Date: 1 February 2020
What a tense end to this match! But the relief and joy at the final whistle – from players and supporters alike – was palpable.
The day started badly. Despite the train derailment at Eastleigh having occurred some days earlier, SWR it seemed were unable to run a single train to Bournemouth this morning. They’d performed so much better on strike days or when there was planned engineering. So for the third time in eleven days I had to drive; but to make things even worse this was the day the M27 was shut so I also needed to take a lengthy diversion.
Well I got there – but then as I took my seat and looked towards the pitch I realised the sun was in my eyes. If only I’d worn my cap rather than my woolly hat. The team emerged and “Sweet Caroline” was played but, unusually, every single away fan belted out the entire song at the top of their voice. I guess it’s their song too! We lined up in a somewhat defensive looking 4-1-4-1 system. (It is of course the intention that the two wide players support the main striker. But it was still worrying that only one out-and-out striker was starting.) The team also – presumably – lost the toss, because we were forced to play towards the North Stand in the first half. But what a lively start: we ran at the opposition and pegged them back into their own half. And we made a nuisance of ourselves around their goal. But the best scoring opportunity didn’t come until 24 minutes in, when Harry Wilson passed to Gosling whose shot went over the bar.
We finally got the goal we deserved thirteen minutes later, as Gosling made amends for his miss by knocking the ball down into Billing’s path – enabling him (having scored twice against Luton) to score his first Premier League goal for us. And subsequently Villa’s on-loan goalie Reina spilled a ball enabling Aké to score our second. There was a long wait for a VAR check for a possible offside with this goal, and indeed before the wait was over the 45 minutes was up and the matchday announcer was informing us that a minimum of two minutes would be added to the half. But the goal was allowed, so we went into the break 2-0 up.
Disaster struck early in the second half when Lerma was sent off for a second yellow card offence (this is another anomaly of VAR: there’s a video check for a straight red but not for two yellows). Could we hold on with ten men? Well we tried, and Ramsdale kept us in the game over and over again; no thanks to Gosling whose passes kept finding an opposition player! Callum Wilson even had a chance to put us 3-0 up on 62 minutes but missed an open goal (one couldn’t help but reflect that Surridge would have scored from that position). In fairness, apart from this miss Callum had a pretty good game, winning the ball well and often, despite being up against Tyrone Mings who obviously knows him really well. (The home crowd gave Mings a hard time. Every time he misplaced a pass they sang “That’s why we let you go!”) Villa’s Sattama headed the ball into the net on 70 minutes to make the score 2-1. Villa saw their chance to get back into the game, and their fans cheered them on; meanwhile we remained in the 4-4-1 formation we’d adopted since the sending off (just as we’d started the game but without the benefit of a deep midfielder to support the centre-backs). Eddie didn’t bring on any substitutes and I think that was right – such substitutions, especially if accompanied by a change of system, have often led to a quickly conceded goal in the past.
We just wanted the game to end now. Villa pressed and pressed. There was despair amongst home supporters as we entered a prolonged period of added time but, surprisingly, there was a late chance – on the break – to make the score 3-1 when Callum Wilson broke away with the ball and passed to Fraser who was in a good scoring position but couldn’t quite reach it. Soon after this the final whistle blew and we’d got the three points – which brings us out of the bottom three, for now. Could we yet survive?
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
A Smith (7), Francis (7), Aké (8), Rico (7);
H Wilson (7), Billing (7), Gosling (6), Fraser (7);
C Wilson (7)