Almost 3000 Cherries made their way 'up north', whilst your author had a lazy get up and short tram ride into town. As the Cherries fans and Exiles poured out of trains at Piccadilly station it was clear that prior advice to dress 'discretely' had been widely interpreted as wearing a replica shirt, hat, scarf and numerous badges accompanied by lusty singing. I wondered what dressing overtly on match day might produce as I zipped up my jacket on the mean streets of Manchester. However the admirable display of red and black was never going to impress the bouncers on city centre pub doors on a mission to prevent away fans from entering. This meant the Exiles pre-match plans were thrown into disarray with fans in various and variable locations. The Port Street Beer House proved a homely house for a select band before the 25min walk to the Etihad.
I have lived in Manchester throughout the building of the Stadium for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and it's subsequent gradual and well planned transformation in a major football venue. The plan to develop the Etihad in stages whilst remaining true to its classy and sleak original design has worked well with the latest addition of a further 6000 seats in a third tier at the away end being achieved in a seamless transition without detriment to the overall symmetrical shape of the Stadium. With capacity now at 54,000 the large Cherries contigent had an opportunity to set a new attendance record (more of this later). With a further 6000 seats to be added next year at the other end to create a perfect 60,000 stadium to match any in the country. Although I have yet to visit to Emirates (28th Dec) I understand the seats are more shallow and distant from the playing area compared to the steeper pitch, clear lines and excellent views in all sections of the Etihad. However after 90mins many of us might have wished for a more restricted view!.
Cherries made two changes from the disappointing draw against Watford with Smith preferred ahead of Pugh and O'Kane for King in a more defensive formation with Murray on his own up front. A more significant unplanned change saw Federici start in goal after Boruc was injured in the warm-up. Hardly the ideal start to a big test of the Cherries top flight credentials. City were also depleted (if that can be said of a team with cover for every position) with both Aguero and Silva out with £49m pound man Raheem Sterling up front as main striker alongside 'Bony Wilfred'. Captain Kompany was on the bench after playing for Belgium in the Euro's in midweek.
Despite their illustrious opposition it was Cherries who started brightly on the front foot with neat interplay and movement in midfield. We were clearly here to pay our normal game with no intent to put 10 men behind the ball as most teams do at the Etihad. Disaster and back luck then struck with Zabaleta heading the ball back across goal for Bony to push forward into thd oath of the onrushing Sterling who looked offside as he scored at the back stick. Cherries loud protests were ignored by the official so 1-0 City and thd fame hardy underway. 5mins later it got worse with Sagna crossing from the opposite side producing a diving parry by Federici right into tears path of Sterling was was not going to miss from 6 yards for his second goal. 2-0 City. I feared for thd Cherries as Kevin De Bruyne appeared in positions all over the pitch including marauding in from the touchline in front of the Colin Bell Stand. His ruuning style and control reminded me of the No8 City legend of the sixties. Yaya Toure then played an outrageous through ball that Sterling almost converted for his hat trick. City were now imperious and in their pomp with Cherries powerless to offer any threat. Then suddenly O'Kane appeared in the style of Silva, swopping first time passes in the attacking half before threading the ball through to the onrushing Murray who shot low and hard past Hart for an excellent goal. 2-1 and game on?. Sadly not as City quickly made it 3-1 and Sterling's hat trick as he latched onto a De Bruyne through ball and danced across the Cherries defence, putting Cook and Distin on their backsides before slotting the ball under Federici. A classy goal but embarrassing for the Cherries defence. Just before half -time De Bruyne hit a curling screamer that Federici turned onto the crossbar and it looked as though 3-1 would be the HT score before s Navas shot was saved by Federici only for Sterling to score from the rebound for 4-1 and a hat trick and game over for the Cherries. HT 4-1.
The second half started quietly with City content with cruise control rather than going all out for a big score. No doubt the upcoming Champions league fixtures and the small matter of the Manchester derby formed part of the thinking as subs were made to key players. Cherries for their part huffed and puffed to regain a foothold in the game without ever really offering any attacking menace. We cam only imagine what impact Calum Wilson would have on a City defence bordering on the complacent. That said City spurned two good chances of further goals with a miss by Bony and Sterling hitting the side netting ftom a good position. Macdonald replaced O 'Kane on 65mins, King for Murray on 74mins and finally Pugh for Smith on 78mins. King had one chance that brought a comfortable save from Hart. In the last minute Bony scored on a quick break to make the final score 5-1.
All that was left was the Stadium announcement of a record attendance at the Etihad of 54,502. This led to the highlight of the afternoon as all three tiers of the massed ranks of the Cherries following combined a fine rendition of 'You're only here for the Bournemouth'. Something to keep up warm through the harsh winter months.
Overall a sobering experience against the likely Champions but there remained an unanswered question of what a full strength Cherries team could have achieved against a side not used to being attacked by the opposition.
On a difficult afternoon my man of the match goes to Matt Ritchie who looks comfortable at this level and arguably our best player and most valuable asset. The sooner we have Arter and Elphick back the better will be our chances before the Jan transfer window, when in my view we must buy a proven goal scoring centre forward to play alongside Murray.
Cherries: Federici, Francis, Distin, Cook, Daniels, Surman, Smith (Pugh 78), Gosling, O'Kane ( Macdonald 65), Ritchie, Murray (King 74).
Jack Parker, Didsbury