Date: 31 March 2018
Very late goals in both halves of the game gave Bournemouth an equal share of the spoils today, though Watford may justifiably feel aggrieved and believe they deserved more.
Knowing that both Adam Smith and Francis were unavailable, pre-match speculation revolved around whether Eddie would deploy a back three. A back three could of course have consisted of Steve Cook, Ake and Daniels (as indeed it did, late in the game); or Steve Cook, Ake and Simpson, with Fraser and Daniels as wing-backs. But Eddie decided to start with a back four – Fraser at full-back – and include both Simpson and Brad Smith on the bench, meaning there was no room there for Mousset.
The entire first ten minutes of the match was played in Watford’s half, and the best two scoring opportunities both fell to Bournemouth: an Ake shot that hit the crossbar, and a Stanislas shot that was saved by the Watford keeper. Having failed to capitalise on our early advantage, we then had to watch Watford come into the game more and, against the run of play, with only their second shot, score easily off a corner kick that was poorly marked. A fairly even match ensued in which, although it was played at great tempo, there was little real skill to be seen from either side. As a result the next moment of note didn’t occur until the 43rd minute when a Watford player (Holebas) handled in the area and, although it clearly wasn’t intentional, had a penalty awarded against him. For the second time in a row, King stepped forward to take the penalty – and sent the keeper the wrong way as he buried the ball in the bottom left corner of the net. 1-1. Watford’s scoreboard immediately went blank in protest – and remained so until half time!
You’d think that would be the last action of the half, but Stanislas went down injured during added time and, though there were only seconds left on the clock and one might have expected Eddie to leave any decision till half time, Pugh was immediately brought on – in a straight swap on the left of midfield.
During the half time break Cherries’ fans’ main interest was in the West Ham versus Southampton score. “The south coast is ours” rang out from the away stand, along with a new song with a similar theme “Mind the gap, mind the gap”, sung to the tune previously associated with “Number eight, number eight” – demonstrating that Arter’s evidently now history in my most fans’ minds!
Watford came out of the stocks as the more lively team at the start of the second period, scoring within five minutes when Pereyra – shooting from Watford’s left into the bottom corner of the net – took advantage of an unsighted Begovic. Wilson got more involved in this half, but three of his runs in a row were flagged as offside by the linesman, causing great consternation amongst Cherries’ fans though to be honest we weren’t in a position to see whether these calls were correct or not. Eddie took a while to change things round but eventually brought off Ibe (who’d seen a weak shot saved just seconds earlier) and replaced him with Defoe – who now played to the left of Wilson up front whilst King settled into the right midfield position. Then, curiously, we noticed that Pugh and Fraser had swopped places – Pugh becoming right full-back and Fraser the left-winger. It soon became clear that this was no temporary swop, but these were to become their positions for the duration. Finally, with the score still 2-1 to Watford, Surman came on for Wilson. Fans were very unsure about this: damage limitation? Happy to stick at 1-2? Surman joined a five man midfield, with Pugh and Fraser now wing-backs; and King returned to his starting place up front. Surman’s contribution to the game was muted, though he did get in a couple of (very weak) shots. Four minutes of injury time at the end of the match could only benefit us, as we had more to gain, but still the ball stubbornly remained in our own half until suddenly there was a Bournemouth break and we saw Ake nodding the ball down to Defoe in a perfect position where (so long as he allowed it to bounce once) he could hardy fail to score. From close range the ball flew into the net right in front of the visiting fans; the excitement was tangible and the singing nearly blew the roof off the stand! “We’ve got Jermain Defoe…” was sung relentlessly well past the final whistle and, as so often this season one way or the other, our mood for the homeward journey was entirely dictated by occurrences after the ninetieth minute.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Fraser (8), S Cook (7), Ake (7), Daniels (7);
Ibe (6), L Cook (6), Gosling (8), Stanislas (7);
King (6), Wilson (7)
S Cook, Ake, Daniels;
Pugh, L Cook, Surman, Gosling, Fraser;