Disappointing that MacDonald was not in the 18 having done so well at Villa. Hornets k.o. to the North end, but were pushed back then Kermorgant won the ball surprisingly easily & put Wilson through down the centre. The central of the 3 defenders stuck out a leg a bit late, Wilson tumbled, and the ref – after a short deliberation – pulled out a red (28 seconds!). Not a “dogso” – the other defenders were in close attendance – unless the ref felt Wilson’s pace would’ve taken him clear of all 3. Still, the home crowd roared, now expecting an easy win. Kermorgant’s free went for a corner. Hornets merely went from 3-5-2 to 2-5-2 and continued with the game-plan with the 24 (Ighalo) terrorising midfield & defence with pace & trickery, & 9 (Deeney) using power to bully his markers. Could do with that pair…
Boscombe – harried & hurried – panicked more than once, and in the middle of this awful spell Cook was yellowed & FA Cup scorer/winner Ben Watson put one just wide. Passing was poor, & Boruc’s clearances too often went into touch. A general malaise was lifted briefly when Daniels drilled in a cross, Kermorgant controlled with his left foot & volleyed (in the proper sense – the ball didn’t touch the ground) with his right onto the bar. An inch lower – in-off. Pugh was looking good, bar – perhaps – his style of delivery. Then Wilson, at inside-left by the corner of the 6-yard box, was nudged in the back of his leg by Cathcart’s knee. Wilson went down & Kermorgant smacked the penalty straight into the net. Bit soft? Little protest from Cathcart. 1-0, 35. Arter went forward, relieving his oppo of the ball but then continued & dived in on the 3. Yellow; if it had been studs up then red. Ritchie was always looking for opportunities, but the away set-up meant he was never quite able to strike from the 18-yard line. The disjoined performance barely deserved the lead; HT: 1-0
The 3 did not re-appear, perhaps still affected by Arter’s tackle. From the restart, Boscombe still tippy-tappied too much up top, looking to walk the ball into the net. However, the Hornets’ keeper (Gomes, ex-Spurs & QPR) had flapped at a few in the first half & continued the practice now. From a splendid left-wing move, Ritchie put it just wide from the “D”. Pugh won yet another corner, but Elphick produced another terrible pass; Hornets just kept harassing. Then Pugh, consistently good all game, produced a quite wonderful Cruyff turn by the corner flag & put it over. The ball went beyond the back stick; Ritchie was on it in a flash & smacked it right-footed back across the keeper. Yay!! 2-0, 57. Surely now all would be right? But Francis joined the bad passing set (this time to Surman). Each time the perpetrator was not looking, and/or the recipient was unaware, or the pass was misdirected or under-hit (Kermorgant not the only transgressor in this last sub-group). In this particular instance, a last-ditch tackle conceded a corner not a goal.
Surman had been mediocre in the first half, but was evidently playing himself back to form as the side slowly steadied. Boscombe now took control, with wave after wave of attacks as Hornets tired. Even so, Hornets still posed problems, eager to snap onto mistakes, but still never really troubled Boruc. Ritchie’s cross was headed by Kermorgant “back where it came from” – only to be tipped superbly round for a corner. The home team had regained composure; Kermorgant flicked to Wilson who beat his markers twice then flashed just wide. Francis drove one in low but the keeper was down well. Wilson won it well on the goal-line, but no-one had come up in time & eventually the keeper collected. But it all meant time spent up top, not nearer the home goal.
Wilson won another corner; Arter did a lovely subtle flick to let Ritchie hit it at the keeper. O’Kane replaced Kermorgant on 77, and immediately midfield looked stronger, with more options available. Francis & Wilson won corners, both wasted, and there was another misplaced pass. But Hornets definitely seemed to be tiring, although Elphick was yellowed for being just too late in the tackle.
Around this time, the ball went out into the away fans, who proceeded to play beach-ball with it. Stewards & police showed much consternation; Ighalo came over to signal to the fans to cool it – superb initiative, all credit – but soon after was felled, & rolled around as if his leg had been amputated by the tackle. The ref had a quiet word. Footballers, eh?
Wilson broke superbly (credit to the passer), allowing Ritchie to win a corner. Then the latter swapped out for Smith on 89 to a standing ovation. The latter was felled wide right; from the free, O’Kane was tripped on the short edge of the area – TV replays showed the ankle buckling, probably more deserving of a red than the actual one. But this was all running down the clock. Sponsors gave Ritchie man of the match. O’Kane had to go off briefly, and Pitman came on for Wilson on 90+4. The whistle blew; joy & relief from the home fans & much support from the travellers. FT: 2-0
Something of a get-out-of-jail situation. Once the 2nd goal went in all was (largely) back to normal, but all credit to Hornets for taking the game to the league leaders, causing much disruption & panic. This must be of concern to the management; it might now be time to give Ward some pitch-time. However, other weekend results saw the 3 top clubs just beginning to open up a small gap.
Ritchie was superb, providing, scoring & all that, and Wilson terrorised his oppos all game, but for such an outstanding example of wing play this observer grants the award to Pugh.
AFCB: Boruc, Francis, Cook, Elphick, Daniels, Ritchie, Arter, Surman, Pugh, Kermorgant, Wilson
Subs: Camp, Ward, Stanislas, Fraser, O'Kane (for Kermorgant, 77 mins), Smith (for Ritchie, 89 mins), Pitman (for Wilson, 94 mins)