There was Dan Walker off Football Focus in the club shop, setting up for the morning’s transmissions. Brave New World!
Andy – thanks again – had sorted out tickets; we found ourselves lower down (G/H) & nearer the away block. Looking behind us, massive changes to the media section including Jonathan Pearce for Match of the Day up at the top. A few empty seats around us; a sunny day, too soon for football! The teams came out to those dratted flares along the opposite touchline but to massive applause. Both teams had changed somewhat, with big signings on both benches. Atsu was out injured; no sign of Stanislas or Tomlin. Boscombe had Gosling in for Arter (enforced) & King for Kermorgant; Villa had new signing Micah Richards in central defence & a bunch of unknowns further forward. The guests k.o. towards the North Stand.
For the majority of the half, Boscombe played with confidence, oozing style, giving Villa little time or space. Pugh & Daniels linked well; excellent anticipation (absolutely key in this division) stopped the move but Daniels retrieved it well. Both sides indulged in niggly pushes. King was speedy; soon he won a corner but Surman back-headed over. Gosling was caught dithering – always his shortcoming – but the ball eventually reached the right wing where Ritchie cleared up tidily. Villa seemed to be playing as if in a pre-season friendly, with several players having only just met and not knowing who was to do what. Nevertheless, some were quick & sharp. Either Elphick or Cook conceded a corner; long, cleared well by Francis who then gave away a throw.
Wilson was drawing mistakes from the away defence; King headed over. This was promising. Then Francis won it back near the far away corner, but Villa had it covered. Ritchie hit one wide from 25 yards following a decent Wilson/King move. The Ritchie/Francis link was working, then a corner was cleared & Villa shot wide. So far, so good for the new boys. Gosling was feeding the forwards well; Pugh right down in front of us produced an outrageously exquisite Cruyff turn – his trademark – but his cross found a box bereft of forwards. That turn (I think of it as his Immelman turn, after the WWI flying ace) was worth the entrance fee alone – his first-ever game at this level, in front of the cameras, proving both his self-confidence & that Eddie Howe was giving the players confidence to play to their ability. Pity it wasn’t included on MotD. The pressure was on Villa; the ball came through to King who fed Wilson, on to Surman who shot wide. This display would’ve creamed any Div.2 side, but Villa proved just good enough defensively to hold out.
A superb cross-field pass from Ritchie to Pugh saw the latter take it towards the box. Pinball ensued, with the ball coming back in from the right & Gosling hitting it over from 10 yards. That needed to have been buried; “when on top…” Then Wilson was in on the right; an iffy touch allowed Guzan to make himself big & deflect for a corner. Again… Villa attacked; Cook made a great saving tackle in the “D” but was yellowed – to home boos. The free was headed for a corner. A good pass put in King on the left; he cut in but put it over. Ritchie was clattered, earning the opponent a yellow. Further pressure on the away goal ended with Pugh striking a pile-driver; it hit the ground before rising which helped the keeper push it out. Villa just didn’t seem like a bona-fide Div.1 team; this whole top division thing won’t hit fully until our team walks out at Anfield for the next game. HT: 0-0
After good early home moves, Villa attacked with more speed and intricacy. The ball was cleared off the home goal line; Villa made better midfield triangles. The 8 – Gueye (Gana on his shirt) – was beginning to control midfield, patrolling upside from the centre circle. Villa just needed an old-fashioned no.9; how their fans must’ve been missing Pongo Waring (Villa hero 1928-35). Actually, so did Boscombe – Kenwyne Jones? Steve Fletcher? (er…)
Pugh’s run gained a corner, & on 53 Kermorgant replaced King who’d had a debut that showed Eddie Howe can work on him to improve. Daniels at last missed a tackle, with Villa more prominent. The sun was now under the roof edge, so Mum’s 44-year-old scarf came in useful to protect my bare arms. Villa’s next attack saw the sub, no.39, hit across just wide from tight wide right. Hmmm… Pugh gave way on 69 for Gradel, who soon received well a terrific cross-field pass from Ritchie. He crossed & the resultant header was cleared off the line. Now it was an even game, but the Francis/Ritchie understanding was showing cracks.
Elphick had to head away for a corner; the 39 came in & rose on the penalty spot to power in the header. 0-1, 72; old-fashioned sucker-punch. (Jonathan Pearce used the same expression on MotD so he must’ve been looking over my shoulder at my notes…) I’d forgotten how tall Gestede (the 39) is; with his hair, my height. Silence from the home fans, then gradually increasing vocal support. Boscombe had a free 25 yards out, inside-right (another Villa Y); clever clever, with Kermorgant receiving wide right and chipping across for, eventually, Surman to fire over. Boscombe stuck to the game plan, but Gosling took a yellow for a pull-back. The Villa 11 (Agbonlahor, now with a great future behind him) made his most telling contribution by racing through but merely passing to Boruc. (Sinclair didn’t exactly set fire to the turf; let’s give credit to Surman & the back-four for Villa failings.) Ritchie was clear on the right, but the right-footer was over the near angle.
O’Kane came on for Gosling on 84; one wonders how more effective Arter would’ve been. O’Kane contributed little of note, but I was really pleased for him now he has a few minutes of Div.1 pitch-time. Both sides were making crunching tackles. 5 minutes were added, ending with a home corner that, like the game, came to nothing. FT 0-1
The crowd drifted away, more than disappointed. This is a game that could – should – have been won by half-time. There are lots of football matters on which to work, not least communication at all times as it seemed to disappear over the goal. At times it was like 2 seasons ago – the away team conceding its 2nd quarter (18-yard line to centre circle) & packing the area.
A small consolation: 3 other teams lost by 2, including Arsenal at home, so Cherries are not (yet) bottom 3. However: the standard points level to avoid relegation is 38; the past 3 seasons have been 36 (2014/5), 34 (2013/4), 37 (2012/3) but let’s not presume too much. 38 is a point per game. That could be W5:D23:L10 so we’ve already lost 1 of those 10. As it’s unlikely we’d gain any points from the usual top 5, that means 38 from 14 clubs, across 27 games now. We must remember that both seasons after a promotion, Eddie Howe has been able to work out & address the problems. This season, there are fewer games – and proportionately even fewer clubs than in Div.2 – from which to regain points lost. So it’ll have to be a much steeper learning curve than in recent seasons. I just hope it doesn’t turn out like Derby or Sunderland a few years back, a lowest points total.
MoM: Ritchie was chosen by the sponsors but never made that killing pass or goal attempt; Surman worked hard protecting the back four; but for what he did for the time he was on the pitch, a proper attempt on goal and that Cruyff turn, I’ll give it to Pugh.
AFCB: Boruc; Francis, Elphick, Cook, Daniels; Ritchie, Gosling (O’Kane, 84), Surman, Pugh (Gradel, 69); Wilson, King (Kermorgant, 53)
Subs (not used): Federici, Distin, Mings, Smith
Peter Wicks, Bulford