And what a corker to pop out of the fixture list - the 5 times European Champions against the team of the last five years. It struck me Cherries should have 4 stars on their shirts for the 3 recent promotions and great escape!. The last trip to Anfield was Jan 1968 in the days of Pound, East and Bolton and an inevitable 4-1 FA cup 3 replay defeat in front of a baying Anfield 54,000 as the giants devoured the minnows.
However here we were at Anfield 45 years later on merit as deserved Champions of the Championship having earned the right to walk out as equals alongside the mighty reds of Merseyside. Following the summer anxiety over ticketing away points etc it was emotional to look around the Anfield Road end and see so many regular travellers and die-hards from the one Dean Court coach to the far flung outposts of English football in the lower divisions. This game was surely reward for them as much as for Eddie and the team.
So the moment finally came at 1955pm. There were long memories etched in faces and more than a few tears as the Cherries strode out into the Anfield arena to begin their Premiership away campaign. Eddie made two changes from Villa with O'Kane for Gosling and a maybe a surprise first start for £6m Gradel in place of the unlucky Pugh. King continued alongside Wilson with no place for Kermorgant not even on the bench. For me it was moving to see Eddie keep faith in the back four who have served us so well through two promotions. Liverpool included the giant Belgium Benteke at centre forward, an expensive summer signing from Villa. Former Cherries player Danny Ings was on the Liverpool bench.
Any apprehension Cherries would freeze on live TV in front of a 45,000 crowd were dispelled as the team started well, quickly adapting to the pace and movement of the game and taking the play to their illustrious opponents. Early on you could see that Coutinho was a quick classy player and Adam Lallana a constant dangerous threat behind the maurading Benteke. Cherries bright start continued and after 5mins a corner was won and as the cross came over there was Elphick meeting the ball with in a close tussle with Lovren and into the net went his header in front of the rapturous away fans. Then heartbreak. The ref disallowed the goal for a dubious foul by captain Tommy. More than a bit harsh and maybe a sign of what to expect in this league away from home at the so called 'big' clubs'. Cherries pressed on regardless with King shooting over and Ritchie looking on his game with instant control and dancing runs inside and outside the full back.
Sadly a legal goal did not materialise and Liverpool clawed their way back into equal possession of the ball and then started to string a few moves together. 26 mins - Henderson whips in a wicked cross, Cherries defence held the line as Coutinho, clearly offside in the centre of the goal, distacts Boruc with a missed swipe at the ball and there is Benteke at the far post to beat Boruc with a close shot in front of the Kop. It was hard to see from the away end but the goal did not look right and it wasn't long before the Sky Sports replay verdict via Smartphone was known with no doubt Coutinho was both offside and interfering with play. Another cruel piece of luck after so much good work. 1-0 Liverpool and how would the team react?. It was almost 2-0 not long after with Milner to Henderson who shot over from a great position. Then a weak pen appeal on 38 mins as Henderson went down after a challenge by Gradel. Cherries survived for 1-0 at the break.
Eddie team talk and out we came firing on all cylinders no doubt fuelled by a strong sense of injustice. Ritchie continued his fast incisive runs across the Reds defence with a stinging shot saved by Mingolet and a shot over the bar. Wilson joined in with a shot blocked by a defender as Cherries increased the pressure, looking comfortable on the ball and oozing confidence. O'Kane was relishing the chance to show his passing skills with more forward balls hit at pace to the wings and through the defence. Tomlin replaced King on 61 mins for his first game at this level as Eddie tried more craft up front. Another swerving shot by Ritchie punched over by Mingolet and then a real first time left foot piledriver by the same player that just curled past the post. Wilson fed O'Kane who shot into the side netting. It was all Cherries as we anxiously looked at our watches. Gosling came on for O'Kane and Smith for Gradel as Eddie tried to increase the pressure. In the meantime Coutinho had reminded us of his danger with a shot just over. As Cherries pressed for a deserved equaliser they took more chances and it took two great blocks by Surman and Daniels to keep Liverpool out before Benteke spurned a late opportunity to finish the game when he hit the top of the crossbar when a goal seemed inevitable. Final score 1-0 Liverpool.
So huge disappointment at the result but massive pride in the performance in only Cherries second game at this level. Daniels looked a real quality player and O'Kane impressed with his passing. Wilson is yet to score (he has had quiet spells before) and King and Tomlin need more time to adjust. Gradel looked good but his final touch let him down and Pugh may have been better choice to start? Ritchie was a cut above and is easily my man of the match. So we walk onto the Boleyn Ground with hope in our hearts and hopefully a first goal in the unforgiving Premiership.
Cherries: Boruc, Francis, Elphick, Cook, Daniels, Surman, O'Kane (Gosling 81), Ritchie, Wilson, King (Tomlin 61), Gradel (Smith 81).
Jack Parker, Didsbury