AFC Bournemouth vs Manchester City

Champs Defeat Cherries 1-0

Everything was set up for a perfect Saturday. In the morning I had planned to meet my friends in the pub and settle into a prime spot for the North London Derby. The afternoon would be spent at nearby Twerton Park, taking in Bath City’s promotion push against Truro City. I had it all mapped out, a great day of football.

Then an offer too good to refuse just dropped in my lap.

How would you like two tickets to go see Bournemouth take on Manchester City? For free?

I would have been mad to turn down such an opportunity, and so it was that I found myself on a train bound for sunny Bournemouth, and not in the cosy confines of the local pub.

Born and raised in the shires of south Dorset, a journey back to the county of my birth is always a trip I enjoy, and having only recently visited Bournemouth in the summer, I was excited to return and see Eddie Howe’s Cherries once again. The hosts had the unenviable task of facing Pep Guardiola’s squad of stars, the sky blue juggernaut that is Manchester City. A tiny part of me must admit how excited I was at the prospect of seeing those world class players in person.

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Before I delve too deep into the details of this trip, I should probably answer the question you’re surely asking:

How did you get these tickets for FREE?

Camila, our dearest friend and fellow Bath City supporter, was able to acquire the pair of tickets from a friend of hers but sadly for Camila, work commitments prevented her from attending, which is how they found their way into the grubby mitts of Caleb and I. Camila, being the best person in the world, offered them to us at no charge, purely out of kindness (and possibly blackmail… what does she have on me?) There are not enough thank yous in the world to bestow upon our favourite Colombian, but hopefully this little gift will show some of our appreciation.

Thanks to her incredible generosity, Caleb and I pulled into Bournemouth station at midday and met my uncle, a fan of the Cherries for over 60 years. A short drive to the ground followed and as it was Caleb’s first visit to the Vitality, a trip to the club store was a must. The club had their replica shirts reduced by 50%, down to the bargain price of £22.50, and it took all my willpower to resist purchasing one. I had already succumbed to temptation on my last visit, buying one of the navy Umbro training jackets (seen in this post’s pics), but the thought of adding another football shirt to my collection definitely crossed my mind.

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As kickoff to the North London derby approached, the three of us made our way to the 1910 club bar so we could watch the game on their big screens. My uncle was very patient indulging two Arsenal fans for 90 minutes and a late penalty miss. He was even kind enough not to pile on our misery at dropping two points. Despite the result, the bar was a great place to enjoy the game, a very relaxed atmosphere and it was quick and easy to get drinks.

When the final whistle blew at Wembley we left the bar and went straight into the ground, just as the teams were completing their warm-ups. Being in the southern stand we had the Man City players in front of us and for about 5-10 minutes we geeked out. “Oh my god that’s Aguero! There’s Sterling! Look how close we are to Ederson, I can see his shit neck tattoo!” I must admit I was a little giddy to see Mikel Arteta just a few feet away as well, one of my favourite Arsenal midfielders in recent years and Pep’s right-hand man.

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The sunshine in the morning had disappeared by this stage and the sea breeze off the coast brought it’s distinctive winter chill. It finally felt like attending a game in early March. We found our seats (with generous legroom) and settled in for the show.

The game was a tightly contested affair, albeit dominated entirely by the team in blue. That sentence may seem contradictory but Bournemouth were impressive in their organisation and resilience, and did a fantastic job containing the City threat. Bournemouth’s Dutch centre back Nathan Ake stood out in particular, and shepherded his defensive line to repel the City attacks again and again.

With the visitors enjoying 82% of possession, Bournemouth were so busy defending that whenever they did win the ball, they couldn’t do anything with it. Even young playmaker David Brooks, a revelation since signing last summer, was unable to get the Bournemouth attack going. The hosts were simply missing too many key players to give City a real test, as Callum Wilson, Lewis Cook, Jefferson Lerma, and a host of others missed out due to injury or suspension. Bournemouth ended the game with nothing to show in terms of attacking purpose: no shots, no shots on target, not even a lousy corner.

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City on the other hand were essentially flawless, with Guardiola classing this as one of their best ever performances in his post-match interview. At times it was like watching a training ground exercise, the players were so at ease keeping the ball, moving it around to tease the Bournemouth players out of position. Defensively, they never let Bournemouth enjoy a moment on the ball without pressure from every angle.

Even when Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones were forced into substitution through injury, City’s rhythm and playing style was not effected in the slightest.

In fact, it was substitute Riyad Mahrez who got the goal to secure the result for his Manchester brethren. Ten minutes into the second half and with City’s pressure starting to mount, young Ukrainian left back Oleksandr Zinchenko (who was immense all day) worked well down the flank to get the ball to David Silva. The Spaniard brought the ball under control and fed it out wide to Mahrez, whose first time strike seemed a little scruffy, but had enough zip to beat Artur Boruc at his near post. On the replay, Boruc will be devastated he let the relatively tame effort get by him without more resistance.

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After the restart Boruc did everything in his power to redeem himself, as he single-handedly kept the scoreline respectable for the rest of the afternoon. City’s hold on the game only intensified when they took the lead and multiple efforts from Aguero, Sterling and Mahrez were all beaten away by the big Pole in goal. He deserved the man of the match award for keeping the result from getting out of hand.

Sadly his teammates were unable to muster any sort of response in the face of such overwhelming superiority. City simply had a better player in every position, and that’s to be expected given the financial gap between the two clubs (which I hate and disagree with immensely, but that’s a topic for another time). Even with the disappointing result, Bournemouth can take solace they weren’t on the end of a hammering like so many experience against Guardiola sides.

Eventually the referee brought an end to proceedings and we made our way out of the ground to the sight of the City players celebrating in front of their travelling support.

Despite wanting to see Bournemouth win (if I had such a thing as a second team, they would probably be it), I have to admit that seeing players like Aguero and Sterling at the peak of their powers, and just metres away from me, was a sight to behold.

That aspect of the football experience, seeing the best players in the world, is still a novelty to me, and one I treasure at that. I hope that feeling never wears off.

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AFC Bournemouth vs Olympique de Marseille

Pre-season delight for the Cherries

With this summer’s World Cup now firmly in the rear-view mirror, Premier League teams across the country were busy fine-tuning their squads this weekend. With the pre-season coming to a close, I had the opportunity to visit the south coast and see Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth match up against last season’s Europa League finalists Marseille.

I’m a Dorset lad, born and bred, and if I knew AFC Bournemouth existed when I was seven years-old they likely would have been my team. By all rights, they should be my team, as they are the Football League club closest to wear I was born and raised. Alas, Arsenal got to me first when I was young and impressionable, and the Gunners dug their hooks in. By the time I discovered the Cherries, it was too late.

However, since my early days of playing FIFA on the Playstation, I have had a soft spot for Bournemouth. I regularly chose them to play with on the game, and enjoyed an especially productive career on FIFA 2004, taking them from the old division two to the Premier League. James Hayter, I owe all my success to you.

Little did I know that a decade later, the real AFC Bournemouth would match my virtual achievements, and then some.

From facing insolvency to facing the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United on a weekly basis, it’s a truly remarkable story. Tiny AFC Bournemouth have now been a fixture in England’s top division for the past three seasons (now entering their fourth), despite being one of the smallest towns (population: 187,000) to feature at the highest level.

And so it was that I found myself in Bournemouth on Saturday the 4th of August thanks to my uncle, who had secured us tickets for the visit of Olympique de Marseille, one of French football’s largest and most successful clubs.

My uncle has been a Bournemouth fan since the mid-fifties, and has fond memories of the club’s epic 1956/7 FA Cup run. He travelled as a youngster to Molineux to see the Cherries beat Wolves 1-0, back when Wolverhampton were a major force, lead by England captain Billy Wright. The famous victory is hailed as one of the greatest FA Cup giant-killings.

We had a pleasant walk along the tree-lined King’s Park Drive, arriving early at the Vitality Stadium (cosy capacity: 11,464), or Dean Court as it should be known, and did a lap of the ground before heading to the bar. We then stopped into the club super store, and I did my best to resist buying a jacket. I have jacket fever and the Umbro range was particularly tempting. As always, I did pick up a programme, and also a pin badge for my jacket. It’s something I’ve started doing with each new ground and team I visit.

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Together we had seats in the East Stand, not usually my uncle’s preferred position but a perfect view and very close to the players. The ground was bathed in glorious sunshine, and the temperature was pushing 29 degrees. Unfortunately we were in the direct sunlight all afternoon, and it must have been the hottest I’ve ever been at a football match. I’m just thankful I wore a white t-shirt; I felt sorry for the Bournemouth faithful decked out in their red and black striped replica kits – they must have been melting!

Only a handful of key players were missing from Bournemouth’s squad, since the Cherries had played Real Betis the Friday night before, so it was a completely changed eleven for Saturday’s game. Sadly there was no Lewis Cook, Jordon Ibe, Jermain Defoe or new signing Diego Rico, since they had all featured in the 2-0 loss to Betis. There was still a lot of quality on offer however, including young David Brooks, acquired from Sheffield United this summer.

Marseille featured some star power of their own, namely captain Dimitri Payet, but Kostas Mitroglu, Luiz Gustavo, Jordan Amavi, and Hiroki Sakai all started for the French side, with Remy Cabella and Clinton N’Jie making impressive cameos off the bench later in the day.

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The game got off to a fast start and before many fans had even found their seats, the home side were ahead. With just 13 seconds on the clock, a Ryan Fraser cross drifted into the path of Cherries right back Adam Smith, arriving on the edge of the box. Smith connected sweetly with a half-volley that arrowed right into the top corner. It’s easily the fastest goal I’ve seen in person and probably one of the best, a superb strike.

Bournemouth never let their foot off the pedal and proceeded to overwhelm a shell-shocked Marseille. In the 25th minute Fraser was the creator again, feeding a ball into Joshua King who managed to direct the ball past ‘keeper Yohan Pele with his first touch to make it 2-0. King doubled his tally ten minutes later when Brooks, who was able to find space all afternoon, turned to thread a perfect pass into King, who clipped the ball in delightful style to make it 3-0. Smith’s drive to open the scoring was impressive, but King’s little chip for his second was probably my favourite goal of the day.

Marseille were struggling to get a foothold in the game until Payet, the only player of note in the first half for the visitors, forced Cherries goalie Asmir Begovic into a fine save in the 36th minute. Begovic made a leaping dive to his right to palm away Payet’s curled effort, a great stop.

Bournemouth started the second half exactly the way they did the first. The youngster Brooks, again finding space, this time with a delightful turn away from his defender, played a ball down the right flank to King, whose pace was too much for the recovering Luiz Gustavo. King pulled the ball back for Fraser, who tapped home for Bournemouth’s fourth to cap off a sweeping move that had the crowd on their feet in appreciation. It was thoroughly deserved for the Scottish international, who had been at the heart of everything positive.

A four goal lead against one of Ligue 1’s top teams seemed inconceivable before kickoff but Bournemouth were not finished yet. Just minutes later the home side added their fifth, when a perfectly weighted ball over the top found Callum Wilson in space and the goal at his mercy. Wilson used his agility to knock the ball around OM defender Boubacar Kamara, before sliding the ball into the corner. Wilson had played well in the first half, linking with his midfield nicely thanks to his excellent hold-up play, and his well-taken goal was a just reward.

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With such a large lead it was natural for the Bournemouth players to ease off a bit, especially in the heat. Nathan Ake was replaced soon after the fifth goal, and other key players later made way for a host of prospects to get some playing time, with the American Emerson Hyndman impressing.

With half an hour to go Marseille started to impose themselves, and they grabbed a consolation when Frenchman Valere Germain swept home from a tight angle. Finally, with just a minute to go the visitors were able to add one more, when Remy Cabella struck a beauty from outside the box that was too much for Begovic. I remember Cabella looking completely lost when he was at Newcastle years ago, but he was dangerous for every minute of his appearance at Bournemouth, and his goal was sublime.

When the final whistle blew, my knees were pink from the sun and I was in desperate need of a drink, but had thoroughly enjoyed watching a rampant Bournemouth dismantle a Marseille team that possessed some real quality (even if they didn’t show it on the day.)

Multiple players stood out, including Fraser, Wilson and man-of-the-match King, but it was the new lad Brooks that shone brightest for me. Maybe Marseille were too ignorant of his ability and didn’t pay him enough attention, as the 21 year-old constantly found himself the freedom to operate and dictate play. I like to think the young midfielder created his own space, as he regularly unpicked the lock and displayed the mature decision-making abilities of a veteran. The lad looks to have a bright future ahead of him on the south coast.

My uncle told me before kickoff not to get my hopes up too much but after seeing Eddie Howe’s ruthless Bournemouth team stick five past Marseille, I don’t think I have much choice but to get carried away.

Look out Premier League, the Cherries are coming for you.

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