Date: 6th May 2017 at 7:32pm
Written by: Neil Dawson

The obligatory ‘nothing at stake except £12m’ mid-table end of season trot about produced the obligatory pleasant draw as Stoke and Bournemouth shed no further light on end of season rankings.

Two own goals, plenty of errors, tired legs… could have written the script yourself and, from my point of view, a strange lack of entertainment for a four goal showing.

Eddie kept to the formula of two up front , deploying Mousset for the injured Afobe. In a more surprising change we saw the Wee Man/Stan swap that happens like a pendulum through the season…

The game started slowly – a pre season air about both teams and both sets of fans (no Delilah or Eddie had a dream just after kick off). The teams resembled two kids discovering FIFA for the first time with long balls flying into the stand and ‘to me, to you’ passing. It took a full 21 minutes for anything to actually happen that resembled Premier League football. This saw a move between Smith, King and Stan with the latter smacking a beautiful curling drive off the post with Mousset blazing over the rebound.

Both sets of players seemed to be wondering ‘Dubai or Vegas’ and were in full stroll mode with the notable exception of Harry Arter who could get aggression into a Badminton match – he was hunting people down like his team’s survival depended on it and one two footed challenge on Allen looked a red all the way, a brush on the ball saving him potentially. There have been many softer reds this season – no less Franno v the Arse on this ground.

This shook a bit of aggression into the game with Arnautovic and Smith enjoying some handbags at dawn on a couple of occasions as Stoke’s Weightw*tchers forward line longed for their half time do-nuts.

The end of the first half belonged to Stoke with Boruc saving smartly from Muniesa…Bournemouth didn’t heed the warning and were behind to a set piece header (how did you guess?) on the half hour mark… Unfortunately Lys Mousset showing a rare for a Cherry ability to attack an aerial ball and flashing an own goal past Boruc off the side of his head.

Bournemouth had little response, with Stoke retreating back to their solid lines of 4 and 5 and us passing the ball endlessly sideways with the four most advanced players struggling for any room or space. King did blaze over from Stan’s cross but that was about it.

HT Bournemouth 0 Stoke 1

The second half repeated the pattern. Bournemouth comfortable in meaningless possession and losing it whenever they tried to do it in a meaningful position. Stoke were frantically waved backwards by Hughes everytime they crossed the half-way line and it was all a bit insipid. Fraser arrived for Lys to play in the hole and he injected some energy which got the crowd going a bit.

An equaliser duly arrived…the impressive Lewis Cook releasing Smith with a ball inside the full back and his low hard cross was cleverly dummied by King for STANISLAS to fire his fifth of the season in off Butland.

Rather than liven up Bournemouth it served to stir Stoke into crossing the half way line, sometimes with their manager’s permission. A series of corners and set pieces by Shaqiri flew in. The little Swiss was like a fat wasp all afternoon. Irritating and just when you think you have got rid of it………….. He was playing us single-handed at times and Stoke retook the lead through a goal that we haven’t seen the like of since League One (Groves era).

A chipped high ball came in slowly like an action replay of a cross. Francis and Boruc mis-judged it, it bounced then bobbled, Franno watched it again and missed a chance to clear, DIOUF swung a leg, miskicked and the ball went past Boruc in instalments just mustering effort to trickle towards the net.

Eddie threw on Gradel for the injured Stan and put him in the hole. Again this injected the crowd through a song and Max didn’t disappoint. Lewis Cook was the architect again in finding Smith and his cross was headed by Gradel against King who fired in off Shawcross…. the goal again being called as an OG which I will be intrigued to watch back as it looked like Kings all the way from my seat.

That was it…….both sides puffed away for an undeserved winner but lacked the nous and dare I say energy to pull it off.

FT Bournemouth 2 Stoke 2

Boruc 6 – Not an awful lot to do but could have dominated their second

Smith 7 – Two assists, great forward play, caught behind a bit.
Francis 5 – Game to forget for the skipper – didn’t grip it.
Cook 6 – Some great blocks but as with Franno didn’t control.
Daniels 5 – Strangely quiet and gave ball away more than norm.

Stanislas 6 – Usual mix of greatness and giving away…
Cook 8 – He bossed the game at times and is learning quickly
Arter 7 – Gave it away a bit but a 7 for caring this much.
Pugh 5 – Quiet day for our icon today – missed link ups with Chaz

Mousset 5 – Flashes of speed and skill but understandably raw
King 5 – Lacking a bit of recent verve but plugged away.

The Premier League is so supercharged and talented that you can see why most bottom half teams that hit 40 points slow down (historically). Just take 5% of their effort and its a different game. Had we needed three points to stay up we would have won comfortably against a Stoke side with some big names but zero adventure.

It was reminiscent against the games at the end of last season with an air of holiday around everywhere. Question marks must be asked again over a defence that can’t deal with routine balls on a consistent basis and it was a little stuttering up front. The best action came from the midfield or Smith.

Mousset was lively in small cameos but still adjusting to the way we play and hopefully, today was the day the scouts came to watch our Josh. What we saw today was that if a team comes and sits against us we have too many forwards who need the ball played through and nobody who likes to drop deep and scheme. We don’t play in the gaps. Thankfully – not many teams do come and sit against us!

Still – the main thing is always mathematical safety and its a fantastic achievement that we have another year of the top table in Britain and the cash injection that arrives with it. The team, Eddie and his staff and the board deserve great plaudits for making it happen again. That will live longer in our memory than the game today.

Report by Neil Dawson

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