Date: 14 December 2019
Why is it always the games we least expect to earn points from – Manchester United and Chelsea – that produce the best outcomes?
Bournemouth had suffered five defeats in a row since beating Manchester United on 3 November. We also have currently the largest number of injured players of any team in the Premier League. And when the starting line-up was announced today, we realised that Danjuma and Harry Wilson were also unexpectedly unavailable. So we appeared to be lining up with four central midfielders! The only good news was that Joshua King was back, while Stanislas had made the bench. (There was much cheering throughout the match whenever the latter warmed up, but that’s as far as he got today.)
In the event, though, choosing his best eleven fit players, and then devising a system to suit them, turned out to be a masterstroke on Eddie’s part. Billing and Gosling played in the conventional central midfield positions, while Lewis Cook played wide right and Lerma sat in front of the back four, in a 4-1-4-1 setup.
We had a lot of the play in the first half, with King showing his pace and doing everything but score. If there was a weak link it seemed to be Billing whose passes all went awry today. Our defence was very strong, keeping out anything that Chelsea could throw at us; and on any occasion when the back four couldn’t clear the ball Ramsdale was always at hand to make a world-class save. He blocked one shot from Mount and later ‘saved' what could easily have turned into an embarrassing own goal by Mepham! As we were behind Ramsdale’s goal it was easy to see how well he organised his defence, even instructing captain Simon Francis – who’s many years his senior – to whom to pass the ball whenever it was at his feet! I also liked the way that if another defender cleared the ball Ramsdale invariably showed his appreciation with a ‘high five’ .
But it wasn’t all defence on Boscombe’s part. There was a flurry of activity around Chelsea’s goalmouth just before half time, and another between the 50th and 55th minutes. But, as with Chelsea, none of our scoring chances came to anything. No substitutions were necessary on our part (we had a pretty inexperienced bench anyway) but on 76 minutes King appeared to get injured near the touchline and literally rolled himself off the pitch, so that Solanke could come on in the same role, before hobbling back to the dugout. Solanke soon added his name to the list of those who’d attempted shots today, but his was deflected.
And then the moment that would define the game, and remind us of the late winner here by Glenn Murray a few years ago. Gosling, with his back to the goal, hooked the ball over the head of the keeper and into the net. The linesman immediately flagged for offside, no player objected to that, and the ball was placed in front of the Chelsea keeper for a goal kick. But the referee, who’d agreed with the linesman’s opinion, indicated that a VAR check was taking place – and the big screen confirmed it. I don’t think a single Bournemouth fan thought the goal would be given, but we all waited. The first indication that the goal had indeed been given came when the referee picked the ball up from the goalie’s feet and started marching towards the centre circle with it! The Bournemouth players, as surprised as we were, then began celebrating; and our stand absolutely erupted while the other three quarters of the stadium sat in silence. The game still wasn't over of course. We had to hang on – and Ramsdale was called upon for two more spectacular saves (one catch and one low save to his right) even during the five minutes’ added time. But we rode the storm: 1-0 to us! Prolonged revelry followed the final whistle, several of our players chucked their shirts into the crowd, and it was reassuring to see what looked like a fully recovered Joshua King walking back onto the pitch and joining in the celebrations.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Stacey (8), Francis (8), Mepham (7), Rico (8);
L Cook (7), Billing (5), Gosling (8), Fraser (7);