Date: 16 March 2019
This was a horrible day out really, the sort where you wonder why you bother. By the end of the day I could only feel relief that my homeward journey hadn’t taken as long as I’d feared it might.
Network Rail had imposed a speed restriction in the region because of forecast high winds. As the train guard admitted, these high winds hadn’t materialised – but the speed limit still had to be complied with. So my train arrived at Bournemouth one hour and thirty-five minutes late. I always allow contingency when travelling by train, but not that much! Arriving at the ground at seven minutes past three, the steward helpfully informed me that I hadn’t missed much: the game was still goalless. But someone was sitting in my seat, and I could hardly make a fuss whilst the game was in full swing – so I sat down in row A. Not only would this mean I’d get a poor view of the pitch, but I’d also get heavily rained on later in the afternoon.
I sat down just in time to see a great shot from Fraser, wide left, right in front of me, that unfortunately hit the far post. As the game continued, I was able to take stock of the team. Surman was evidently unavailable, so Brooks had moved into the centre, and Ibe had come in on the right wing. I thought “Ibe’s not going to look great compared with our former right-winger Ritchie”, but actually he didn’t have a bad game – he seems to be learning to track back and help out in defence as necessary. Interestingly, with Francis, S Cook, Gosling and Surman all unavailable, we had a fifth choice captain: Charlie Daniels! Even allowing for my late arrival and generally frustrated mood, I soon concluded that this game didn’t have the pace of the previous week’s. It wasn’t exactly flowing football, on either side. United were deliberately spoiling our game by marking Fraser very tightly. Fraser was tackled, and took a while to get up. Then he swapped wings with Ibe but this didn’t help: he was almost immediately tackled on the opposite side of the pitch and was back on the floor again!
It was just four minutes to half time when our best chance of the half came, Wilson single-handedly taking on several United defenders before shooting over the bar from Bournemouth’s right. It looked as though he could have squared the ball to King on his left, but King immediately gave him the thumbs-up as though to say, “Worth a go.” Then, with the added minutes already announced, Brooks got injured. There was a delay, and when he came back on he was still limping. But there were surely only seconds left in this half, so it was worth carrying on. Then we were awarded a corner, which was a nice way to end the half. But Fraser’s kick found no-one, enabling United to break away. Ibe quickly tracked back but allegedly he fouled a Newcastle player. Rondon took the resultant free kick, his thunderous shot sending the ball over Bournemouth’s wall and into the net. 0-1, and virtually the last kick of the half. How disappointing.
Right at the start of the second period we won another corner. Fraser played it long, and Aké tumbled onto the floor in the penalty area. The referee decided (eventually!) that he’d been pushed. King took the penalty – straight down the middle – and it was 1-1. Thus it remained until the 75th minute when Howe made his only substitution of the match: Solanke for Ibe. (Even Brooks played the full 90 minutes today!) Solanke came on waving a piece of white paper which he handed to Brooks, who read it and gave a thumbs-up to the bench. We never found out what it said, because Brooks’ position didn’t change: he remained in central midfield, with King now to his right and Solanke to the left of Wilson up front. Solanke was to play a major part in our second goal, in a move which began and ended with King. Solanke held the ball up long enough to give King time to get into a scoring position. 2-1! Another great comeback, and now we only had to hold on for nine more minutes.
Mepham started organising our defence: instructing them to play a high line to keep United out. He even instructed Boruc to go for long kicks rather than the usual practice of playing from the back. Mepham, who was my ‘man of the match’ for the second week running, (the sponsors inevitably chose King as he’d scored two goals,) also made some important clearances during this period, as well as cooperating well with Aké with whom he’s clearly formed a great relationship. Speaking of relationships, there was also some repartee between old buddies Boruc and Ritchie, especially on one occasion when Boruc pulled Ritchie up off the ground. But Ritchie was to have the last laugh, as we were four minutes into three minutes’ added time (!) when a ball was crossed to him, unmarked, wide on the left – and his bullet shot gave Boruc no chance. As the final whistle blew, it was United fans who were celebrating, while I dejectedly walked out in the rain wondering how heavily delayed my homeward journey would be. I hadn’t previously seen us play Newcastle, home or away, for over 20 years – and I was in no hurry to do so again soon.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):