Hot on the heels of Saturday`s tight away success, Bournemouth had a chance to start some momentum going with this Cup meeting with Championship opponent Middlesbrough. As ever we should expect plenty of changes from Howe, but such is the transitional nature of our squad currently, with 8 changes the 11 still contained lots of our regular faces. The eye catching inclusions being the return of Callum Wilson up front, and the debut of Jack Simpson in defence. And it was those two who went on to light up the evening.
As often we do, the Cherries came out the traps at fast tempo to start the game. We could and should have been a goal or two up inside 20 minutes. A free kick taken from the left channel was headed in by Lys Mousset, who was adjusted offside amongst a crowded penalty area, and I`m not why he needed to stray offside in such a position.
There were other presentable chances. Another ball in from the left coming to Wilson centrally in the box who choose to try laying off to Fraser when he might have been better positioned to take the chance himself. Another delicious ball from the left narrowly evaded both Wilson and Mousset and ended with Fraser over-reaching and unable to make proper contact.
After 25 minutes however, Boro had weathered an early storm and gradually, surely, worked their way into the game. Their midfield started imposing itself, with Clayton and Baker often getting the better of Arter and Gosling, a theme that would continue. At one point Arter was extremely fortunate to get away without a yellow card for a tackle that was the textbook definition of a yellow card.
The Boro midfield was well backed up by Traore and Tavernier coming deep to collect the ball and often outnumbering their opposite Cherries midfield. Traore using every opportunity to show his blistering pace to get from midfield to attack in no time.
It was during this ‘second half of the first half` spell of Boro pressure that a new young defender started to impose himself. Jack Simpson, initially happy just collecting the ball from Steve Cook and recycling it left and right with ease, was now tested by a hard pressing and more assertive Boro. Simpson again and again showed composure well beyond his years in evading an aggressive press with nice footwork, and calmly passing the ball off into full backs or midfield.
There was one real moment of worry for the Cherries goal, as a fizzing shot towards Boruc bounced awkwardly on the wet turf immediately in front of Artur, initially parrying the ball unable to pick it up, he then had to palm away the bouncing rebound just inches from the boot of onrushing Bamford.
Cherries were happy to get in at half time I think as Boro were certainly ascendant by the end of the first period. The biggest concern was midfield, Gosling and Arter were having a hard time not only individually with their own unforced errors, but also due to Boro often having superior numbers in that department. We wanted our wingers to stay wide and Mousset to stay with Wilson, somewhat isolating Gosling and Arter, who themselves were low on confidence and didn`t want to take on any risky passes or drive forwards towards congestion. They made Bournemouth possession ponderous and inviting to Boro`s press.
The second half started with Bournemouth again upping the tempo. A goal quickly resulted. A corner swung in by Fraser dropped into the box where Jack Simpson, as lanky as he is, showed excellent reactions and flexibility to volley the ball awkwardly with his left boot into the net. A goal on your debut – perfect!
Bournemouth immediately could have doubled the lead as we continued forwards. One good move down the right gave Wilson a chance which was spurned, and a second move down the right saw Fraser clattered in the box, the shouts for a penalty waved away.
From this very incident Boro raced up field, and got their equaliser less than 10 minutes after falling behind. The racing was done by, of course, Adama Traore. The regular thorn in Cherries` side fed Marcus Tavernier who converted the chance with a good finish, sparking the Boro fans into celebration.
Some Cherries heads dropped a little here, and for a while the game was on a knife edge, the potential to go either way. Gosling and Arter continued to toil away, Gosling especially being constantly robbed of possession setting up attack after attack for the visitors. Arter put in a second challenge that should have been booked, I`ve no idea how he escaped a yellow the whole game!
Changes needed to be made, Mousset who had showed flashes and perhaps might have scored, was replaced by Ibe. This put Fraser central for a bit behind Wilson.
As the second half went on, Bournemouth grew stronger. Helped by Boro who to their credit were trying to send bodies forward in an effort to find a winner themselves, their previous robust organisation faltered. Ibe was finding space and enjoyed jinking around slowing Boro shirts, and Wilson was starting to find more space to run and turn into.
Another corner from the left was swung in by Fraser, and again the set piece danger man Jack Simpson was getting on to the end of it for a header on goal, only he was hauled back by defender Fry. A clear penalty, although one that doesn`t always get given at set pieces. Who else to step up but Callum Wilson, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way and putting the Cherries 2-1 up.
Interestingly, Patrick Bamford was having a chat with the keeper Konstantopoulos before the penalty, and after it had gone in a right row broke out between the pair. I`ve read it suggested that Bamford was trying to tell Konstantopoulos which way Wilson would go, only for the keeper to ignore him.
After this pivotal moment, Fraser was replaced by Afobe. And for Boro, the experienced Stuart Downing came on for goal scorer Tavernier. This made little different for the visitors, as Bournemouth now looked quite comfortable and likely to increase their lead against a fading opposition.
That game finishing moment came from the most delightful Wilson turn and run, the sort of roll we saw him give defenders every week in the Championship. Wilson stormed into the box on the right, and cleverly squared the ball where Afobe rushed in late at the back post. The question was whether Benik could get on the end of it, and just about he did! 3-1, game over.
Later Ibe and Daniels sent Pugh clear in the far left of the box, Pugh squared to Afobe who looked sure to get another goal, only to tamely tap wide with most of the goal at his mercy. Ibe was getting plenty of joy around the Boro box and had a couple of glimpses at goal himself.
All in all a pleasing end to a game that at moments could easily have gone the other way. Whilst Boro created little in terms of genuine clear opportunities, they kept Boruc and the Bournemouth defence plenty busy for chunks of both halves. Had we had a central midfield on better form, we`d likely have won by 3 or 4, as in most other areas we were definitely better. But no side can play to its full potential with a gaping problem in its engine room. Boro`s superiority in that area gave them a constant foothold and base for attack, until the latter stages, despite our superiority in most other areas of the pitch.
The highlights will undoubtedly be Simpson and Wilson.
The young Simpson, well assisted by Steve Cook, looked immediately at home as the passing defender Howe always looks for. That left boot hits nice short balls to his fellow defenders, and also smashes pinpoint raking balls out to the wingers 40 yards away. His height makes him a threat in both boxes for set pieces, heading away when needed and then scoring one and winning the penalty in the Boro box. There was one symbolic moment second half that summed up the night: when Gosling was robbed of the ball, Arter following up missed his tackle, only for Boro to reach Simpson and stop dead as he won the ball back and calmly passed it up to Daniels.
As for Callum Wilson, he grew as the game went on. He looks sharp, fit, quick, and most importantly pulled off plenty of those rolls around a defender we used to see, notably for the third goal. Those turns put pressure on the knees, and clearly he feels confident and strong enough in those knees. He had a couple of openings from open play not taken, but calmly tucked the penalty away as if it was a training routine. We`ll need to take it slow, but Wilson is certainly back into contention amongst the other attacking options at Howe`s disposal.
Boruc – 6. A couple of flappy moments, the conditions not helping the Big Pole. But did his job.
Smith – 7. Got forward and involved plenty, although the link up with Fraser is rusty. Thankfully came through the game fine.
Cook – 8. Fairly faultless, and chivvied his young partner through the game
Simpson – 9. I don`t want to go over the top, or put pressure on him. But really what more can you ask? Defensively did everything required, never gave the ball away, scored one, setup another, had Bamford pretty much under control (along with Cook). A debut dreams are made of.
Daniels – 8. A class above the opposition when in possession, although maybe his crossing wasn`t as good as usual.
Fraser – 6. Got kicked around all first half, struggled to make an impression in open play – but his two corner deliveries produced two goals!
Gosling – 4. Sadly very low on confidence, wants to keep things simple put the opposition sensed he was a weakness and constantly had someone on him and constantly robbed him of the ball.
Arter – 5. He came on against Stoke and looked good. Sadly starting last night didn`t continue that. Amazed he didn`t get at least booked. Slightly better than Gosling. Both were often outnumbered, is the mitigation I can offer.
Pugh – 7. Put a shift in, put in some decent balls, helped contain Traore when he was on that side, created a brilliant chance at the death for Afobe.
Mousset – 7. Lively, pops up in interesting positions in channels, put the ball in the net with his head but was offside. Certainly more effective against Boro`s level.
Wilson – 8. Perhaps might have done a tad better with one or two openings, but for a first proper game back following a second serious knee injury – he was remarkably sharp and close to the Wilson we know. The challenge now will be to demonstrate that against Premier League standard defenders.
Afobe coming on scored one and should have got another, a real threat against a fading defence. Ibe enjoyed passing Boro players for fun, although the end product might have been better. Ake came on late to replace Smith and didn`t have much to do.
A second win in a few days, hopefully we can carry some momentum forwards now.
Report by northstandmark