Date: 4 March 2017
It’s a shame that in the long run this game will remembered for one first half incident between Ibrahimovic and Mings – and the subsequent suspensions of both players – rather than for the heroic second half battle in which ten men held back the tide of pressure from the mighty Manchester United on their own soil.
That we are playing league games at places like Old Trafford at all is something many Cherries’ supporters (myself included) still find it hard to take in. That we scored a goal there; that we won a point there; and that we did all this when for more than half the game we were ten men against eleven; makes the whole thing seem like nothing more than an unrealistic daydream. For me the whole occasion was rendered even more special by the fact that I’d missed the previous season’s encounter owing to a bomb scare; and that this year’s encounter came in the midst of a wonderful four day mini-holiday that incorporated visits to Manchester Cathedral and Hanging Bridge, the National Football Museum, the Lowry Centre, and Salford’s and Manchester’s art galleries.
At the start of the game the United team line-up looked as overwhelming as the City line-up for my previous Cherries’ match. As far as our line-up was concerned, Wilshere and Ibe had both been dropped to the bench – presumably because they weren’t 100% fit. (And they both remained there for the duration, despite the fact that we badly needed a replacement central midfielder after Surman was red-carded.) King and Afobe were up front in a 4-4-2. Manchester United dominated possession in the first half and attacked our goal relentlessly, while our defenders in general and Boruc in particular continually frustrated them. But eventually, after 20-odd minutes, United’s number 5 (Rojo) tried a different tactic: shooting from distance. Thus he scored a dramatic goal and we went 0-1 down.
And so it remained until, just five minutes before half time, Pugh was felled in the area. (Pugh had been involved in almost every Cherries’ attack in the first half and was on course to become my Man of the Match.) King stepped up and fired the penalty kick into the top left corner of the net. 1-1, and an historic goal in so many ways. But, shortly after this, everything went crazy when Ibrahimovic clearly elbowed Mings and – despite protests – the referee took no direct action. Unknown to us, Mings had trodden on Ibrahimovic moments earlier, so this was a revenge attack. Surman, who’d already been yellow carded for a questionable offence earlier in the match, now protested a bit too much for which he was given a second yellow card. At first the referee appeared not to realise that this was his second booking, hence adding up to a red. Once Surman left the pitch, Pugh immediately slotted into his former position (right of centre in central midfield, hardly his customary role) and King into Pugh’s former wide left berth; so we ended the half playing 4-4-1.
So naturally had they taken up these positions that I wondered if Eddie would retain the status quo for the second half, but no: Pugh came off, Wilshere stayed off, and it was Gosling who was deployed in Surman’s former role. But could ten men hold out for a point? Surely not? From now on Boruc, who’d famously given away a goal through a dreadful error at West Bromwich one week earlier, and who just this week had retired from international football for Poland, had the match of his life. He kept absolutely everything out, including the penalty Manchester United were awarded for a handball incident! United supporters had become more and more frustrated; none more so than Mourinho who, 20 minutes from the end, had made a triple substitution. And it was just a minute or so after the usual penalty taker, Rooney, had been substituted that Ibrahimovic, of all people, took the penalty. He shot low to his left, but Boruc palmed it out and Martial messed up the rebound. So the score remained 1-1.
Mings was clearly playing with an injury and twelve minutes from the end was replaced by Cargill, coming on for his Premier League debut. When we won a corner (taken by Fraser) Eddie kept most of our players back; quite reasonably, in my opinion, because we couldn’t risk United scoring on the break. Later still – perhaps to wind the clock down – Eddie replaced King with Gradel (remember him? We hadn’t even realised he was on the bench) and between them our heroic lads saw out five minutes of added time to gain a vital point in the battle against relegation. Some United supporters had already left early in disgust, but the rest left pretty quickly now. Meanwhile our fans remained, singing their hearts out, for at least ten more minutes. A memorable day indeed, and a memorable weekend.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
A Smith (7), S Cook (8), Mings (6), Daniels (8);
Fraser (8), Surman (6), Arter (7), Pugh (9);
King (8), Afobe (7)