Dec 29 AFC Bournemouth 1-1 Ipswich Town Att: 11096

Last updated : 30 December 2013 By Peter Wicks

The team lined up seemingly 4-1-4-1, with O’Kane again sitting and Ritchie & Fraser out wide. The startling news was that McQuoid was in for the suspended Arter, & would mean a slight change in midfield organisation with McQuoid presumably supporting Grabban more than the midfield had done recently. No sign of MacDonald (unfit) or Rantie. Town k.o. to the North End and applied early pressure with a corner, a free & 4 more corners. Little bit of backs-to-the wall from the home side, being slow 2-3 times and with no out-ball in the centre circle (but Town didn’t have one either in the game), but soon Cherries came into it. Town seemed organised, but Grabban attacked on the right and pulled it back for Fraser whose shot was deflected for a corner.

Then Surman put in Grabban on the left with a delicious pass inside the wide defender. Grabban should’ve hit it to the keeper’s left, but went the other way. It was saved, but the offside flag was up. A defensive mix-up let in Fraser whose left-foot slash went wide. He then went on a left-wing run; the cross went for a corner. O’Kane tried a long chip, clawed away. Francis had an attempt saved. Fraser won a free, but then the ref. seemed to realise he’d been gulled so didn’t give Fraser anything after that. Nevertheless, Cherries had most possession for a decent spell, ended by a Town corner. Cherries now had a 4-2-3-1 shape, and at last Ritchie tried a shot, having been quiet so far. Francis fed Grabban who put in Fraser. The initial touch was just too strong and the shot was saved. Daniels won a corner; Surman won the ball well (as he did for us 8 years ago) and fed Fraser, the early part of a purple passage that fizzled out. Town shot over then had one deflected for a corner. Cherries took that out and ended the half on the attack. HT: 0-0.

On restart, Fraser went down but no pen as he’d been sussed. Town won a corner; Francis slipped but the cross hit an attacker and went for a goal-kick. Grabban went through but hit it at the keeper. O’Kane brought it brilliantly out of defence and fed Grabban who went to send it over to an unmarked Fraser but the cross was blocked (very poor by Grabban). Ritchie might have been awarded a pen. Then Town hit it over from the right and the no.9 tapped it in at the far post, with Francis not far enough over. 0-1, 59. My friend Izzy, a Town fan, jumped up next to me in celebration, leading to stares from the steward. This was somewhat out of the blue by the Blues, and led to the first personnel change. McQuoid should have driven at the defence in the way that O’Kane drives out of defence, and had contributed little of significance, but in fairness this was his first game for ages. So he was replaced by Pitman on 60.

Town had a little bit extra savvy around the pitch, but Fraser still managed to cut in and have a right-footer saved for a corner. Town had a shot deflected at Camp, who otherwise had little to do all game. Fraser’s cross was caught well, an easier part of the away keeper’s afternoon. Then Pugh came on for Fraser on 73, and immediately sent over a good cross. The keeper punched, Pitman tried an overhead, the ball came out and was driven back in. The keeper saved but it spilled to Pitman, who was first up off the ground and planted it with extreme prejudice into the roof of the net. 1-1, 74. Cue massive celebrations!

A shot was again deflected for a corner, which was pawed in by the keeper. Elphick wheeled away in celebration, but the officials decided he’d fouled the lucky net-minder. The entirely independent view of the North Stand was somewhat different – no discernible contact. Elphick set Pugh on a run and cross, which Pitman had little option but manage to head back wide as it was just too high for him to direct properly. Ritchie had a shot again deflected for a corner; the match was really hotting up. 2 more corners in quick succession, and Surman had a shot saved. Yet another Cherries corner saw a somewhat fortuitous save; the keeper had a really good game and was a major factor against a home win. Grabban hit over from an offside position. F-T: 1-1

Fair result, and we can’t expect 2-3 goals every home game. In the context of the season, 29 points from 23 games is more than most of us expected. It also means only 21 from 23 are needed for the (probable) safe level of 50 – less than a point per game. What would be really good would be finishing above 12th, thus would be the highest-ever finish in the club’s history.

The manager – also still learning about this level – might have taken some of his braver decisions (re-configuring midfield; dropping Rantie) sooner. O’Kane is a revelation in his new role, but this observer still feels a really dominant midfielder is required – the equivalent of a gridiron quarterback (which Arter tries to be but isn’t) – as well as a dominant forward. Often lovely to watch, so far, but cuter is needed, and more dominance – and a more urgent mentality, quicker of thought, quicker to seize an opportunity. In this observer’s estimation, the best side so far is Leicester City – with 2 central midfielders good enough to allow 4-4-2.

Ugliest away side – Bolton, who had to do a job (2 tight banks of 4) to help rebuild the Trotters’ season. The biggest part of the learning curve is how to deal with such opponents.

Man Of The MatchMost had a good game, with Elphick & Ward dominant and the 2 full-backs bombing forward as usual. The sponsors gave it to Surman - shows how much they know about football (he was OK but no more). Texters gave it to Eunan O’Kane, with which I agree.

AFCB: Camp, Francis, Elphick, Ward, Daniels, Ritchie, Surman, O'Kane, McQuoid, Fraser, Grabban
Subs: Allsop, Addison, Harte, Hughes, Thomas, Pitman (for McQuoid, 60 mins), Pugh (for Fraser, 73 mins)

Peter Wicks, Bulford