Date: 1 January 2018
The Cherries twice came from behind to grab a point on a cold, wet afternoon on the Sussex coast.
Cherries’ supporters arrived in reasonable spirits, their team having climbed from 18th to 13th in the Premier League just 48 hours earlier. And we were looking forward to the usually excellent ‘pie and pint’ deal in the stadium. So it was disappointing to encounter an unusually congested concourse, full of unhappy fans. It turned out that only two of the many servery counters were open today, and one of those had no food. So we had no option but to queue for as long as it took at the other one – because with a 12:30 kick-off, too early for a pub visit, lunch was exactly what everyone needed. Whilst queuing for my pie (which, in fairness, was a very tasty one, once I got it) the Sky TV screens were informing us that Daniels and Arter were deemed fit enough to start, but Ake and Gosling had been demoted to the bench, and the previous week’s match-winner – Fraser – was nowhere to be seen. (We decided his Hogmanay celebrations must be still in full swing!) All very worrying, especially when the screen also advised us that the Cherries have never won a Premier League match on a Monday – a statistic I can’t be bothered to verify!
Brighton started much more brightly than Bournemouth and were ahead within five minutes. Right in front of us we saw a Brighton player unable to shoot from their left hand side, but squaring it to Knockaert on the right who scored an excellent goal from a tight angle. 1-0 to Brighton. Gradually we came into the game, with Ibe doing a lot of running and taking all our corner kicks – although we also relied on Begovic for a few quality saves during this period. Ibe was playing probably his best game yet for us, but was still showing an apparent reluctance to shoot when in a good position; until suddenly – around the half hour mark – he did just that, to ironic cheers from the visiting supporters. His shot was blocked, but led directly to a corner which – unusually – Lewis Cook took. Cook Senior got a head to it, but his header was flicked out for a corner on the opposite flank. This one Ibe did take, and again Steve got a head to it, but this time found the back of the net via the underside of the bar. (Not that we knew who’d scored until the stadium announcer informed us.) 1-1, and so it remained till half time.
Some supporters risked the congested concourse again during the break – when it was evidently worse than ever. Those who weren’t back in their places within two minutes of the restart will have missed Murray’s goal. Francis gave the ball away in the first place, but from then on it was a near copy of the first Brighton goal in that when they couldn’t score from one side they simply squared the ball and tried from the opposite side. Murray had an easier angle to shoot from than Knockaert, plus the added advantage that Begovic was off his line. 2-1. So on the hour mark Eddie brought on Ake for Pugh – but this didn’t mean a switch to three at the back as one might have expected. Retaining the 4-4-2 system, Ake took Steve Cook’s place, Steve moved to where Francis had been, Francis moved to where Adam Smith had been; and Adam Smith made the dramatic switch from right back to left midfield! This was in fact a great improvement, Ake playing very well. But it does suggest that when Stanislas, Fraser and King are all unavailable we’re a little short of options on the wing.
The game now proceeded much like the first half, with Ibe very active and Begovic making some fine saves. Mousset replaced Afobe and Gosling replaced the not-yet-fit Arter in straight substitutions, and ten minutes from the end we finally equalised. Again it was from a corner (who said we never score from these?) and in a crowded goalmouth the ball moved from player to player until finally it (somewhat fortuitously?) trickled over the line from Wilson’s foot. It seemed to take an age crossing the line, the Boscombe fans behind the goal ‘sucking’ it in, and it will never be a contender for goal of the season (!), but they all count. 2-2, and so it would remain.
Brighton fans who, I must say, were very friendly to us today, felt dejected about the fact that they’d ‘given away’ two points – and from past experience we know they feel! But they were also kind enough to say that our two years’ longer experience at this level than theirs, really showed; and they’re convinced we’ll enjoy a fourth season in the Premier League. Which begs the question: if Brighton were able to draw a crowd of over 30,000 for today’s match, are our own new stadium plans too modest?
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
A Smith (7), Francis (7), S Cook (8), Daniels (6);
Ibe (8), L Cook (6), Arter (7), Pugh (6);
Afobe (6), Wilson (7)
Francis, S Cook, Ake, Daniels;
Ibe, L Cook, Gosling, A Smith;