Written by Matt Stevenson
It’s the last day of the season for all but four of the 24 teams, with AFCB contained in the four. Whilst we’d all have wanted automatic promotion, the bookies had us as fourth favourites behind Norwich, Brentford and Watford and with 442 predicting us to finish 11th, on the basis of the upheaval in the Summer, we’ve more or less met expectations. Luckily, it is in our hands if we want to play Swansea in the play-off finals as appears to be the choice of many Cherry fans, as a win would guarantee 4th or 5th. Woodgate rested a lot of key players for the defeat at Wycombe, who only really mustered two chances and eyes will be on his team sheet to see if he again tries to juggle resting players with keeping confidence high. Having not played for 2 weeks, we’d expect to see the likes of Danjuma, Solanke, and Billing back. In fact, it is the strongest team we can put out given that Stanislas is injured with 7 changes. Kelly has recovered in time to make the game, as has Steve Cook, and Pearson is selected ahead of Wilshere. I’m very much pleased by this signal of intent and I’d anticipate it will be the same starting eleven, barring injuries, that line up against Swansea or Brentford next. Given we only need to match Barnsley’s result, who are playing at home to Norwich, it looks like it will be the Swans.
The first half-chance went to Stoke, Carter Vickers gave away an early free-kick, and Kelly headed the ball away to outside the ‘D’ but Solanke charged down Matondo’s shot. There was another half-chance, before Cook got booked for bringing down Matondo on the halfway line as Stoke were on the counter-attack. The first 5 mins belonged to Stoke but there were no real chances although AFCB got one soon after, Danjuma broke down the left and picked out Billing whose shot was blocked. From a corner, Lerma headed although on iFollow it looked in. The game went flat. AFCB were in the ascendancy with lots of possession, although Stoke, who have the highest number of clean sheets in English football, was defending well. We were getting into good positions but the final ball wasn’t there. A nadir was a corner from Brooks, who previously had put in two good deliveries, who thumped one out of play almost first bounce, on the far side. The ref was picky, but the main interest was that Barnsley had taken the lead against Norwich. If scores stay as they are, then we would face Brentford. As I type that Norwich equalise, so we didn’t get a chance to see if it changed our approach. Matondo was looking impressive for The Potters, Lerma nutmegged Clucas, and Brooks was squeezed out on a break, but really there was little to get excited about. On the 35th minute, the worst happened, a corner came across from the Stoke left and Lerma miscued his clearance, the ball ran through to Forrester who, on his debut, finished well. It was a bad mistake, and the pressure was now on Bournemouth. It could be a dress rehearsal for chasing a lead in the play-offs. If so, we weren’t passing. More sloppy play saw Montoya (on loan from Schalke) crossing to Tymon, but Carter-Vickers got back to clear. At half time, we had shown little, despite 69% possession, Barnsley were 2-1 up, and we look as though we were limping into the play-offs. This will be a big test of Woodgate’s managerial abilities.
Stoke again started brightly, although at last a Stoke player (Batth) got booked for a nasty tackle on Solanke, who had been fouled repeatedly in the first half. It will be interesting to watch if the referee is beginning to tot up the offenses. Stoke was sinking deep, having the full team in the last third challenging AFCB to break them down. They showed cunning though, Mikel using skill to get away from two players, pass it square to Clucas who played in Smith who found the bottom corner. The subs were called, but before then Danjuma was needless pulled back as it wasn’t a dangerous position, but another clear booking wasn’t given. The change was Riquelme for Pearson, but it is asking a lot of the young Spaniard to change the game. In the 57th minute Cook brought down Smith, with Stoke players surrounding the ref for a second yellow. It appears wise to bring Cook off. Norwich have equalised, but if we perform like this in the play-offs we won’t get to Wembley. Solanke had a good run but just couldn’t pick out Riquelme. Following a bit of pressure, Kelly found Solanke, who held off the defender but it hit the keeper, immediately after Billing was booked for a bad tackle on Mikel, having looked like he’d lost his head. Mepham came on for Cook in the 69th minute, meaning we’d now used two substitution opportunities, so I was surprised this wasn’t more than one change. Woodgate then used his last opportunity quickly after with bringing on Long and Stacey for Billing and Smith. We now need to hope we don’t get an injury in the last 15 mins, although even with 11 players we aren’t crafting any chances. As has been a feature of this season, we struggle to break down a team who come to park the bus. It was a surprise to me that Long came on in preference to Surridge. Carter-Vickers was our stand-out player, but my heart was in my mouth when he was in a race with Matondo and if he was adjudged to have committed a foul then a red card could have been resulted (although it’s not certain given this ref who was consistently lenient with the visitors). How Mikel didn’t get booked for a foul on Riquelme a little later is another mystery. The game petered out, meaning three losses on the bounce, with no goals scored. We had 75% of the possession but failed to create a good chance apart from Billing’s and Solanke’s efforts. The only glimmer of a silver lining is that Brentford won’t park the bus and we have had two close (albeit unsuccessful) games against them. Ultimately, however, all Cherries fans will have been frustrated and angry after watching this and with, I suspect, many questioning the wide-scale changes against Wycombe.
Man of the match against Stoke
Begovic: 6. Had nothing much to do apart from the goals where he was blameless.
Smith: 6. Didn’t do much wrong, but didn’t get forward as much as we’d have hoped
Cook: 6. A needless booking early on put him under pressure.
Carter-Vickers: 7. (MOTM) Our best player. Not at fault for the goals and controlled his man all game
Kelly: 6. Had a very rusty first-half, but was a threat in the second half. Pleased to have him back on the last 45-minute showing
Pearson: 6. Was unusually quiet today. Was sacrificed to try and change to a more attacking formation.
Lerma: 6. More of a 5 and a half, was bettered by Mikel today, and a bad error for the first goal.
Danjuma: 6. Often doubled up on, and wasn’t able to influence the game much
Brooks: 6. Largely ineffectual and had to drop back repeatedly to get the ball
Billing: 6. Couldn’t get into the game.
Solanke: 6. Probably our second-best player, had little to work with but created minor chances and was repeatedly fouled
Riquelme: 6. A couple of good balls in, but as with many, was peripheral.
Mepham: 6. Had little to do as Stoke sat back to defend the lead
Stacey: 6. More of an attacking threat than Smith, but couldn’t pick out our men in the box
Long: 6. Seemed an odd choice over Surridge, particularly as we were playing it direct, although often the passes were over-hit.