Date: 10 September 2016
For me, two consecutive home matches have now been against West Brom. But I have to agree with Eddie: the team has certainly upped its game between those two matches.
Indeed this was ultimately a very satisfactory day, because sometimes one goal can make all the difference. Callum’s goal today was sufficient to put us up to 14th in the table – ahead of both West Ham and Southampton. (Some supporters were singing “The south coast is ours” at the end!)
The damp, breezy conditions that greeted me at Bournemouth Central Station were very welcome after a hot, muggy week. Sun was forecast for 3 PM, so the floodlights were left off. But they were hastily switched on when the sun had failed to come out on time (it was actually only a few minutes late). There had been so much pre-match speculation about team selection – was King injured, would Surman or Arter be dropped in favour of Wilshere, etc. – that it was a surprise when Eddie picked an almost identical team from the West Ham game: just Stanislas for Fraser. Fraser, Grabban, Lewis Cook and Pugh hadn’t even made the bench; neither had some of our promising youngsters; but Wilshere was there. And what effect would his presence have on the two players whose positions were evidently threatened by his arrival? Well, opposites! Harry played his best game in some time; Andrew his worst! Harry was spraying perfect passes left, right and centre; most of Andrew’s passes missed their target! The other player who wasn’t up to his recent form was Boruc, whose goal kicks left a bit to be desired. It’s fortunate that on an ‘off day’ his goalkeeping skills weren’t too severely tested. But then players you’d have expected to be poor – Stanislas and Ibe on the two flanks – had cracking games, working the wings well and putting in some expert crosses. They were also involved in several of the (eight!) corners we were awarded in the first half; they rang the changes with how the kicks were taken and on another day some of them may have come off.
After such a lively first half performance it was disappointing – if not frustrating – to go into the break on 0-0. We’d had 68% of possession and three shots on goal. But then, WBA had had two, and what crackers they were! The first, that sailed over the bar, was greeted by ironic cries of “We’ve had a shot!” from the away supporters; the second, from Berahino, was thankfully tipped over by Boruc on the very stroke of half-time. The main talking points during the break were that last minute near miss by West Brom; and their goalkeeper, who’d been told off by the referee for time wasting with every single goal kick since the start of the match, but never penalised.
The second half began more promisingly for WBA than for the Cherries. Now it was their turn to dominate and ours to rely on the occasional break. By the hour mark Eddie had seen enough of this and made the much-anticipated substitution. On came Jack Wilshere; and it was unfortunate that Ibe (who was having his best game yet in a Bournemouth shirt) had to be the player to go off, but basically he’s a wide player and we were now switching to a narrower 4-2-3-1 system. The ‘three’ were Wilshere in the centre flanked by King (right) and Stanislas (left). Wilshere was immediately involved, and when not physically so he was at least ‘reading’ the game and pointing out what needed doing. Once, quite early on, he even had sight of goal but unselfishly passed rather than shooting. (Ibe had done something similar in the first half, so this appears to be a Bournemouth foible Wilshere’s already picked up! Indeed throughout the match there was evidence that we’re still a little over-elaborate in our play in the final third, rather than just shooting on sight sometimes.)
But the breakthrough didn’t come until Eddie, on about 75 minutes, made his two final substitutions, and we now switched to a third system (4-3-3) in the same game. I’m not complaining about this, as we’d clearly practised all three approaches thoroughly and this variation in play certainly confused the opposition. So Gosling now joined Surman and Arter in midfield, while Wilshere and Gradel flanked Wilson up front. Yet it was to be two players who’d been involved from the start who would provide the vital assist and subsequent goal. Smith, free on the right, put in a cross that Wilson cheekily back-heeled into the net. It was good to see Wilson back on the scoresheet after a year off, and to watch his relieved celebrations. The clock showed eighty minutes, so we had ten (plus injury time) to hold on; could we do it? The familiar routine of playing into the corner was now done to death, and WBA fans started singing “Your football is sh*t”. At first we thought they were addressing us, but it became clear that they weren’t when they reached the third line of the song: “Tony Pulis, your football is sh*t!” And at the final whistle, with the score still thankfully (from our point of view) at 1-0, their chant turned into an angry “Pulis out!”
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
A Smith (9), Francis (7), S Cook (7), Daniels (7);
Ibe (8), Surman (6), Arter (8), Stanislas (8);
C Wilson (7), King (7)
A Smith, Francis, S Cook, Daniels;
Gosling, Surman, Arter;
Wilshere, C Wilson, Gradel.