Written by northstandmark
I think the day was cursed, to begin with. We should have known the day wasn’t going our way when one of the coaches clonked a tree in Kings Park on the way in, damaging a wing mirror, and required a replacement bus be sent from Weymouth!
Team news filtered through just outside Leicester. On paper, it seemed a back 3 of Mepham, Cook and Ake, with Fraser and Smith as wing-backs. This was certainly one of the options bandied around, and one I liked the look of. The front 3 of Fraser, Wilson and King hadn’t quite got firing yet this season, but perhaps this was the day?
Then to throw us a curveball, the team came out for kick-off and seemed to line-up more in a 4-4-2 with Ake at left-back.
The game started fairly brightly for the Cherries, who enjoyed a bit of possession in the Leicester half without really causing problems but easing our way into the game. To me the formation was interesting if a bit confused, it seemed to fluidly move between a back 4 and a back 3, depending on whether we had possession or not. A back 4 with Ake and Smith pushing forwards when we had possession, then a back 5 with Ake tucking inside allowing Fraser to cover the left flank when Leicester were coming at us.
This kind of tactical fluidity is great when it works, and there’s logic to it in helping us cover slightly vulnerable full-back areas. And all of Howe’s best football down the years has been played in tactically fluid shapes. I can definitely see what Eddie was going for. However… it does require the players to be confident and well understanding of everyone else’s movements for it to work.
Just as we were easing into the game, Leicester ruthlessly opened the first chink in our shape just 12 minutes in. Ake and Smith were well advanced up the pitch, leaving just Mepham and Cook guarding the back door when a Cherries attack broke down. Foxes’ left-back Ben Chillwell instantly knew what to do, playing a perfect long ball over midfield, dropping it over the shoulder of Mepham and Cook. Vardy timed his run to perfection, no hint of offside (I was right in line!) as he left the two sluggish Cherries centre backs for dead. There was nothing Ramsdale could do as Vardy took his goal so well, lifting it over the onrushing keeper and into the net from outside the box. A simple goal, just superbly and clinically executed. It showed up our system and defensive pairing for its flaws early on.
Bournemouth restarted the game with intent and replied instantly. As Ake and Fraser linked up, Fraser advanced into the final third and slipped Callum Wilson through into the left of the box. Still, with a lot of work to do, the Goal Machine produced a nice finish to whip the ball around Schmeichel at his near post, the ball kissing the far post as it went in. Cue relief in the away end, back on level terms, we could settle into the game again! The home end was quietened down, and we’d seen Wee Man and Callum link up again. This had to bode well?
Cherries were looking lively in attack as a series of fouls from Leicester defenders on the edge of the box (right in H.Wilson range) went ignored by referee Bankes. One poor tackle on a Billing burst forward was particularly inexplicable as to why it was missed. Another on H.Wilson was continued with an advantage, the ball falling for Fraser in a rather useless position with little advantage, yet the ref didn’t pull play back. The controversy surrounding the officiating was only just beginning.
Lerma was given a very soft yellow card that nullified him for the rest of the game. Having allowed equal if not more forceful poor challenges to go totally unpunished, Lerma was understandably upset with Mr Bankes. Billing was given a more justified yellow, also taking the edge off his game. You had to wonder whether both would make it through the game having gotten booked this early on.
In attack, Leicester looked dangerous, their balls out to the flanks always pin-point accurate, their crosses into the box always of good quality. Maddison was at the heart of everything they did well, and we never really got to grips with him. Playing in the acres of space between Lerma/Billing and Cook/Mepham, he made everything look easy as he linked up the play. The ball would be played fairly long into Vardy who would knock it back to Maddison, and then he’d create an opening like clockwork.
A few nervy moments passed as Ramsdale smacked a clearance straight at the onrushing Vardy, thankfully it all happened too quickly for the Foxes frontman to do anything with it. Then a lovely through ball looked to have sent Vardy on goal, but Cook produced a magnificently timed challenge to prevent a near-certain goal.
Unfortunately, the pressure told just before halftime, as Cherries central defensive duo was again caught out, and Cook’s earlier work was tarred with an error. Vardy in down our left channel whereas ever there was too much space, Ake being caught out and nowhere near to help. Cook looked to have the situation under control, closing Vardy down and blocking the low cross. Cook thought it was out for a corner and stopped for just a split-second. The ball was still in play, Vardy knew it and took a second attempt at his drilled cross. With Cook asleep, it fired across goal, where Tielemans had also reacted quicker to the ball staying in play, had stolen half a yard on Mepham, and was there to stretch out a toe-punt on the ball. Tielemans’ toe-punt bobbling in off the post in slow-motion.
The Half-time assessment was that we were in the game, looked ok in places, but needed to sharpen up at the back. Always difficult when chasing the game.
The next moment of controversy arrived early second half, as a clash between Tielemans and C.Wilson saw the Cherries frontman go down in pain. For a moment my heart was in my mouth as I feared something serious in the knee or ankle. From my view, I didn’t think there was any malice to the challenge, and it didn’t even occur to me that a straight red card could be possible. Although why it wasn’t even given as a foul, with probably a yellow card, I couldn’t fathom. To be honest my main concern was just that Wilson got up ok and hadn’t done any damage.
The VAR review came and went, it wasn’t until a few minutes later, as various text messages and social media posts filtered around the away end (as these things do in this day and age) that we got to appreciate how nasty the clash was. “BBC and Sky reckon it was a straight red” I heard people say, “look at this twitter clip, it’s horrible”. It wasn’t until I was on the way back that I got to see a replay, but my word, how wasn’t it given a red card by the review?
From this moment on Leicester took control of the game and Bournemouth never got going again. It would be wrong to blame the defeat on that poor decision, there are far more productive issues to discuss, but there’s no doubt it had an impact.
Another factor in our declining influence on the game was the substitutions. Smith was forced to make way for Ibe at right-back / wing back after sustaining a knock. H.Wilson went off for Dom Solanke. Smith was injured and H.Wilson had been quiet so they were both understandable, but unfortunately, we only got worse as the game continued.
The shape had gone totally now as Solanke, C.Wilson, King, Fraser and Ibe had no idea where they should all be playing. It was another one of Eddie’s “throw lots of attackers on” gambles that we’ve seen on occasion over the last year. Leicester for their part had an easy job of sitting tight in a well-organised shape, waiting for our jumble of confused attacking players to give the ball away. Leicester’s counter-attacking was excellent, and they could go from the edge of their own box to the edge of ours in seconds. This is hardly new of course, they won the title doing this stuff. We made it easy for them, but they are very good at it.
The game was over as a contest with 20 minutes remaining in a moment Mepham will wish to forget. Frustratingly he’d done the hard bit, under pressure he’d made a lovely well-timed challenge in our box. As he looked up to find a counter-attacking pass, he was hemmed in several blue shirts. Instead of just clearing, he tried to thread the eye of the needle and just ricocheted the ball off a nearby blue shirt on the edge of the box. It happened to be Tielemans who perhaps shouldn’t have even been on the pitch. I’m not sure how much Tielemans knew about it but he diverted the ball to Vardy, who instinctively prodded the ball past Ramsdale into the far corner. It went from Mepham’s good challenge giving him the ball at feet, to a goal, in about 3 seconds.
There isn’t much to write about the closing 20 minutes, an effort from range by Solanke aside we created nothing. If anyone came close to scoring it was our hosts, via counter-attacks. That man Demarai Gray spurned a particularly good chance as Ramsdale saved. Surman came on for King at one point, perhaps to free up a bit of space for the other attackers we had on, but he didn’t get much foot on the ball. The game was gone.
Brendan Rodgers said after the game that his side were worthy winners and he’s quite correct. But while Leicester’s all-round play was superior and their win justified, all 3 goals were silly and preventable and will have the Cherries coaching staff tearing their hair out when they break down the footage.
Without wishing to single him out, I felt for Ibe, but he was achingly poor. It didn’t help that he replaced Smith, who was one of our better performers. Unfortunately playing down the flank nearest the away fans, he will have heard the sounds of dismay at each poor pass and easily disposed flick. He was a fish out of water in that position and in that situation up against a good side with a healthy lead. He didn’t know when to get forward, when to get back, or where to find any Cherries colleagues. I can’t help think whatever tiny level of confidence he had left, will have now been totally sapped having heard the stick he was getting. Whilst it was partly justified perhaps, he was on a hiding to nothing being put in that situation by Eddie. I give Jordon credit for coming over and clapping the away end that had just spent 30 minutes moaning at him, it would have been easy for him to disappear down the tunnel, but he’s a bigger man than that.
I think it’ll be back to basics for Eddie after the international break. Hopefully, the time off will allow some injuries to resolve themselves. Hope Smith is ok because another full-back issue is the last thing we need. I’d guess Eddie will return to a more normal 4-4-2 next time out with Ake and Cook in their normal partnership, although who the full-backs will be we’ll have to see. I might bring my boots, having played schoolboy football at right-back a bit in the late 90s. I’d probably make a better fist of it than poor Jordon..(sorry!)
Plenty for Eddie to ponder.
Ramsdale 6 – not at fault for goals, made some saves, a couple of shaky moments though
Smith 7 – our brightest going forward, our MOM for an hour until injury
Mepham 5 – directly at fault for goals
Cook 5 – directly at fault for goals
Ake 5 – better going forward than he was defensively, oddly
H.Wilson 5 – anonymous without many set pieces to take, needs to contribute more in open play
Billing 6 – put himself about but blunted by early yellow and left big gaps back to the defence
Lerma 6 – as above, also risked a couple of second yellow moments
Fraser 6 – a small bump up for the assist, but did little otherwise
King 5 – really struggling for form
Wilson 6 – a small bump up for hitting the net
Ibe, Solanke and Surman had zero positive influence on the game. – Join the conversation, click here.