Date: 6 April 2019
This was a match in which one team had something to play for and the other team didn’t – and it showed, from beginning to end.
Our team was announced to the background of a reasonable amount of polite cheering from the stands – though it was notably muted when the deeply unpopular Begovic’s name was read out. At the time no-one knew that this was the loudest noise we’d hear from the home fans all afternoon. Burnley won the toss and forced the teams to swap ends. It was noticeable that whereas the arrival of Boruc in front of the Ted MacDougall stand always results in some cheering and repartee with the player, Begovic’s arrival was greeted with stony silence. There was some reaction to the first Bournemouth goal (that would also be the last), just 4 minutes into the first half, when Burnley’s Barnes – in trying to fend off Aké – ended up heading into his own net. But both the home players, and their fans, seemed to switch off after that.
The away fans, though, continued to make a lot of noise – and were rewarded with 17 minutes on the clock when a corner came in from Burnley’s left. Begovic flapped wildly at the ball in mid-air but lost it, and was unable to prevent a simple header at the far post. 1-1. And on Burnley’s very next attack, less than two minutes later, another cross came from the left and Mepham cleared it – to a white shirted player! Westwood couldn’t believe his luck: all he had to do was tap the ball into the net from close range. 1-2, and both Burnley’s goals had come from their left flank where they realised (as did we) that Clyne was incapable of defending anything today. A few expert clearances from Aké prevented us trailing further behind – for now. But our team continued to disintegrate for the rest of the half, while Burnley mounted attack after attack. The biggest moment came when Begovic beat Barnes to the same ball and Barnes followed up with such a kicking that he was lucky to escape (despite captain Gosling’s protests to the referee) with only a yellow card. Half time: 1-2.
Eddie replaced Clyne with Rico at half time, so that Smith took over the task of defending our right flank. He did a better job than Clyne had, which isn’t saying much, but all the play was still in our half of the pitch (i.e. in front of the North Stand). And on 56 minutes Burnley put in a cross (after our players evidently thought the ball had gone out of play – though it hadn’t) that Begovic spilled, gifting Barnes the opportunity to make the score 1-3 (meaning he atoned for his ‘own goal’ earlier). Eddie started making random substitutions, but clearly didn’t really know how to fix things. First Solanke came on for Gosling, with King and Brooks both having to change position to accommodate him. (Someone near me had already commented that Brooks would be more profitably utilised in central midfield, so Eddie must have heard him!) The next substitution was Stanislas for Lerma, meaning that Brooks had to change position again (so he’d now played in three of the four midfield positions in one game) while we now had no recognisable central midfielders on the pitch at all.
King looked livelier on the wing though, and he attempted our first shot of the half on about 75 minutes. And then, about ten minutes before the end Wilson suddenly sprang to life (for the first time in the entire match to be honest) and started chasing every ball – too little, too late – often assisted by King who’d now swopped wings with Fraser. But all Burnley had to do was, comfortably, hold on to what they’d got and watch our players flap around in panic. Burnley’s supporters meanwhile got louder and louder, while ours – who’d been virtually silent since the fifth minute and didn’t sing any of their usual songs today – started to leave in very large numbers. Interestingly for once no sponsors’ ‘man of the match’ was announced. Perhaps the sponsors had left early too!
Everyone I spoke to afterwards used words like “dire”, and agreed this was unquestionably our worst performance of the season to date. Meanwhile, I’ve already got tickets for three of the remaining five matches, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to them – and I certainly shan’t bother with the other two.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Clyne (3), Mepham (4), Aké (6), Smith (5);
Brooks (5), Lerma (5), Gosling (4), Fraser (5);
Wilson (5), King (5)
Smith, Mepham, Aké, Rico;
Fraser, Brooks, Stanislas, King;