Date: 20 March 2016
Having been unbeaten on the road in 2016 prior to this match, the Cherries were today given a thrashing by a far superior side. This was our worst performance since Arsenal (away), just before the end of 2015, which unfortunately I also had the privilege of witnessing first hand! These were similar matches, not just because the stadia are geographically close but also because we were thoroughly outclassed on both occasions.
Howe stuck with the somewhat attacking 4-4-1-1 that has been our recent system, though many fans wondered even before the game whether this was wise – especially as it meant bringing a clearly unfit Arter into a two-man midfield. In hindsight it seems the fans were right and Eddie was wrong this time. So out of our depth were we, that Spurs’ first attack led to a Walker cross and a goal – with just 44 seconds on the clock! Though I was in a good position behind the goal, I couldn’t be sure whether Kane had got a (close range) touch on it or not – until the stadium announcer informed us that the scorer was indeed Kane. And just quarter of an hour later, from a tighter angle, Alli fed Kane and he was now on a hat-trick. More to the point we were 0-2 down with an hour still to play...
Spurs had plenty more chances to score in the first half, as they totally dominated proceedings. We just weren’t in the game most of the time. A shot from Eriksen went into the side netting and a later shot from Alli actually found the net – but was ruled offside. Then, five minutes before half-time, what would prove to be our only good scoring chance of the entire game: a free kick from Gradel found Cook at the far post, but his header went over the bar (otherwise he’d have scored in three games in a row).
The unfit Arter and the totally ineffective (yet again!) Afobe were both substituted at half time. But we stuck with the attacking formation, although effectively we now had two holding midfielders (Surman and O’Kane); and, whereas King had been playing in the ‘hole’ behind Afobe, Grabban now played behind King. We looked somewhat better in the second half – partly as a result of these substitutions – but apart from being awarded a few corner kicks not much went our way. And less than ten minutes into the half Spurs scored again! Kane’s powerful shot was parried by Boruc – but only as far as Eriksen’s feet. So, unmarked, Eriksen scored easily. 3-0.
And that was the final score. We brought on Pugh for Gradel as a straight swap, but that didn’t make much difference. Subsequently Smith, O’Kane and King all looked tired but we’d made our full allocation of substitutions earlier than we’d have liked, so they had to play on. At least most of the players have a couple of weeks’ rest now. At the end, already dejected Cherries’ fans also found that it took a long time to get out of the ground from the upper stand that we’d been allocated. (Just our luck that we got a good view on a day when we’d have preferred not to!) We were left to reflect on poor tactics; a defence that couldn’t handle Kane et al; and a weak two-man midfield including an unfit player. Afobe's had a few poor matches in a row. Other players, such as Daniels and Smith, were off their game today too, their crosses into the area being particularly poor. For me, our ‘man of the match’ was King who not only adapted himself to two different positions (‘number 10’ and ‘number 9’) but was often to be seen helping out in defence. If it hadn’t been for him, and for the fact that Spurs certainly weren’t at their best either (making a number of mistakes themselves and shooting wildly at times), the damage could have been far greater.
If there was a redeeming feature it was the good banter between supporters. As at the end of last season when famously Sheffield Wednesday supporters at Watford sang ”AFC Bournemouth, they’re top of the league” so today Cherries' supporters sang “Leicester City, they’re top of the league.” The YouTube clip of this has since gone viral amongst Leicester supporters. But unfortunately when we changed the words very slightly to “Leicester City, they’re better than you” the home fans came back with “Aston Villa, they’re better than you!” Ouch.
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 (6), Daniels (5);
Ritchie (6), Surman (6), Arter (4), Gradel (6);