Bournemouth’s collective inspires 2-1 win over Aston Villa


On Friday morning, Eddie Howe declared the Villa clash as a ‘massive moment’ in Bournemouth’s season. On Saturday afternoon, his players seized that moment.

It was the 63rd minute, Bournemouth were 2-0 up and had been reduced to ten men. Nerves were growing by the minute and their counterparts were pushing. But unlike most matches this season, something seemed different.

Villa’s talisman Jack Grealish picked out Matt Targett, who quickly fired an effort towards goal. Normally the shot would have found the net. Normally Bournemouth’s players would have trudged back to the centre circle, heads bowed, dejected and ready to capitulate.

Bournemouth’s Player of the Month Aaron Ramsdale dived to his right, with full-back Adam Smith racing back to the goal-line. Together, they combined to block off the line and clear the ball from danger. It drew yet another roar from the crowd, who were determined to match their player’s efforts.

First-half goals from Philip Billing and Nathan Ake in his 100th appearance saw the hosts lead 2-0 at the break. They were good value for that lead, outrunning, outworking and downright out-fighting Aston Villa. A stark contrast to the usual adnouns that have been associated with the sunny seaside club this season.

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To underline Bournemouth’s first-half superiority, Aston Villa had to wait until the 26th minute to register their first effort. That effort, from Frederic Guilbert, sailed over the Ted McDougall stand and was closer to hitting a parked car rather than Ramsdale’s goal.

Despite the ease of how Bournemouth controlled the first-half, supporters remained wary. In all games this season, the side have been in the lead for an average duration of 17.8 minutes per match, which is significantly lower than the average duration of 30.3 minutes.

And they were proved right to be concerned.

Moments after hitting the crossbar, Jefferson Lerma was shown his second yellow for blocking Grealish off the ball. After succumbing so often this season, Bournemouth were expected to down tools, surrender to the inferiority of numbers.

In the 70th minute, a looping header from Mbwanza Samatta gave Villa a lifeline. Surely the comeback would begin. Surely Howe’s men would give in.

“This is a stage where we have to give everything in this match,” Howe insisted 24 hours earlier. “We are going to need the same again from everyone in the stadium, from all the players, everyone connected to the team.” 18th in the league and with the visit of Aston Villa awaiting, the Bournemouth boss was in bullish mood.

A self-professed ‘obsessive,’ Howe had regard for very little else outside of football. His side were embroiled in a relegation dogfight and were approaching a season-defining period. And for Howe himself, it perhaps served as a managerial one.

The nature of his pre-match comments suggested a man under pressure, possibly for the first time in his dug-out career. The typical softly-spoken tone of Howe became assertive. His comments were issued as a war cry to his players, an attempt to rally an injury-ravaged, confidence-strayed squad.

But what followed after Samatta’s goal was unusual but nonetheless, impressive. Bournemouth remained resolute, resisting the Jack Grealish led wave of attacks. Keinan Davis had a few half chances but in truth, the hosts looked in control.

They could have scored more, had it not been for Ryan Fraser’s lack of height after he attempted to latch onto Callum Wilson’s low cross.

In the 94th minute, Smith and Ramsdale embodied the Bournemouth resistance again, when the latter held onto a bundled effort. While there was collective sigh of relief from the Vitality, Smith’s aggressive fist pump proved something different. These were a group of players still giving everything for the relegation fight. “You see the players care,” said Howe post-match.

The collective effort wasn’t just in the players and supporters. Even the ballboys got on in the act, intent on helping out the cause. It led to Dean Smith remarking afterwards: “the ballboys went missing after the 55th minute and probably went down to have a pie.”

Perhaps the changing of Bournemouth’s fortunes were evident even before a ball had been kicked.

As the players were in the tunnel, Kanye West’s ‘Power’ was being blared over the speaker. You are probably thinking, what’s that go to do with anything? The answer is everything.

Yes, it was a minute, seemingly innocent change, but offered revealing insight. Shortening the often overused, Neil Diamond classic ‘Sweet Caroline,’ Bournemouth had reverted to the song which was played throughout their ascent to the Premier League and beyond.

It was an admittance that the proverb which the Cherries always sworn by: ‘Together, anything is possible,’ had merely become a couple of words, clouded amidst relegation waters. Instead, the change of song served as a move to re-discover their old collective edge, their tried and more importantly, trusted way of going about things.

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Throughout the 90 minutes, Howe and his aide Jason Tindall were barking out orders, enthusiastically clapping every action of his men. It had the feeling of going back-to-basics, going back to what they do best.

The supporters duly echoed their manager’s energy, repeatedly bellowing ‘Red Army’ from the off. “Its the loudest its been all season,” one supporter exclaimed.

When the full-time whistle blew, not one person inside that ground could have underestimated the magnitude of the victory. Against his quiet, introverted character Howe ordered his men to the Steve Fletcher stand, where they held a team huddle. These were the actions of a man who sensed a shift of direction, an upturn in form and fortunes.

As the players scattered from the huddle, they were able to look up and witness each supporter, unmoved from their seats, in chorus: “we are staying up.”

Time will tell if that song is sung come what May, but for now the collective spirit, epitomised by Smith, Ramsdale, Howe and even the ballboys, suggest promising signs.

Back-to-back wins now see the club move out of the relegation places, up to 16th. “We are still alive and kicking,” Howe stated after.

And while they are, who would bet against Bournemouth staying afloat.

Team Lineups

AFC Bournemouth (4-3-3): Ramsdale; Smith, Francis (c), Ake, Rico; Gosling, Lerma (Red Card, 51), Billing; H.Wilson, C.Wilson, Fraser

Unused subsititutes: Boruc, S.Cook, Surman, L.Cook, Stanislas, Solanke, Surridge

Aston Villa (5-2-3): Reina; Guilbert, Konsa (Engels 45′), Mings, Hause, Targett; Luiz, Nakamba (Trezeguet 79′); Grealish (c), El Ghazi (Davis 58′), Samatta

Unused Subsititutes: Nyland, Elmohamady, Lansbury, Hourihane


About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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