Bournemouth have waited all season for lady luck, she finally smiled against Leicester


On Monday evening, Eddie Howe walked his dog along Bournemouth’s seafront and attempted to reflect on the night before. But even the tranquility of the Dorset coast might not have been able to provide the answers.

The seaside has habitually been a source of quiet reflection for the Bournemouth boss. Most evenings after work, Howe takes his Boxer dog Eric to the beach, giving both him and his canine pet ample time to wind down, ready for bed.

I’m usually down there on the beach late at night,” said Howe, speaking to the Guardian in 2014. “I’ll put a hat on, run or walk, depending on how I feel physically and it’s one of the rare times I won’t get bothered and can really switch off.”

But when Eric took his Monday evening trot, it was unlikely his owner was able to switch-off. In fact, it has probably been a while since Howe has been able to find any sort of respite away from football. The three-month suspension of the Premier League only elongated the suffering, with Howe continuing to be at the forefront of any demise in the club’s progression.

Right now, Bournemouth are entrenched in a precarious battle for survival, one that requires calmness and consideration, even under the most pressurised of circumstances. His side have been teetering on the brink of relegation for months, daring to think of the devastating repercussions that would ensue because of it.

To fully understand the magnitude of task Howe is currently fixated with, the 42-year-old recently described securing Bournemouth’s Premier League status as “the most difficult challenge” the club has ever faced.

This quote is somewhat significant, considering the situation he faced as a rookie boss in 2009, when Bournemouth were at the basement of the Football League and perilously close to going out of business altogether. They started the season on minus 17 points due to the failure of exiting administration.

But Monday’s walk was likely to be quite different to what had gone before. Howe would normally use this time as a chance for introspective evaluation on his and his side’s performance. But given the freakish, downright outlandish nature of the match against Leicester 24 hours prior, even the unflappable and erudite Howe may have struggled to come to terms with what happened.

There was half-an-hour to go and the writing seemed already on the wall for the Cherries. Those watching either in the ground or from home had all but cosigned Bournemouth into Championship wilderness.

Their performance in the first 60 minutes had been so frankly abject, that it provoked the sense we were all watching a team, a manager and a club anarchically disintegrate in front of our very eyes. The feel-good story of the past decade was slowly seeping out, with each chapter more enduring.

If the curtain hadn’t already fallen before the match, then this showing would have made everyone go home. Bournemouth appeared so mentally awash, that the show would have hit the road and the cleaners would already be in, tidying up the subsequent residue.

‘Howe’ was trending on Twitter, and not as the subject of praise for his managerial methods. Comments were flooding the @AFCBournemouth handle too, with fans from other clubs finding their next prime target to ridicule.

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The game was passing Bournemouth by. Howe was now in the last remaining stage a manager could be in. It’s called the ‘desperation’ stage. He had switched to a back-three at half time, with no attempts to disguise that the ensuing 45 minutes would have to be an all-out kamikaze mission, to even give his side a chance of survival.

But 15 minutes into the second-half, the tactical shift hadn’t worked. Leicester were still dominant and Kasper Schmeichel was still a human noise creator, generating a racket far greater than the 11 players in red and black could collectively muster. Bournemouth were also still getting overwhelmed by the physical specimen Wilfried Ndidi and the passing metronome, Youri Tielemans in midfield, too.

The manner of how Leicester’s opposition were chasing shadows and the vast disparity in confidence levels bore resemblance to nine months ago at St Mary’s, the last time the Foxes had visited the south coast.

While the scoreline wasn’t quite a 9-0 demolition, the superiority in mental and technical aptitude was on similar levels. The first hour mirrored a typical game in Bournemouth’s season, possessing all the hallmarks of their defeats this campaign. Batterred and bruised, they would also have personnel casualties to show for it.

Nathan Ake had already limped off, injuring himself after performing an outstanding block to stop Jamie Vardy from grabbing his second. If a moment summed up Bournemouth season, it was that.

Punctuated by an individual error – this time a wretched pass from Arnaut Danjuma – was subsequently compounded by an injury to a key player. Taking two minutes to walk off the field, with physio’s propping him up, Ake’s season was effectively over. And perhaps so too was his Bournemouth career, with interest intensifying over the Cherries’ star player in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, a player held up in completely different regard was having another mare of his own. So often the fall-guy for Bournemouth defeats, Dominic Solanke was also causing traffic on social media.

Shortly into the second-half, he had actually overtaken his boss for tweets about him per minute. Of course, most posts reminding you that this was set be his 39th Premier League appearance for the club, still with a pulsating, embarrassing zero next to his name in the goalscoring charts.

The apex of humiliation arrived in the 5oth minute, when Solanke proved why he was chosen to play the role of the protagonist in the ever-cringe, ever-exacerbating, comedy sketch show that was Bournemouth’s season. 

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Driving in from the left, Solanke had a yard of space to get a shot off, and test Schmeichel. Instead, he hesitated, as if he had just remembered he hadn’t scored in the league for well over 70o days. Whilst Solanke was working up the courage to pull the trigger, David Brooks was onrushing from the opposite flank. The ball fell into the path of the winger, who also hesitated. They both left the ball for each other.

The dithering meant Leicester regained possession and almost scored from the resulting quick-fire counter. It was rinse and repeat. Solanke’s non-shot effort produced a collective groan from the stillness of Bournemouth stands, and certainly those watching from their sofas.

Meanwhile, Howe’s reaction to it all was somewhat apathetic. A shake of the head was proceeded by a pensive gaze to the floor, as if he were wishing the technical area would part ways and allow him to be swallowed up; his look of disdain told you everything you needed to know.

Even his ceaseless efforts of positive reenforcement towards his players were running out. His regular cry of “come on!” or his constant on-pitch orders of “get tight!” were becoming fewer. It looked certain Howe was set to have another chastening walk along the beach the following day.

But in a calamitous two minutes, Lady Luck decided she’d make a rare yet welcome return to the Vitality. In a blink of an eye – literally as I initially missed it – Bournemouth were offered their first slice of fortune.

The human radio Kasper Schmeichel blasted a goal kick at team-mate Wilfred Ndidi. The deflection fell into the path of Callum Wilson in the box. Ndidi panicked and chopped down the striker.

Junior Stanislas, who had come on to play as a right wing-back at half-time, stepped up and converted the penalty.

Queue the next Leicester self-implosion.

Just when it seemed Bournemouth could be playing all night and still wouldn’t score, they then found the back of the net twice in as many minutes. The blue shirts parted as if they were performing a guard of honour for Dominic Solanke, who drove into the box and scuffed the ball underneath Schmeichel. The incessant shouting of the Danish goalkeeper had all of a sudden become rather subdued. 

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The fact that Solanke managed to score a goal, an actual Premier League goal, wasn’t the only thing that was bizarre in those calamitous two minutes. The sight of letting Dominic Solanke squirm his effort over the line must have just been all too much for Caglar Soyuncu, who let out his frustration on strike-partner Callum Wilson, kicking him into the net in the seconds after. Despite VAR’s best efforts to slow the game down to a halt and unnecessary analyse Soyuncu’s cynicism, the red card shown was upheld.

After looking so poised all evening, Leicester were unravelling in the most chaotic of ways. The epitome of chaotic, Jamie Vardy, could only watch on and attempt to intermittently savage the players behind him.

All the narratives that would derive from the game would have to be altered. No longer could the headline be about how hapless Bournemouth were or how forlorn Eddie Howe looked. Instead, Bournemouth were visibly revitalised, and the direct cause of that was through the strangest of circumstances.

You could not label their fight-back as a product of self-instigation, nor an incredible team fight-back. It was through Leicester, uncharacteristically, caving in.

In the 83rd minute, Jonny Evans was the next player of the Leicester backline to self-destruct. Junior Stanislas cut in from the right before sending a low ball across the box. Queue Bournemouth’s third case of luck.

In an effort to block the cross, Evans stuck out an outstretched leg and turned the ball into his own net. 3-1 and game over.

They say luck comes in threes. Well Bournemouth would tell you otherwise.

As the old proverb goes, “you wait ages for a bus and two come along at once.” In Dominic Solanke’s case, change that to goals.

In the 87th minute, Solanke proceeded to utilise footwork most didn’t know he had, to dance round two Leicester City players, before dinking the ball over Schmeichel. From in-game ridicule on Twitter to post-match acclaim, Solanke was the player at the forefront of the bizarre turnaround in fortunes.

It was the first time Bournemouth had come from behind to win a match since August 2018 and in a fashion that no one could imagine.

Disdain became pleasant surprise for Howe, whose paradox in body language was apparent in showing a man, unsure but content, at what he had just witnessed.

“The goals always change games and we haven’t scored enough of them recently”, admitted Howe. “It was probably the first time in a long time where we’ve had some luck.”

You can say that again.

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This was an absolute freak, an anomaly of a result, of a performance. While Howe would have preferred Bournemouth’s luck to have trickled throughout the season, rather than just poured out in one game, there was no better time for Lady Luck to rear her head.

Admittedly, the scoreline was a false pretence. For the most part, Leicester were all over their counterparts, and looked a sure bet to compound Bournemouth’s misery.

But some sort of devine intervention occurred. Was it an extraordinary twist in the relegation tale, or just a  30 minute creation of mere fantasy? No one knows what or can explain why four match defining moments all went Bournemouth’s way, but there is little time to reflect.

Howe knows this, too. When Eric was let off his lead on Monday evening, you can suspect the Bournemouth boss still wasn’t able to comprehend what took place the night before.

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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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