Date: 1st February 2020 at 8:22pm
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Written by Neil Dawson

Who would be a sports psychologist? How does a team that one week looks insipid, flat and idea bereft turn into a force of nature, energy and inventiveness? That was what we saw today – the performance we all knew the team has in it delivered with an absolute will to win that gives huge confidence to the fight ahead. Villa were swept aside in a first half of attacking verve in front of the North Stand (should we switch more often?) and even the sending off of Jefferson Lerma early into the second half didn’t stop Bournemouth bringing back all three points.

Eddie switched to a three-man midfield with Solanke dropping out following his woeful showing in the cup to make room for birthday boy Gosling, More controversially, Steve Cook was also benched allowing Franno to resume a partnership with Ake. The team lined up to press high with Billing and Gosling surging from midfield to break up the lines and Lerma man-marking Grealish when he drifted inside – a job he certainly took seriously….

Bournemouth crackled into the game with a spirit not seen often enough recently. The harrying and pressing was on par with the second half v Brighton and Villa were rocked into errors. With very little to offer upfront their reliance on Grealish was heavy and Lerma snarled into him both physically and with a barrel load of constant verbal abuse. One does wonder what he says though – the clubs YouTube footage of him would lead you to believe his only English phrase is ‘Happy Christmas’ which may explain why Grealish looked permanently bewildered.

The energy eventually paid off with a couple of chances, Fraser curling into Reina and Gosling twice infuriatingly not shooting when given a golden opportunity. We found out why when he finally was given no option but to shoot as the ball broke to him following a great move six yards out. My P.E teacher (‘head over the bloody ball Dawson’) would have been livid…. as Gosling blew the chance to seal his birthday goal with a lean back and hit the stand dreadful finish. All other moves broke down on Callum Wilson who hasn’t had the renaissance his teammates appear to have and must have been second to Grealish in the Villa passing stats.

Villa were only ever dangerous on the odd break and Franno was superb with one block to save the day. Having raised a few eyebrows with his selection the veteran then pulled off a pivotal moment at the other end – his turn and cross rolled back the clocks and Gosling’s header back across goal found BILLING to thunder in off Reina into the bottom corner. Villa were rocked on their heels and Bournemouth continued to hammer into them at every opportunity – Lerma took his one for the team in flattening one great break from Grealish and then, crucially I feel, had to have his captains intervention for roughing up Grealish from a throw-in. ‘One more’ you could clearly see Anthony Taylor saying and it was, therefore, odd this was either ignored or not passed on to Eddie.

The only thing left for a perfect half was another goal and it came just before half time when FRASER unleashed a shot that Reina couldn’t hold and AKE pounced to find the bottom corner in his typical predatory style. Ramsdale’s superb save at the near post from Grealish preserved the cushion.

HT Bournemouth 2 Villa 0

The second half started as the first had finished and it was all looking very entertaining and comfortable with Lerma’s imperious 30-yard drive flicking the top of the cross-bar. Then… a game-defining moment. Lerma tangled with Grealish who went down like Broad Street hooker and Taylor had the moment he had promised in the first half. Off went the Columbian for what may now be a lengthy ban (he had already racked up the points for a two-game sit-down).

This changed the game beyond recognition – Bournemouth back with a two-man central midfield and Villa with all the possession. They didn’t, however, seem to know what to do with it and when they did our back four were superb. The one time it was breached Smith produced a brilliant goal-line clearance to deny Targett.

Villa were understandably growing in confidence and possession but it looked like it would take an error for a goal as they lack creative input and are the most one-man top-flight team since the days of Le-Tiss at Scum. It was indeed an error.. Ramsdale doesn’t make many but he came for a high ball into the box that he shouldn’t and it was costly. Villa debutant SAMATTA – previously so anonymous that you could have put the prefix ‘What’ in front of his name profited with a brave header. It was the first time a Villa player had scored on his debut since Gestede against…… you guessed it! Even in a victory, we are still that accommodating side!!

This set up a tense finale but the two best chances fell to us. Wilson missed a sitter after Billing broke into the box and then broke himself in a tremendous move, Fraser kept pace in the middle and went full length but the ball flew off the bottom of his studs and denied a ‘roof coming off moment’. That moment was not long behind though when Taylor put the whistle to his blind biased head and called a halt to a tremendous proceeding.

FT Bournemouth 2 Villa 1

Ramsdale 6 – Cost us a goal but otherwise safe and secure with not much to do.

Smith 8 – Superb in both attack and defence – all energy.
Ake 8 – Thank god he stayed. Scored and bossed it.
Francis 8 – Captains performance that justified controversial selection and an assist.
Rico 7 – Defensively excellent but still a little wasteful at times.

Fraser 8 – Outstanding effort and application again. Needed it after midweek honesty.
Lerma 8 – Unjustly off. Standing ovation. Legendary status beckons.
Billing 9 – Ran spells of the game, won every header at all ends, scored, superb.
Gosling 6 – His touch, finishing and passing so poor. Lots of energy and fight though.
H.Wilson 7 – Clever use of the ball and much-improved work rate.

C.Wilson 6 – Battled manfully but touch, passing and control very off colour.

MOM – Phil Bill – back to his early-season mastery. Franno and Fraser good shouts too.

Boy did we need that. It has been a season of false dawns and we absolutely had to follow up the victory at Brighton with back to back victories. The symbiotic relationship with team and crowd exists in every stadium and today each gave the effort the other deserved to get a foot out of the trap door. It’s a long way to go yet because I think the bottom six will pick up quite a few points this year but…’s a much better place than two games ago.

Tactically Eddie got it spot on today – having Lerma sit in the gap Grealish likes shows he has learned from the maulings we have received this season from free-roaming number tens. The game was technically won by the time he went off but we didn’t realise that until the end. That extra man in midfield made the team look so compact and they went up and back together like a modern football side and not like the lower league cup team we look like most of the time we have two up front. Losing Solanke also gets more people into goal-scoring positions that can actually score as well. There was lots of movement between the lines and although we still lack a midfielder breaking beyond the forwards it was so much better to watch and harder to play against.

One other point – as a team we like to get ahead and then play on the counter. If this is the case are we not better opting to attack our noisiest stand first when we win the toss and not just when our opponents force us into it? I think it set the whole tone today. Discuss…..

Personnel wise I still think we can improve – we lack a passer in midfield and I’d like to see Brooks (eventually), Cook or Surman start in front of Gosling. I think King for Callum would also finish us off as a very strong team when he returns. They were the two weaker links today in an overall hugely improved performance.

Lerma will be a miss…… Taylor was gunning for him the minute he called Franno over to talk it through just before half time and that’s what made it a different scenario for Lerma, who let’s face it is more used to skipping innocently around on a yellow than the cast of the Wizard of Oz.

The thing for me was the magic in the stadium though. The feeling that we are back and all getting along well. It has been so painful for a year and while two strong performances doesn’t mean we’ve got it nailed it does mean we haven’t forgotten or permanently lost the ability to do it. The wave of emotion at the end – the huddle and the cheer – the clear togetherness of the squad. Hat’s off to Eddie for pulling this back from the abyss that was the London Stadium. There are only two unwinnable fixtures left for us if this squad and it’s returning members keep up this application and energy but all the remaining fixtures could be lost if we slip back. Each game confirms the belief we will be ok – and we will learn more next week at the Blades. We couldn’t be going feeling more content and I imagine it can’t come quick enough for the team. Up the Cherries.

Your say…

Danny11 wrote…

Good report. Slightly harsh on Callum I feel as I thought he ran his socks off, but agree is touch is still AWOL.

The thing with the ref today, yes he warned Lerma, but I lost count of the number of tactical fouls Vill committed in the 1st half and although the ref gave us the free kick’s, no yellow cards for them insight and the 2nd yellow for Lerma was beyond a joke.

Billing clearly MOTM, he was everywhere. – Join the conversation, click here.

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