Date: 2 March 2019
The team’s performance was so much improved over Wednesday’s match, that it was a real shame they ultimately went away empty handed today.
When we were informed about the starting eleven, it was really hard to work out what the system would be. Well, whoever would guess that Smith would move from left full back to right midfield in consecutive matches? Clearly the main intention was to defend, and when up against the champions that’s not a bad policy. Boruc, quite rightly, kept his place – as he could hardly be blamed for Wednesday’s debacle.
For the entire first forty-five minutes we seemed to play the whole game in our own half. City had 83% possession and, although it was at the far end of the ground from me, it was obvious that Boruc and Aké were performing heroics keeping the ball out of Boscombe’s net. At our end, the City keeper only got a couple of touches all half – and they were from back-passes. We did have a few breaks – each of which involved Brooks and/or Fraser – but none of them came to anything today. After two minutes’ added time had been announced at the end of the half, de Bruyne went down injured. Surprisingly, even though only seconds remained before half time, a substitute was readied. Even more surprisingly, a City player deliberately kicked the ball into touch to get the substitute on. And infuriatingly – having already given the ball back to City once when de Bruyne went down – we did so again now. This seemed generous to the extreme and proved unpopular with the home crowd. But more annoyingly, though we didn’t know it at the time, it would be this substitute, Mahrez, who’d score the only goal against us in the second half.
There was nervousness amongst the home fans as the second period started, because this is a time at which we often concede. But Boruc got a great cheer as he arrived in front of the South Stand – which he duly acknowledged – and now we got a chance to see just how effective our defence was today. Mepham and Simpson are both so tall, and – we now discovered – were actually playing as well as Aké. Mepham’s tackling was brilliantly timed, and Simpson moved to his left to cover for Aké every time the latter got forward. It was an impressive defensive display, so it was unfortunate that just once, about ten minutes into the half, City broke through to find Mahrez wide on the right hand side, and his scuffed shot beat Boruc at the near post. 0-1.
Eddie, quite rightly, didn’t rush to change things, but on about 70 minutes Mousset was readied. It took five minutes to get him on, but when he did so it was Brooks who came off – necessitating changes of position for King, Fraser and Surman! It shows just how flexible our players can be. Shortly after this, Boruc came out for his best save yet – a world class save from Aguero – and he continued to work wonders for the rest of the match. (I only noted one occasion when he failed to save a shot, and on that occasion Aké was at hand to effect the clearance.)
Eddie made a double substitution, and it was gratifying to note that the crowd sang “He’s one of our own” to Simpson as he went off. We switched to 4-4-2 and kept pressing for an equaliser through four minutes of added time, but it wasn’t to be. Nonetheless losing by only one goal to that team was a good afternoon’s work, and bodes well for our upcoming matches against inferior opposition.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Clyne (5), Mepham (7), Simpson (7), Aké (7), Daniels (6);
Smith (6), Brooks (7), Surman (6), Fraser (7);
Smith, Mepham, Aké, Daniels;
Ibe, Surman, Fraser, Rico;