Date: 3 March 2018
A point against Leicester away from home was not only a result we would have been happy with before the game, but was also a very fair result on the day. Nonetheless, thanks to the timing of Leicester’s equaliser, it didn’t feel good at 5 o’clock!
Unusually, the pre-match speculation this week had nothing to do with what team would start or what system we’d adopt, and everything to do with the weather. Would the match be on at all? Could fans get there safely – and, more to the point, get home afterwards? In the event, for myself I’ve never known better journeys to and fro: my chosen trains both into and out of London, outward and return, booked long before the snow came, all ran right on time! The pub was as excellent as ever and the pitch was in perfect condition. Nonetheless some people did have difficult journeys, including one who told me they’d set off at 5:45 AM; and to reward such efforts it would have been wonderful if we could have played a good game and scored three points.
The team was announced and it transpired that Fraser and Defoe were on the bench while Ibe, Arter and Pugh were nowhere to be seen. We speculated that the system would be three centre-backs, with Smith and Daniels as full backs. Wrong! The moment the team lined up for the kick-off (in ‘home’ colours) it was transparent that we were playing 4-4-1-1. Smith was right midfield, King was in the ‘number 10’ position. Well Stanislas had the first golden opportunity to open the scoring when his weak shot was gathered by Schmeichel on ten minutes. Twelve or thirteen minutes after this, King had an even better opportunity to score, but what he produced seemed to be neither a shot nor a pass – going well wide of the target. Stanislas then missed with another shot, followed by King with a very tame shot. It wasn’t all about shots: clearly there were good moves taking place to create these scoring opportunities in the first place, and Lewis Cook was at the heart of most of them. But always the last man was Stanislas or King, and every such opportunity to score was wasted. Meanwhile Leicester had chances of their own, but they didn’t really look like the home team. Begovic was able to stop or parry every one of their shots quite easily without ever needing to produce a world-class save. (His poor performance a week earlier was now a distant memory.)
But the key moment in the half came in the 34th minute when Wilson was brought down in the area, away fans called for a penalty, the referee ordered play on, but King was then fouled and the penalty was given. Arguably, either incident merited a penalty – though it appeared to have been given for the second one. King therefore stepped up to take it. As he wasn’t having his best of games I confess to feeling nervous about this – I’d rather have seen Charlie Daniels stepping up – but in the event it was a good penalty, sending Schmeichel the wrong way. 1-0 to us. And we rode the pressure of Leicester attacks for the rest of this half.
The second half was relatively poor from a Bournemouth point of view. We conceded so many corners that I lost count (fortunately Begovic continued to play well); and after so many shots on target in the first half I’m not sure we had any at all in the second. So our best chance to get that much needed cushion of a second goal came when Daniels was shoved off the ball in the penalty area – right in front of us away fans so we could hardly miss it. But the penalty wasn’t given.
With roughly quarter of an hour (including injury time) left on the clock we were struggling to maintain our lead, and Eddie hadn’t yet made any substitutions. He now brought on Surman (who hadn’t played for weeks) for Wilson, switching to a 4-1-4-1 with Surman protecting the back four and King leading the line. Surman’s first touch of the ball was one of his famous back-passes; he hasn’t learned! Ten nervy minutes passed. At ninety minutes on the clock, as we whistled for full time, the fourth official indicated four added minutes. Oh dear. Eddie brought on Mousset for King. As we reached the seventh minute of the four (!), Leicester were awarded a free kick in a dangerous area. Surman, Francis and Daniels made up the wall but Mahrez managed to shoot around it – into the bottom corner of the net. I particularly felt for Begovic, who’d had a great game and who dived the right way for this but couldn’t reach it. I can’t claim the stadium then erupted with noise, because large numbers of home fans had left ten or more minutes earlier – but it’s certainly true to say that we fell silent. And the referee blew his whistle for full time. A disappointing way for the game to end; but in fairness more often than not this season it’s been our opposition who’ve suffered this fate, rather than we ourselves.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (6), S Cook (7), Ake (8), Daniels (7);
Smith (7), Gosling (7), L Cook (9), Stanislas (5);
Francis, S Cook, Ake, Daniels;
Smith, Gosling, L Cook, Stanislas;