Date: 17 March 2018
The pre-match hype about West Bromwich Albion’s poor run of form only served to make most Cherries’ fans nervous before the meeting of these two teams. Many feared we’d lose this match; my prediction was 1-1 and, if the match had ended at 85 minutes, I’d have been right and – dare one say – the result wouldn’t have been unfair.
Apart from Smith being chosen over Daniels as left-back, there were no surprises in Eddie’s team selection today. Both Fraser and Pugh had been subjected to late fitness tests and as a result had made the bench but not the starting line-up. Arter was nowhere to be seen. West Brom meanwhile started the brighter team, and won a corner within the first minute. Fortunately nothing came of it. We settled into a poor first half, in which we certainly didn’t look any better than our visitors – and that refers to both the team and the supporters! There were few of the flags that had been so much in evidence for the Spurs game, and our fans had reverted to being very quiet and allowing the visitors to out-sing them.
Arguably the biggest ‘event’ of the first half was a hamstring injury to Francis, that resulted in Smith switching from left- to right-back and Daniels coming on. Steve Cook took the armband. Our best scoring chance of the half would fall to Gosling – a header that would force a save from Foster. A couple of other chances came Stanislas’ way but one wrong-footed him while the other – a free kick – was quite well executed but missed. Smith was our best player in both positions where he was employed and, despite sustaining an injury late in the half, had done enough by then to merit my ‘man of the match’ accolade. My choices in previous matches – Ake and Lewis Cook – both made mistakes today, though the latter did get in a couple of good challenges. Late in the half Steve Cook attempted a clever bicycle kick, but his shot was blocked.
The start of the second half was again dominated by West Brom, like the start of the first. Smith was still trying to play on despite injury, perhaps because the only player on the bench with full back experience was the less than fit Fraser. Then four minutes into the half Rondon beat the shorter Ake to a header and nodded the ball down to Rodriguez who scored easily. The 0-1 score line was not unexpected, and West Brom’s fans increased the volume of their singing yet further. When Smith had to come off on 57 minutes (the second substitution forced by injury) Eddie decided to completely change the system and adopt a 3-4-3 with Mousset joining Wilson and King up front. The wingers weren’t wing backs; there were now no wing- nor full-backs; so this was a very attack-oriented system. Only time would tell whether the back three could hold out.
Fortunately that proved easier than expected, because WBA slowed the match down and seemed content with a one goal lead. Maybe this is one reason why they're at the foot of the table? If they’d gone for a second goal they may have put the match to bed, but instead they tried to waste time at every opportunity and just hold on. Nonetheless, we took a while to realise what they were doing; so when Defoe came on for Wilson – about a quarter of an hour before the end – we still didn’t change our system any further and we still weren’t playing particularly well.
And then a game-changing moment: Ibe and Stanislas swopped wings for no obvious reason, and almost immediately Ibe did something fans have been urging him to do for ages: he attempted a shot. He was in a deep position on Bournemouth’s left flank at the time, and his adventurous shot took everyone by surprise including – crucially – Foster. The sponsors promptly named him as the official man of the match, resulting in a lot of head-shaking amongst fans. It had been a good (and very important) goal but Ibe hadn’t had a great game otherwise. Ironically, the second Bournemouth goal would come from the other player who hadn’t had a great game today: on 86 minutes a Stanislas free kick went over the wall into the top corner of the net. We’d come back from 0-1 down and were now 2-1 up, but could we hold on? Five minutes’ time was added on (mainly for a suspected head injury to Ake that had turned out to be a false alarm) and we knew this would feel like an eternity. West Brom now gave it everything, and if it hadn’t been for a goal-line clearance from Daniels, they could still have nicked a point. But they didn’t. Relief all round and, although no-one dares say it out loud yet, we’re probably safe from relegation now.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (7), S Cook (7), Ake (7), Smith (8);
Ibe (6), L Cook (7), Gosling (6), Stanislas (6);
Wilson (7), King (7)
S Cook, Ake, Daniels;
Ibe, L Cook, Gosling, Stanislas;
Mousset, Defoe, King.