minutes before Swansea star Mo Barrow, who’d been outrunning Charlie Daniels for nearly forty minutes, shot through a thicket of players to make the half-time score 1-1.
O’Kane was brought on for Gosling at the start of the second half (perhaps because Gosling was already on a yellow card?) and this meant a change of system with two holding midfielders. But the same two players can take the credit for Bournemouth’s second goal as for the first: Gradel fed King, who slammed the ball into the net at a tight angle from Bournemouth’s right. And this time the lead would last twelve minutes before that man Barrow was again involved, crossing to another great Swansea player – Sigurdsson – whose shot gave Boruc no chance at all. 2-2, mirroring the final score I’d witnessed at Swansea in November.
Afobe hadn’t had a good game, perhaps because he’d been asked to play behind King rather than in front of him. He was replaced by Grabban, who immediately looked livelier. But it was our third substitution that would lead to the goal: though Gradel had played brilliantly he was visibly tiring and was replaced by Pugh. Bournemouth won a corner on the left, which Pugh took – and I was still cursing the fact that he’d played it short to Ritchie when Ritchie put in the perfect cross for Cook to rise above everyone else and head the ball home! It’s interesting, because a fantasy football website, this very morning, recommended Cook as one of the top ten players (in terms of points per pound spent) in the Premier League this season to date. Anyone who brought him into their fantasy team today will have been thrilled with his goal (though not with the two he conceded!).
For the rest of the match Bournemouth fans were in full voice, chanting “England, England” of course (though in fairness the Swansea fans’ renditions of “Men of Harlech” and “Land of my Fathers” were the most tuneful singing you’ll ever experience at a football stadium). Then the news started to filter through that elsewhere England were beating Wales at rugby; so the singing turned to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” – and now even the stewards were singing! As the clock was run down, King started to look very tired; but unfortunately all three allowable substitutions had been made, so he just had to struggle on until the final whistle. Both today’s teams deserve to stay in the Premier League on the basis of this afternoon’s match, and hopefully both will; but today all the points went to the Cherries!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Smith (6), Francis (7), Cook (7), Daniels (6);
Ritchie (8), Gosling (7), Surman (7), Gradel (8);
King (8), Afobe (6)