Date: 21 January 2017
As these two teams so often do when they meet, Watford and the Cherries recorded yet another draw today. The game will have been exciting for any ‘neutrals’, with Watford twice going ahead and Bournemouth twice equalising.
Eddie decided to go for a more attacking system than of late, with Afobe dropped but both Wilson and King up front. (The thinking was probably that this was a winnable home game and a mid-table ‘six-pointer’.) But in some ways this was a brave decision: ditching the now familiar ‘4-2-3-1’ meant that Wilshere had to drop into a deeper midfield role. Meanwhile the absence of Francis through suspension meant that Surman – captain for the day – had to play, and took up the other central midfield position. So Arter and Gosling, both in my opinion better choices than Surman, dropped to the bench and remained there for the duration.
We played very poorly first half. And we gave away yet another goal from a set piece: Watford had been awarded a corner in the 23rd minute and the cross bounced off three heads before going in. 0-1. And for the rest of the half we played even worse; particular issues being the poor distribution on the parts of Smith, Mings, Stanislas and Surman, and the tendency of all our players to pass backwards within their own half when they should have been looking for a way forward.
So it was 0-1 at the break. But the start of the second half was a totally different game. The Cherries were lively and attacking from the off – and were rewarded within two minutes when a Smith cross from the right found King unmarked at the back post, and he tapped it in. The score remained 1-1 for a quarter of an hour, and the Cherries remained on top as far as play was concerned, until against the run of play Watford won another corner – and scored off another header! Now losing 1-2, Eddie made some changes, bringing on Ibe and Afobe, both of whom looked lively. But he stuck with (a now even flatter) 4-4-2 so there was still no place for Gosling nor Arter. Sure enough it was super-sub Afobe who scored the final goal of the game within the final ten minutes. A Watford player was prostrate and Watford fans were jeering, but play continued and a wonderful pass from Surman on Boscombe’s left (arguably his only one of the match!) whizzed straight past the player on the floor. Afobe met the pass and fired home.
One of the most notable (and memorable) features of this match was that the away fans out-sang the home crowd throughout. There were attempts, of course, to remind us of the 6-1 thrashing we’d endured at Vicarage Road in Championship days; and the inevitable taunts about our small stadium. But there were also chants directed at the local police (who were admittedly being over-fussy and filming the fans in an obtrusive manner), basically telling them where they could stick their cameras! And on a more serious, and poignant, note there were chants about “only one Graham Taylor” and a minute’s applause in the 73rd minute (Taylor having died in his 73rd year) in which a number of Cherries’ fans sportingly joined.
I’ve mentioned Eddie’s team selection – and the probable reasoning underlying it – but was there anything else he could have done to achieve a better result today? The only questionable decision, I think, was that he selected some quite short players while Watford’s squad are all very big guys! But having said that, my Man of the Match was our shortest guy of all – the “wee man” – and he won more headers than anyone else on our side on the day. So maybe Eddie knew what he was doing after all!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
A Smith (5), S Cook (7), Mings (5), Daniels (7);
Stanislas (5), Surman (5), Wilshere (7), Fraser (8);
C Wilson (5)
A Smith, S Cook, Mings, Daniels;
Ibe, Surman, Wilshere, Pugh;
C Wilson, Afobe.