Written by kirsikka
Buoyant after recent results and performances, the Cherries went Black Friday weekend shopping for three points at the Big Apple stadium.
The unwelcome news that L Cook and Danjuma both dropped out, not even making the bench due to knocks, was a boon for Billing who was parachuted in resulting in a formation change rather than using Riquelme and keeping the same system.
The whistle peeped and the strange recent habit of the Cherries allowing the opposition an early sighter on goal inside the first couple of minutes continued; 45 seconds on the clock when Brooks was on hand to head an attempt clear for a corner.
Brooks looked like he was picking up where he left off last match, dribbling past Rotherham players and sliding a ball through to Stanislas that was cut out but would have been on a silver platter for Junior had it snuck through.
Unfortunately, inside the first ten minutes, the changed formation already seemed to be a problem for us. The reason the 4-2-3-1 has been effective was the movement and interplay between the three behind Solanke. Take one of those out and suddenly the other team track all our players with ease. There isn’t the same whirlwind across the line with zig-zagging runs leaving defensive players confused what to do and how to cover everyone.
It’s a change that altered our attacking play from panic-inducing to easy to handle and I have to lay the fault for this at the door of JT. He received the plaudits when he got it right so he has to take the blows when he messes up.
The three in midfield should have given us a strong foothold and plenty of possession but it never quite worked as Rotherham harried and hassled us all over the pitch and played high balls in whenever they could, something that we seemed singularly ill-prepared to deal with.
On those few occasions we tried to actually play some skilful football Rotherham looked lost. Junior in particular was a threat and looks to be firmly back in some form.
On 15 minutes, he dummied a Gosling pass down the line, leaving the bemused Rotherham defender wondering to where he and the ball had disappeared. His act wasn’t complete though as he then hit a magical first-time cross low into the near post. Solanke came bundling in but his sliding contact sent it wide with the keeper stranded in no man’s land.
Three minutes later the Solanke perseverance we’re coming to know and love paid off as he battled around three defenders outside their area, refusing to give up on the ball and managing to retain possession. It came out to Kelly on the left flank who crossed in for Solanke who was now in the area and first to the ball again. Still, with him looking like he would only get to the byline and nothing more the Rotherham keeper Blackwood sounded the horn and unnecessarily charged towards Solanke, clipping his heels.
For the second game running, we got given a silly penalty by an opponent panicking at Solanke’s sheer bloody-mindedness. Junior dispatched the spot-kick down the middle to make it seven conversions from seven pens in Cherries colours for him.
1-0 and an undeserved AFCB lead could have been the springboard to better things but instead, we got more drudgery than a Ken Loach film. Time and again Rotherham put the pressure on and time and again we were found wanting.
On 21 minutes Adam Smith was tight in the middle with the centre backs when the ball was sent to the right of our area by Rotherham. Smith scrambled to make up the ceded ground but that positional error meant the Rotherham player had half a yard to fire in a cross which was met with a venomous header that looked set for the top corner. However, Begovic was it’s equal, somehow tipping it over. Top-quality keeping.
Rotherham could smell blood whilst my notes say of the game scrappy, scrappy and scrappy again. When you’re meant to have the style and finesse of Floyd Mayweather trying to act all Lenny McLean is an exercise in futility and we got found out as all mouth and not much in the way of fighting trousers.
Billing was having a bit of a nightmare. He was either nowhere near the ball or standing in similar areas to Gosling. This very problem actually conceded possession which led to the equaliser. A loose ball was contested near our area with both Gosling and Billing trying to be the one to pick it up. When Dan did get the ball, he didn’t then have an out pass because the player that should have been in the space for him was instead standing almost on top of him. So instead Gosling shanked it out wide for a throw in to Rotherham.
The throw was played straight back to the thrower Mattock and by the time we realised he wasn’t covered he had plenty of time to send in another dangerous cross. Three AFCB defenders and three Rotherham attackers all in our area so nobody should have been free. It remains a mystery then how Ladapo was able to connect with the cross low down without a challenge even in his postcode, poking it home with no chance for Begovic.
Social distancing is a necessary evil in the current world but I don’t want to see it as part of our defensive strategy in future, please.
The half wound down with more scuffles and scraps and me looking forward to JT ringing the half time changes since this had been a terrible 45 from us, especially on the tactical front. There was just time for Stanislas to nearly catch the keeper out with a cheeky free-kick that the goalie thought was going to be crossed in. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite have enough pace on it and was parried wide after a scramble back from Blackwood.
Having seen a turnaround after the Rico/Kelly half time change v Reading I was fully expecting to see something new. Riquelme for Billing perhaps and reverting to the 4-2-3-1 that has been so effective recently. So I was flummoxed that we seemed content to give the same set up more time as if we were the ones holding on and wanted to see if we could keep the scores level.
We couldn’t. Four minutes into the second half Begovic came to the rescue of the defensive chaos in front of him again, palming away a good shot. With the ball still bouncing around it ultimately broke to that man Ladapo again who contemptuously ignored the three covering defenders and headed for the byline. As the angle started to get acute he tried to dink the ball to the far post only for it to brush off Smith and spin over Begovic dropping into the far side of the net.
In the PL Bournemouth were well known for being vulnerable defensively but you would often credit that to the quality of the opposition players. The worrying thing this here is that there was nothing spectacular Rotherham were doing but they were all over us like a pustulent rash and we had no clue how to salve it.
It was pure old fashioned get balls into the up front central area from the back, from out wide, from anywhere. Land it on a Rotherham’s head and then try and pick up the pieces. Please note I’m not criticising the tactic, I’m more annoyed at our complete inability to deal with it. Even once. The video of this match will be manna from heaven to watch for teams with a big man up front as an option.
Rotherham then went full niggle without a single passage of play able to go without a shove, a tug, a hack or something to break it up before we could develop anything. It was thirteen minutes of football I can see Tony Pulis watching in mounting excitement when his wife is out and he wants some special alone time.
Whatever had induced JT’s soporific performance so far finally wore off in the 62nd minute when he made some changes and went for a different formation; 3-5-2. Gosling and Smith off, Rico and Surridge on with Junior going right wing-back, Rico on the left and Kelly slotting back into the centre.
I was amazed that Billing survived the cull but hoped the Surridge move might turn out to be a good one. If you’re committed to playing a match in the style of a fight, sending on Bournemouth’s Ivan Drago could make sense. But could he break them?
My internal Billing ranted monologue soon silenced when he was the assist to the assist as the changes made an immediate impact. For the first and possibly only time in the match Billing burst forward with the ball and, with the Rotherham defence on their heels at his sudden aggressive attacking play, he slid it out wide to Rico. Diego spun a cross in which was met with glee by the head of Solanke for the equaliser.
Rotherham responded immediately by putting the Cherries under pressure but twice in quick succession Billing was the man to snuff out dangerous chances in our area. Those three minutes might give him a decent looking highlight reel for the match, one reason why we should always be wary of YouTube videos.
On 66 minutes yet another cross went undealt with and Rotherham central defender Angus Mcdonald channelled his inner Steve Cook to launch a brilliant scissor kick only to see Begovic equal to it once again with another superb diving save. A Rotherham player was on hand to slot the rebound home but fortunately for the Cherries the linesman’s flag correctly went up immediately. A lucky escape.
After that, the game finally opened up a bit and the Cherries did manage to create a few fleeting moments. Surridge should have done better when racing through but his poor first touch allowed a defender to get back and block.
A move on 77 minutes was, for me, the most telling of the match. With Junior at right wing-back and with Brooks in front of him finally, they were next to each other for the first time in the game, in the same way, the 4-2-3-1 formation would allow to regularly happen with two of the three. It almost brought a goal as their one-touch passing left Rotherham chasing shadows and Junior in space and bearing down on their area. His through ball to Solanke was inches away from being perfect but the keeper rushed out and this time got it right.
Lerma tried to score from a free-kick near the halfway line when he spotted the keeper way off his line but didn’t quite get enough dip on it. Then on 89 minutes, the Cherries sent in a free-kick that came to Surridge in acres of space and with a clear sight on goal. Unfortunately, his finish looked like an attempt from a Russian boxer as he missed his kick.
Seconds out, match over and Rotherham were the clear winners on the judges scorecards even if the Cherries somehow escaped with a point. From a distance, this was two points dropped. For those that watched the 90, this was a lucky draw.
Man of the match against Rotherham
I would just like to say a heartfelt thanks to taking the time to write such a thorough and most enjoyable report. ( wish the match had been so good! ) I am sure there are many many people who couldn’t watch the game, but will so appreciate you giving up your time for them. Good man !! – Join the conversation, click here.