Date: 13 April 2019
Well Bournemouth do like to surprise us, don’t they, and I don’t think even our most optimistic of fans saw this result coming.
The sun was shining brightly as my train arrived at Brighton for my final away match of the season. Was this an omen? Probably not, because by the time we left the lunchtime pub we were battling our way through decidedly wintry showers – that would continue through the first half of the game. (The sun came out again at half time and the temperature then went up several degrees – typical changeable English weather for April!) None of us expected much from this game after last week, but the sight of Boruc’s name on the team sheet was encouraging. There was also a surprise name, “Cook”, resulting in a debate as to which Cook it was who’d so suddenly recovered from injury. Probably Lewis, we decided – because otherwise we’d appear to have three centre-backs in the side.
The teams emerged onto the pitch, with the biggest cheer reserved for Boruc, especially as he would be based at our end of the ground for the first half. Not only does he have great rapport with the fans, but the team all seem to get on well with him too. It’s as though the defenders like the way he organises them, telling them where he wants them. And I’d suggest this was the biggest reason for the improvement from last week – it resulted in more confidence as the team went forward, as well as a far more enthusiastic volume of support from the fans all round. The irony is that Boruc wouldn’t actually have many saves to make in this match, or at least no particularly difficult ones.
The “Cook” was indeed Steve – returning against his old club – and he was captain again. But it was still 4-4-2 because Aké was, surprisingly, playing at left back. (Having seen him in central midfield earlier in the season at Chelsea, this is therefore his third different position.) This didn’t, though, prevent him from getting into the goal mouth to make some fantastic clearances, one of which (a header) came quite early in the game. And it was needed, because Brighton were the stronger team for the first half hour. But the goal from Gosling, into the bottom left corner of the net on 33 minutes (also involving Brooks and Wilson, but hard to see from the opposite end of the ground because the goal area looked so crowded) would prove to be a turning point. For the rest of the half, Bournemouth got into the match a lot more and looked more like their old selves, Gosling in particular having another shot not long after his first, so we could look forward to watching them attack the goal that was right in front of us in the second half.
And what a treat was in store, because we’d be able to enjoy four great goals. Within ten minutes there was a one-two involving King and Wilson that was the best chance we’d seen yet, but well defended by Brighton so that Wilson couldn’t get to the final ball. Nonetheless on the very next Bournemouth attack, and from a much tighter angle, Fraser – despite appearing to slip as he made his shot – still found the top corner. 0-2. Brighton fans may claim that Knockaert’s sending off (for a particularly reckless tackle on Smith) prevented them getting back into the game, but to be honest we were on a roll anyway and I don’t think the sending-off made much difference. On 72 minutes King fed Brooks, who passed to Fraser, who passed back to Brooks and it was 0-3. Brighton fans, incredibly, started to leave in large numbers – with a quarter of an hour still to go – while we sang “Can we play you every week?”, “We’re winning away, how sh*t must you be?” and “Jingle bells”. Ten minutes from the end, Fraser fed Wilson, who turned and shot for 0-4. But before the match could even restart, Wilson had been substituted – presumably already planned and not a reaction to his goal!
Eddie’s other two substitutions were probably more a case of running the clock down than anything else, especially when Simpson came on for Cook, who handed the armband to Gosling. The introduction of Stanislas, though, resulted in yet another goal – Stanislas quite rightly acknowledging the huge part David Brooks (who’d been poor in the first half but was improving as the game progressed) had played in making it possible. So it was 0-5, and we’d virtually guaranteed our safety. Meanwhile this had become a game people will talk about for years, like the 4-0 victory over Chelsea in January to which it was inevitably compared. And I feel privileged to have been present at both matches.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Smith (7), Mepham (6), S Cook (8), Aké (7);
Brooks (6), Gosling (8), Lerma (8), Fraser (8);
Wilson (7), King (6)