Date: 14th December 2016 at 8:37am
Written by: Neil Dawson

Cometh the hour……cometh the returning hero! Marc Pugh …..inexorably linked with everything great about this club’s meteoric rise reaching his own pinnacle with the goal that shot down the champions 1-0. Another electric night under the Dean Court lights.

Its like Cluedo trying to work out Eddies line ups these days. Will it be Adam Smith at the far post with the lead piping? The changes rang out again as Wilson, Fraser and Gosling departed to be replaced by Afobe, Pugh and Wilshere. Maybe controversially, the recently maligned back four stayed as was after 9 goals in 3 games had gone past them. Jack Wilshere was also deeper than normal – a role Wenger used him in at the Emirates.

There was no complaints about the team selection or the tactics once the game started. Ten minutes of solid Bournemouth possession set the tone for the first half in general. The ball was zipping about everywhere at pace Arter and Daniels particularly prominent. For all the beauty though (and possession stats touching 85%) there was no real threat. In fact – in a microcosm of how they won the league Leicester absorbed all of this pressure and broke to create the games best chance! Vardy rounded Boruc but Cook made an immense recovery to block the England striker’s shot. Slimani then air shot from six yards after Francis’s mistake had let Fuchs in.

Bournemouth then took the game back on with some wonderfully intricate triangles and movement that was breaking down a little on Kings anonymity in the number 10 role and Afobe’s first touch. Elsewhere it was great to watch. Wilshere was growing into the game and spraying the ball around all over the park. He had the only home shot on target in the first half hour with a low drive held easily.

The threat was growing and Bournemouth were starting to get behind Leicester’s defence instead of looking great in front of them. This led to the game’s only goal. Smith was released expertly behind the back four and his cross was thumped by Afobe at Zieler who parried to the edge of the box. It was a tricky waist high shot, but we have seen him do this many times and PUGH did not disappoint with a perfectly controlled volley that Zieler got a hand to but couldn’t keep out.

At the other end Leicester were playing in flurries and three times Cook made tremendous interceptions to deny Morgan with a header, Huth with a block and Vardy again. It was an outstanding display by the centre half and saw his team through to half time on a clean sheet.

HT Bournemouth 1 Leicester 0

The second half saw the arrival of Okazaki for the anonymous Slimani. The little Japanese forward presents a different challenge from deeper and this was to give the champions a link and more possession – which, to be fair, it did in a brief purple patch that saw Francis just miss his own post and a series of throw ins and corners that were launched to the penalty spot and defended manfully.

Time at the other end was at a premium and Smith nearly made the most of one foray with a superb clipped drive that just missed the angle of cross-bar and post. Pugh was turning on the spins and turns quite majestically and Franno was galloping but the rest of the team were starting to wilt a little and Leicester were gaining an ascendancy.

Huth headed just wide from a corner and Okazaki curled just wide as Eddie was frantically trying to wave his team out from their own box. Wilson arrived for Afobe and Gosling for King as Eddie tried to add legs and this helped for a short while Pugh curling narrowly wide with a fine effort after a run.

Ulloa then arrived to give Leicester three centre forwards and two wingers – it was like the end of a cup tie. Mings arrived to add height as Wilson hurt his face and departed and the final onslaught began.

It would have been a travesty if such fine defensive work was undone and it wasn’t. This was due to Cook who capped a performance to remember with another match saving block on Okasaki and Boruc for a point blank save as the nerves jangled.

FT Bournemouth 1 Leicester 0

Boruc 7 – Good handling, one top drawer save.

Francis 7 – Bit more like old days, solid at back and a sea of crosses
Cook 10 – Won the game with four stunning interventions.
Ake 8 – Athletic, intelligent and watchful.
Daniels 8 – Always good when with Pugh – telepathic.

Smith 7 – Toiled manfully – comes in too much for my liking. Solid.
Arter 7 – Avoided a booking thankfully and spread it well.
Wilshere 8 – A joy to watch on the ball and some great moments.
Pugh 9 – What a return…..If you weren’t there think Pugh at his best.

King 7 – Never shines at number 10 role but stuck at it.
Afobe 7 – Led line well, no real threat but a good team performance.
Verdict
A crucial and exciting win that was never convincing but always spirited. Leicester will be kicking themselves for not taking one chance in the match but who’s grumbling?!! This was reminiscent of the Everton and WBA games – get in front and fight like alley cats to keep it.

I was nervous about the starting line up, I’m not afraid to admit it. Leicester’s susceptibility to pace at the back made it a strange decision to start Afobe to me and I’m still not convinced Smith shouldn’t be in the back four and Ake in midfield. But – what do we know! Wilshere coped better than I thought at not getting outran or fought deeper in the engine room and perhaps Wenger has a point about his vision being useful from deeper as he brought people into the game all over the shop.

The issue is working the front four out. Again a full back trusted before several wingers, King’s wings blunted and Afobe doesn’t offer much more than Wilson but is slower. Still a pleasant problem to have sat in eighth spot in the Premier League!!! There are many permutations and I’m sure Eddie is on it constantly.

Stars of the show though were the defence who were just outstanding to some real, real pressure and Pugh. It’s great to have a reminder of our rise through the leagues and Pugh, who arrived from Hereford, epitomises it more than everyone bar Arter. Everytime he twists and bamboozles a full-back I smile at the thought that every league we went up I wondered if he would get found out. Tonight I thought you could play him at the Bernabeu or the Nou Camp and his drag-back would still work. God Bless Marc Pugh……(but thank the lord for Cookie)……….I’m not even religious, but it is nearly Christmas….

Bring on the Scum!

Report by Neil Dawson

 
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