Date: 20 December 2017
After the debacle against Liverpool last weekend (which I missed because it was staged at the very time on the third Sunday of Advent when every church holds its carol service!) I wondered just how bad Bournemouth could be. So I was pleasantly surprised by tonight’s performance. A team that can show this much skill and passion need have no fear of relegation.
I was optimistic as soon as I saw the team selection. Some injuries, of course, had forced Eddie’s hand, (notably the absence of both out-and-out left backs and of Stanislas on the wing,) but we always seem to play better with three centre-backs and three central midfielders, so I was pleased to see that we were adopting this system again. Perhaps a bigger surprise was having twin strikers rather than a ‘number nine’ and a ‘number ten’, which combined with everything else meant that we played a surprisingly high line for an away match. One effect of this was that the game was taking place a long way away from us for much of the first half. Our seats were in “row 2” which turns out to be the front row at Chelsea (don’t ask!) and is actually below pitch level. I’ve never been so grateful for the big screen in a stadium which, tonight, often gave me a much clearer picture of what was occurring than anything I could see in front of me!
It was a compliment to Boscombe that Conte chose not only a strong starting line-up (Cahill, Fabregas, Willian…) but an even stronger bench (Hazard, Morata…). Although much of the first 45 minutes was played in Chelsea’s half, the home side bossed the first quarter of an hour or so. On thirteen minutes the Bournemouth defence opened up to allow Fabregas on Chelsea’s left to square to Willian who shot into an empty net. And it was to be a bad few minutes for Bournemouth: Defoe, who’d already spent some time lying on the ground earlier in the game, had to come off three minutes after Chelsea’s goal. The most obvious substitute, Wilson, was still recovering from injury himself and Eddie obviously felt this was too early in the game to bring him on – so on came Ibe, into an unfamiliar striking role. (We continued to employ twin strikers but Mousset now moved from the left to the right while Ibe took up Mousset’s former berth on the left.) We came into the game more and more as the half wore on and if only Ibe’s shooting were a little more accurate we might have taken the lead on several occasions. But by half time the biggest concern was that Arter looked injured and surely wouldn’t start the second half?
But he did! And, unlike other games I’ve seen recently, we played even better in the second half than in the first – and really dominated the game. Chelsea’s goal was now right in front of us, of course, so every time Cherries’ players came bearing down upon it, we had a great view. Fraser was playing his socks off, and involved in everything. Simpson was getting forward a lot too, whilst remaining reliable in defence. (It’s interesting how much, despite his youth, the other players trust Jack. Steve Cook passed to him more often than to anyone else.) We won numerous corners (the final statistic would be eight to us and none to Chelsea), all of which – on either side – Fraser took. They were the kind of long corners fans always prefer, but unfortunately they were all identical – hence identically unsuccessful – meaning that they didn’t give us the advantage they should have done. But Conte was sufficiently concerned by our domination of the game to bring on both Hazard and Morata (who’ll be suspended at the weekend – but it would turn out to be a shame from our point of view that he wasn’t suspended already!). Eddie brought on Wilson (who looked good, and fit again) and Lewis Cook. And the match continued in the same vein until four minutes of added time appeared on the board – mainly for injuries to Arter, I’d imagine.
We won a throw-in in a dangerous position, so Steve Cook – our long throw specialist – was employed to see what he could do. Amazingly, in front of our very noses, we witnessed Ibe squaring the resultant ball to Gosling, who scored! Manic scenes of players celebrating right in front of us. We’d surely given ourselves, at least, half an hour of extra time?
But Boscombe fans were still celebrating when Chelsea substitutes Hazard and Morata took the ball to the other end of the pitch and scored. Disaster! We’d been at 1-1 for literally only seconds. And now, surely, it was too late to come back again? Well we won another throw in almost exactly in the place (on Bournemouth’s right) from which our first goal had been scored. Cook took the throw again, and it was a good one, but no goal resulted this time around. And still there was time for one more corner kick – on Bournemouth’s left – which Boruc came up for: so keen were the players to get Boscombe into a major cup semi-final for the first time in our history. But nothing came of it, Boruc made his way back down the pitch, and time was up. 2-1. Chelsea hadn’t won this match as easily as they’d have expected to; and if we can play like this against West Ham, Brighton or Wigan in the days to come, I may yet get to see a Bournemouth win this season!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
A Smith (6), Francis (7), S Cook (7), Simpson (8), Fraser (9);
Surman (6), Arter (8), Gosling (7);
Defoe (7), Mousset (6)