Date: 18th December 2016 at 8:20pm
Written by: Neil Dawson

Oh the bitter demon of local rivals defeat……it’s been over a year since we welcomed your dark shape to our door. Over a year since you sat cackling at us as we stared out of the window trying to think about something… anything… else.

Yes – after a brief blip early in the year the norm of crushing derby defeats returned to Dean Court this afternoon. This time, it was made worse as we were the total architects of our own misfortune – a mixture of tactical bizarreness and collective mistakes laying the foundation for a solid defeat at the hands of them up the road.

Eddie made only one change – Wilson, arguably fortuitously, returning for Afobe. This meant, crucially, Howe was going to retry his Wilshere in the engine room role that had worked against a deep lying non-pressing Leicester against a much harder working Southampton midfield. It also meant the back four disrupted again with Smith still in midfield.

Still – the game couldn’t have started better. A strangely muted atmosphere though but it was quickly woken up. Bournemouth attacked brightly, as is our wont at home and achieved a flurry of corners. Only five minutes was on the clock when one of these came to fruition, a short one found Wilshere whose delicious cross was met by a diving AKE whose bullet header registered his third goal and woke up 85% of the fans in the ground.

It looked good, we were swashbuckling, they were buckling. King then did a Ronaldo chop (ask a nine year old – mine told me) and fired a stinging left foot drive that Forster somehow kept out between his legs. It was all flowing in it’s normal style the Bournemouth way.

I’d love to see the stats for how many teams in the last four years have scored against Bournemouth with their first meaningful attack. Today added another notch to that obliterated bed post as BERTRAND scored a goal that if it had been anyone other than a Southampton player I might have sneakily enjoyed. Firstly though Smith will hang his head in shame when he sees his little dollied foot that the left back waltzed inside, before going outside of a statuesque Francis and firing an oblique angle thunderbolt past Boruc.

This moment seemed to crush Bournemouth who started to flap in possession, Wilshere in particular losing it too deep too often, and was lucky to escape when Rodriguez’s drive took a deflection into Boruc. We were outfought in midfield from that moment on and offered up acres of space which Southampton capitalised on. We were then reliant on trying to play on the break, something that we largely did for 80 minutes. King and Wilson don’t gel never have – and many moves were breaking down on that axis either through confusion over who was doing what role or through poor control. With Smith trying to play a very odd sitting in role which he too couldn’t get it was terribly disjointed. Still as their fans reminded us afterwards – Southampton rarely score away so nothing for us to worry about…was there…

HT Bournemouth 1 Saints 1

The second half saw the tactical switch that won the match. Puel had spotted that the gap between Bournemouth centre halfs and centre midfield was so large that the Brownlee brothers would struggle to negotiate it and popped Steven Davis on as a sub to sit in it. Crucially, Eddie didn’t spot this and the sub was free to do what he wanted, which he largely did, unopposed for 45 mins. His first contribution was to waltz in on a couple of one/twos and dink the ball over Boruc for RODRIGUEZ to tap home on the line.

It was all Southampton at this point – stroking around the pitch as we totally lost midfield and all shape. Fraser arrived, strangely for Pugh when he is a right footed winger and Smith was having a mare. That put the wee-man on his wrong foot and not on the flank that he tore Liverpool apart on.

Southampton kept attacking, Redmond rippled the top of the net with a dipping drive. Afobe then arrived for Wilson and then in the final throw of the dice, Ibe for King. Still Smith survived. Ibe started in the ten slot but looked lost so Eddie swapped him with Fraser – really, none of them knew where they were playing or what to do.

I can sum the rest of the game up in one paragraph. A determined defence frequently stopping a (rampant!) Southampton attack. There’s a sentence Saints fans won’t have dreamt they would read tonight. An exhausted and overrun central midfield failing to get the ball to four forwards stood at the other end of the pitch all running away from the knackered midfield on the rare occasions they got it.

Southampton capitalised, they had to really. Those fans singing about scoring two away must have thought Christmas really had come early when RODRIGUEZ’S majestic 20 yard dipping volley found the top corner and Boruc’s brave block denied him his hattrick…….

There’s always Chelsea away though to brighten up Christmas…….

FT Bournemouth 1 Southampton 3

Boruc 6 – Nothing he could do about goals – two smart saves.

Francis 6 – Involved a lot – we miss him in the middle.
Cook 6 – Won a lot in the air and generally solid enough.
Ake 7 – An all action display, calm on the ball – good goal.
Daniels 6 – Very quiet going forwards…coped defensively.

Smith 4 – Ran out of ideas first half and steam second. Not his slot.
Arter 5 – Over-run, tactics let him down – chasing only.
Wilshere 6 – Often out hassled but some class moments taking on.
Pugh 6 – Not at Tuesday’s heights but some good turns.

King 5 – Sound like a stuck record but……not his position.

Wilson 4 – Second to everything and first touch very poor.
The team’s inconsistent record of not recording two victories on the trot continued. Eddie admitted afterwards that we were way too open and that three games in eight days was too much for us. We are about to do three games in eight days again so it will be interesting to see if he differs his approach.

That covers stamina – what it doesn’t cover is why nobody on the bench spotted what the fans could all see a mile off. We were totally overran in midfield. We finished with Smith, Fraser, Wilshere and Arter – potentially the smallest least physical midfield since Sean O’Driscoll picked up his book of laconic interview replies and hotfooted it to Doncaster. The cover they afforded the back four was the cover that Factor 4 suncream affords a July afternoon in the Gobi. All the right personnel were there – just in the wrong positions… Issue Number 1 – Wilshere is brilliant, but needs to play in the hole.

Issue number 2 – The Smith experiment. It’s good to experiment… you need to know when something doesn’t work and stop it though. £15m of wingers in the stand watching a converted reserve right back flounder around a pitch is not funny.

Issue number 3 – King – When he arrived and played as a number 10 there were very unfair (on Christer Warren) threads asking if he was the worst player to play for us. He returned as a striker and we all fell in love. He is now back in the ten role and hasn’t contributed anything. The difference now is we are all aware how he can play in the right position.

Issue number 4 – Fraser has to be on the right.

Issue number 5 – Throwing as many wingers onto a pitch as you can – Eddie you are better than that. The problem wasn’t the forward line – it was the overrun central midfield that couldn’t get the ball to the forward line.

Now, all of those issues are not only easily solved, they could have been solved today without using subs. The right players are on the pitch, just in the wrong position. The result – today’s performance and the third time in four game this side have conceded three goals with this set up. Perhaps Leicester’s inability to take chances and our heroic defending papered over the cracks and allowed this confusion to rumble on.

Now….before Rob Trent points it out……we are tenth in the premier league so who are any of us to pick this apart. There is a point to that argument that I totally get. I do reckon though that thank’s to Eddie’s great coaching ability we are in a great position but still not quite achieving the best out of what he has built. He needs the back four back as was. Ake in midfield, Wilshere in the hole and King either up front if he is feeling very brave (I would) or on the wing. I really believe that put that to place and we would be even higher.

So – a frustrating loss but still a great league position. Just a shame we couldn’t have lost to Leicester and won today to achieve it!

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