‘It`s just about the points at this stage` that`s what players and managers up and down the country will tell you as they near safety when the performance was missing. This afternoon at Dean Court was no different when a game that was a barren desert of any talent produced two late, luscious oases to give Bournemouth their most crucial three points in a year.
So little threat, cohesion and know-how from the home team blown away with two twenty-five yard strikes out of nothing that all but condemned Pardew`s West Brom to relegation. The comeback kings of the Premier League were at it again?The afternoon was capped off when we found out Palace`s win also slipped Southampton into the bottom three. Are we heading for the perfect end to the season?
Eddie made two changes, relegating Daniels to a rare bench appearance to allow Ibe back in with Smith moving to left back and King back for Mousset. He had asked for the start against Spurs but he got the start against Stoke (and the rest of the game v Stoke as well as it panned out). West Brom started much the brighter, almost freed from expectation, and they moved the ball well with the outstanding Rondon at the centre of everything. Begovic moved across well to his weak header when he should have scored.
Bournemouth in contrast were laboured in possession and their delivery, particularly from Franno, Ibe and Stanislas was very poor on the rare occasions they did get into a good position. Not that Franno was on long as he sat down after a tackle and limped off to be replaced by Daniels.
The pattern continued with Bournemouth`s insistence on having four players in a line up front and three straight lines having the same negative effect on getting the ball and playing through the midfield it has had 80% of the season. It was painful to watch and King and Wilson were non-existent in the game either as a non-threat or a link. Both players only received the ball coming backwards and their first touch almost always failed them.
As a result of this, coupled with West Brom`s limited approach to playing football the half played out with nothing of note to report and a crowd that needed more than Sweet Caroline to wake them up. On the one occasion Bournemouth got behind the Baggies back line Stanislas forgot to shoot.
HT AFCB 0 WBA 0
The second half started worse than the first – if that was possible. West Brom carried the marginally bigger ‘threat` although that stretches the definition of that word beyond all comprehension. The ball was given away with regularity and although Cook kept prompting nobody really matched his vision.
It looked like 0-0 all day long but then the inevitable happened. A lobbed cross, that was in the air for what seemed like minutes still couldn`t tempt Begovic off his line and Rondon beat Ake in the air to head down at RODRIGUEZ. The former Saint likes scoring against us and he turned with ease to fire unopposed into the corner.
Worse was to come as right-back number two limped off with Smith departing holding his knee. Unfortunate as this was for Smith it at least saved the game as Howe was forced back into the 3-4-3 formation that had beaten Chelsea and Arsenal?.. From this juncture the game changed?Mousset arrived and started to cause his normal random havoc and finally there were people in the gaps to press West Brom back.
There was still a paucity of chances being created though and it was going to take something magical to beat Foster. Thankfully it existed??although when IBE received the ball on the touchline his performance hadn`t given any indication of what was to happen next. It was with delayed reaction then the crowd sprang to life after the mercurial winger had cut inside three opponents and let fly from twenty five yards. The bounce seemed to deceive Foster and the ball flew into the bottom corner.
Game on???still no chances arrived though as West Brom clung to the point. Bournemouth inched closer and closer territorially and finally West Brom cracked. STANISLAS, like a darts player, had had two sighter free-kicks. One that was no threat, one that just missed and finally the one that bent and spun viciously into the top corner! A rare direct free-kick and maybe the first since Yann (?) looked like it was winning Bournemouth the match with just one minute left on the clock.
There was one twist in the tale though – Baggies threw the sink at the last five minutes and when Rondon rose to beat Begovic with a header a miraculous goal line clearance from Daniels saved the day.
FT – AFCB 2 West Brom 1
Begovic 6 – Relatively safe but could have come for cross for goal
Francis 5 – Fluffed a few passes and crosses before departing.
Cook 7 – Stuck to it amidst strong opposition and two key blocks.
Ake 7 – Brave performance and generally read the game well.
Smith 6 – Kept motoring and watchful marking on left and right.
Stanislas 6 – Didn`t really put a foot right then??.wow.
Gosling 5 – Off the pace and out fought.
Cook 8 – Bright intelligent and starting to run games.
Ibe 6 – As with Stan would have been 5 without wonder goal.
King 5 – Very quiet and uninvolved
Wilson 5 – (See King)
Subs – Daniels 7 – good involvement and hero at the end. Mousset 6/ Defoe 5
The goals will gloss this and rightly so. March is about accumulating the points to keep you in the division and I think we are a couple of draws away now as Southampton won`t win four out of their last eight unless Hughes is a miracle worker.
The credit to this team is they never know when they are beaten and that is team-work at it`s finest. The bigger picture though is we should be looking to be better than the level of performances we have mainly shown this year, particularly when playing 4-4-2. Eddie has to be able to spot that playing forwards that like to be played in behind but slowing the game down so they end up in a straight line facing backwards at our defence trying to give them the ball on the ground just hasn`t worked this year. King is not a number ten, Ibe and Stanislas are not defensive enough to play midfield.
It`s a classic case of playing personnel and trying to fit a system to them rather than picking the system used by all the best teams in the world and putting the right players in it. With injuries he was forced to play it earlier in the season and we had our best run. Today we were forced back into it by injuries and turned the game around. When facing teams that don`t attack us we can`t join their ranks up top we have to drop and find gaps. If we want to keep playing 4-4-2 we need to sign a genuine number ten as today our central two for no threat at all, as they rarely are when they play together.
Defensively we looked strong, although how good was Rondon?! Midfield – I thought we looked a little swamped as Gosling disappeared and left Cook on his own. Lots for Eddie to ponder for the remaining games and for next season. The main thing is he is doing it from the position of safety and he has achieved that through the come-back spirit he has built in his team and he should rightly get the credit for that. We can breathe a little easier now on the trip to Watford?
Report by Neil Dawson