Date: 3 November 2018
Having watched the Cherries play poorly on Tuesday but win; just four days later I saw them play a lot better – but lose!
I say ‘the Cherries’ but it was of course an almost entirely different team: only Francis, Steve Cook and Stanislas surviving from Tuesday. We’d returned to our favoured 4-4-2 system for home games, with Smith preferred over Daniels at left back. (And Rico not even on the bench.) King was still unavailable, so Brooks had moved up to the ‘number ten’ role and the still recovering Stanislas had taken over from Brooks on the right wing.
Admission to the stadium was quick once again, suggesting that teething problems with entry systems have now been resolved, but I wasn’t greatly enamoured with the only seat I’d been able to get in the East Stand: B7. The corner flag in front of the away stand was invisible from here, as were other parts of the pitch whenever over-enthusiastic TV cameramen opted to stand up for the best shots. As always I’d have got a better view if I’d been watching in the pub! The team were required to stand around the centre circle for a minute’s memorial for Leicester victims for the second game in a row; but then had to remain in place for the Last Post, that seemed to be being played by two trumpeters (or was it one plus an echo?) with embarrassingly many missed notes.
But then the home team got off to a cracking start. A shot from Fraser hit the goalie’s legs rather than the back of the net as early as four minutes in. Wilson scored off a Stanislas cross on ten minutes – though any more details than that weren’t visible from row B at the opposite end of the stadium! But more significantly we outplayed Manchester United for more than half an hour, with the lion’s share of possession and of shots. Stanislas and Lewis Cook in particular had excellent scoring chances, and on one occasion Luke Shaw barged into David Brooks so powerfully in the area that the home fans screamed for a penalty. (OK so we were biased – but we soon learned that the TV pundits thought it was a penalty too.) It wasn't given. Of course it’s one of those football clichés that at this level you have to take all your chances, but today it was especially true: we needed to score more than one goal whilst we were on top.
The game changed on 35 minutes when Martial scored a fairly easy, unopposed, goal from a position close to the penalty spot in front of the North Stand. Things weren’t going our way anymore. Fraser was limping, and seemed unlikely to be able to continue; United were on the ascendancy; and none of the referee’s decisions seemed to be going our way.
The second half started much as the first had ended, even to the extent that Fraser was still on the pitch (having evidently run off any injury). Manchester United were so totally dominant now, but couldn’t make it count – passing up scoring opportunities rather like we had earlier – so Mourinho made two early substitutions, one of which would prove to be inspired later on. Subsequently we substituted Gosling for Lewis Cook, who’d not played badly but had certainly had a quiet day. And on 74 minutes Howe brought on Ibe for Fraser and I have to say Ibe played tonnes better than he had on Tuesday, one particularly scintillating run out of defence taking everyone’s breath away. We had a few scoring chances on the break in this half. A Brooks back-heel should have put us ahead again, but de Gea made a world-class save. And an Aké header (for such a short guy it’s remarkable how many headers he attempts!) went wide. But at 90 minutes we were still desperately holding on to a single point as the board went up showing four minutes to be added. At this point Howe made what can only be called a tactical error, given that this hasn’t worked on previous occasions any better than it did today: ignoring the presence of Defoe and Mousset on the bench, he brought on Surman for Stanislas. So all three of our substitutes had been midfielders, and the obvious intention was to bolster our defences as we ran down the clock. Brooks moved back to his familiar right wing role, so we were now playing 4-5-1. But whilst our team was still sorting itself out, in the 92nd minute, one of Manchester United’s substitutes, Rashford, scored. The very fact that Mourinho had two England first-teamers (Rashford and Lingard) on the bench at the start of this match showed the difference between our squads, and why – despite a surprising start to the season – United will end up above us in the league table later if not sooner. Nonetheless such a late goal left us gutted as we dolefully trudged out of the stadium and made our way home.
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 (8), Aké (8), Smith (7);
Stanislas (7), Lerma (8), L Cook (6), Fraser (7);
Brooks (8), Wilson (7)