Saturday 2 May 2015

A Party, But Not For Us

Turned out to be quite a party for Bournemouth, quite a welcome back for Kermorgant, and nothing much to sing about for us. It was how we expected it to be and nobody in that sense disappointed. Bournemouth pretty much cut us to pieces in the first half and any chance of us making it a decent contest faded as we failed to get the goal to make it interesting and then disappeared with one of the daftest double-substitutions I've seen. All that was left was for them to score a third, us to prevent a complete rout, and then for a rather forced trip around the pitch for the players, before handing the party back to Bournemouth. Good luck to them.

The team contained a few surprises/changes. Gomez was left on the bench, hopefully not because we feared an injury before we can cash in, Cousins didn't even get a subs berth, while the chances of an end-of-season cameo from Le Point went out of the window. In front of Henderson, Johnson and Ben Haim were paired, with Solly and Fox. Diarra and Buyens took the central midfield spots, with Bulot and Berg Gudmundsson out wide, while not surprisingly Watt and Vetokele began up front. With four defenders and a keeper on the bench, only Church and Eagles provided alternatives going forward.

Bournemouth took control early on, passing the ball better than us and showing enough signs that they could score, if not when they wanted then pretty close, especially as we were making some pretty poor errors. Our back four seemed to line up intent on holding their positions, while Kermorgant played a bit deeper, laid it off and sucked defenders towards him when he collected the ball, leaving space for the speedy guy alongside him. Just as ominously, their guy down the right was finding plenty of space, with Bulot showing an indifferent (and then inability) to do the defensive work. Early on it looked as though we might be dangerous with one attack in three, whereas they looked like scoring each time.

The game seemed set up for something inevitable inside the first two minutes. Diarra was adjudged to have clipped Kermorgant advancing towards the box, giving them a free kick in prime position for him. Thankfully this time his curled effort failed to clear the wall and a minute or so later a loose ball in the box was thumped by him some way over the bar. Johnson was guilty of a poor header back towards Henderson which was easily intercepted, but Diarra came to his rescue with a good block.

In the event it took them 10 minutes to go ahead. It wasn't rocket science but was well executed. Ball played forward to Kermorgant and he played it wide right to their guy in acres of space, Bulot having not tracked back. He took it inside a bit and curled in an unstoppable low shot into the corner of the net. After that the last thing that was needed was to give Bournemouth a gift they didn't need. Buyens dwelt on the ball on the edge of our box and trying to turn out of trouble was robbed by Arter, who slotted easily past Henderson. Dreadful error duly punished, while Arter's celebrations in front of the East Stand seemed to be a little over-the-top.

Next up Francis advanced and hit a low shot from outside the area that went narrowly wide. That would have been hard to take. A couple of their corners threatened danger while at the other end we did have our one decent moment of the first half as Gudmundsson got free and fired a strong low cross that just needed a touch from Vetokele. Otherwise our frustration was evident as Igor misplaced a pass when in a good position. Bulot threatened once or twice, Watt caused them a problem or two, Diarra hit a shot over the bar. But otherwise I can't remember us carving out anything before the break, while a season that started so brightly for Vetokele ended rather tamely as he seemed to fall badly and was replaced by Church.

At half-time the impression was we were fortunate to be only two behind and, this being football, you just never know. Somehow scrape one back and, attacking the Covered End with some momentum, might still be a real contest. Alternatively a third for Bournemouth and that would be it.

Neither happened. We were more in it as perhaps Bournemouth felt that two would be enough (which is not to say they didn't have chances to add to their total, including one deflected on that came back off the bar). Watt advanced well and almost played in Church, while Gudmundsson was becoming increasingly influential. But the game stuttered as, when players weren't dealing with streamers and balloons, Church fell awkwardly and required treatment before being able to continue, then Watt seemed to pull up with what looked like cramp. The bench seemed to be preparing to take him off, but he indicated he could continue.

With about 20 minutes left on the clock Luzon opted for a double change. Diarra, who had been our most effective player in helping out the defence (while admittedly not adding much going forward), was taken off, along with Bulot. On came Gomez and Eagles, with the former slotting in at right-back and Solly moving inside. Just what the rationale for that one was escaped me at the time, while using the third change when both forwards had been hobbling seemed totally mystifying. That came home to roost shortly after as Watt went down again and this time hobbled off, not to return (in the good old days of course he would have walked around the centre-circle for the rest of the game).

Two down against a very good team, down to 10 men. The final part of the game was little short of a farce in footballing terms. Between them Church, Eagles and Gudmundsson actually contrived to create a few threatening moments. But perhaps the final straw was us getting a bit of space and Gudmundsson running through on goal only for Church to tread on the ball. The Icelander's expression said it all. And these moments became irrelevant as, after Yann had taken his leave of The Valley pitch, Bournemouth scored their third. They could have had more were it necessary, but with the news coming through from Watford everyone on their front was more inclined to begin to party.

After the final whistle we had some words from Jackson, a few from Luzon (who might have apologised for that double-change), then the stage was created for Bournemouth to be crowned champions. Kermorgant rightly celebrated with them, but still found the time to climb into the West Stand to embrace some fans and to be cheered to the rafters. Everyone knows that our loss is Bournemouth's gain.

No player ratings for this one. Honourable mentions in dispatches for Gudmundsson, Diarra, plus Church and Eagles. Others pretty much went through the motions. Buyens' error for the second goal was awful, but these things happen and the greater criticism is that he showed little desire through the game to be out there. I also felt that Vetokele didn't want to be on the pitch either, especially after his early mistake. Just who will be there next season and who will not, we wait to see.