Date: 30 October 2018
The Cherries were very fortunate to progress to the next round of the League Cup tonight because, to be honest, they didn’t really deserve it.
The first thing I noticed on entering the stadium was the huge VAR screen erected just in front of the ‘Exiles’ section’ of the East Stand – though I must quickly add that (1) it never got used and (2) I only saw one other ‘Exile’ there apart from myself. Then as kick-off approached I noticed just how many empty seats there were around me (was it something I said?). The minute’s silence to remember the Leicester tragedy was impeccably observed, and immediately afterwards vast numbers of fans streamed into the ground – making me wonder if they’d actually been held back by stewards in anticipation of the tribute.
As the game got under way it quickly became apparent that there was something wrong with the home team’s mind-set. Had the minute’s silence affected them one way or another? (They’d been standing around the centre circle in the freezing cold much longer than their opponents.) Or were Norwich just too good for us? (They thoroughly dominated the game and their number 24, one Felix Passlack, a 20 year old improbably on loan to Norwich from Borussia Dortmund, was surely the fastest player we’ve ever come up against!) Or were too many of our players out of position? The only three survivors of Saturday’s league game – Francis, Steve Cook and Daniels – made up a back three; which was a little unfamiliar, especially for Daniels. Ibe and Rico were playing as wing backs. And Pugh was being asked to play on the right of Defoe rather than his usual left-wing position.
Norwich had their first shot on target within two minutes of the start, fortunately saved by Boruc. And from then on we struggled through the first half always looking like the weaker side. Most of Boruc’s goal kicks seemed to go into touch; Gosling’s passes missed their target; Surman passed sideways or backwards. Only lack of ability in the final third prevented Norwich scoring over and over again. This continued until the 35th minute when, curiously, Ibe and Pugh swapped positions – so that Pugh was now in the even less familiar position of right wing back. Three minutes later, though unconnected with this changeround, Stanislas charged forwards and cut in on the left. Players and fans on both sides expected him to pass to someone, but he attempted a tricky shot that went into the top right corner of the net. He’d have been in trouble if it hadn’t! This was totally against the run of play at the time, but we’d take it! The scoreboard changed straight from 0-0 to 3-0, there was much cheering from a relieved set of fans, and after a while the scoreboard was corrected to 1-0.
Norwich could have scored immediately after this if it hadn’t been for a world-class stop from Boruc (making amends, perhaps, for his consistently poor distribution). And Norwich’s Srbeny was unlucky to hit the post just before the break. But we held on for 1-0. We might then have expected Howe to make some changes but he didn’t: we started the second half as we’d ended the first, even with Pugh continuing as right wing back. And the game didn’t change either: Norwich continued to dominate. On the hour mark Fraser replaced Ibe in the same position (right of Defoe) and immediately got more involved than any of his teammates – showing why he’s a first XI player. But one man can’t change the game on his own. On 69 minutes the inevitable happened as Hernandez beat Boruc from close range to make the score 1-1. Even before the restart, Eddie had replaced Defoe with Wilson, who also got immediately involved. Within two minutes we’d had a corner kick from the right (by Rico), that came to nothing; followed by a corner kick from the left (by Stanislas), that led to a goal from Steve Cook. So, a goal and an assist for Stanislas. But a 2-1 score line certainly didn’t reflect the game we were watching, so could we hold on?
We were into the last ten minutes when Francis was injured. Whilst this was being sorted out, the sponsors announced their man of the match as Steve Cook. Francis was unable to continue, so Simpson came on and moved to the middle of the back three, with Cook now moving to the right. But Daniels was working wonders, effectively protecting us now from attacks on every front – and this protection was certainly needed. 89 minutes showed on the clock when a strike from Hernandez raised huge cheers from Norwich fans who thought he’d scored. But he’d actually hit the side netting. The home fans started whistling for full time but then the fourth official indicated that SEVEN more minutes needed to be played. Away supporters were jubilant; we were more nervy than ever. The added time really seemed to drag and I lost count of how many goal attempts Norwich managed whilst we were being completely overrun. But somehow we survived. Norwich fans couldn’t understand how they’d managed to lose, and gave their team an ovation anyway. They had in fact out-sung us for most of this match, singing “yellows, yellows” – which was very curious since their team was wearing white!
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), Daniels (7);
Ibe (6), Gosling (5), Surman (5), Rico (6);
Pugh (7), Defoe (6), Stanislas (8)