Not for the first time this season, I don’t know quite what to make of a game at the iPro. Bournemouth completely played us off the park in the first half & we could have been four nil down at half time if they’d taken their chances. We looked lethargic, uninterested & possession was lost easily.
Again, not for the first time this season, McClaren knew what to do. Sammon & Dawkins on, 4-2-4, more directness & energy from the Rams plus a sprinkling of patience & persistence and there we were. Another crucial win. The other results went well for us too (loved the QPR defeat – triffic!)
Whenever I’ve seen snippets of Bournemouth this season, they’ve been excellent, playing a lovely passing game, controlling possession but perhaps lacking a cutting edge. Certainly in the game at the Vic in August/September they dominated Watford (who were at that time a decent side) in the first half before dropping away poorly in the second to come out 6-1 losers. And in a way, the same thing happened at the iPro.
We couldn’t cope with Bournemouth’s passing in midfield (Surman & in particular Arter were brilliant) or the pace they had up front from Grabban & Ranti. Thankfully, the £2.5 million Ranti was a striker of the headless chicken variety. A word for the fans too. They were at the iPro in good numbers (must have been five times the pathetic number that QPR brought) & outsung us lot for significant periods of the game.
I can’t explain why we were so poor in the first half, although we probably lacked Bryson’s directness & energy in the midfield. Clearly, Hendrick is still feeling his way back but he was ineffective, a shadow of the player he was last season. The whole team looked lethargic & slow with Bamford & Martin particular culprits. Russell has a few good runs but often seemed to lack the pace, knowhow or confidence to take the ball into danger once he got near the penalty area.
Martin was a particular frustration, for the usual reasons. He looked more ponderous than usual & I can’t recall a single telling contribution in the first half. At least Bamford had an attempt on goal but it was of the sky high variety rather than wonder strikes of recent weeks. There were no shots on target at all actually in that first half. From the side with the best goal scoring record in the division.. Yep, something needed doing at half time. And, there was not really much anger or frustration in the stands around me. “Don’t worry, McClaren will do something” was the common refrain.
And as usual, McClaren did do something. He took the radical, risky option again. Sammon & Dawks on. Eustace & the languid Bamford off. Sammon was pushed up front alongside Martin & Dawks took up a spot on the left of the front 4.
We were immediately on the front foot & kept the pressure on for most of the second half. Russell, Hughes &, in particular, Dawkins stood out for me. Despite not looking fully fit, he brought the pace, trickery & ability to hold onto the ball that had been missing in the first half.
Like so many times this season at home we just bided our time & kept chipping away at the opposition, confident a goal would come. And of course, it worked (actually, other than the Brum game, I can’t think of a match where it hasn’t worked). On one of his many runs around the edge of the area, Hughes was felled & we had a free kick (yes, I know it was actually a fair tackle..). Russell & Martin lined up for it but you could see that Martin was setting himself up to have a crack. And in it flew. The crowd erupted, a trademark Martin knee slide goal celebration & three points were in the bag.
Burnley next week. What a massive test that will be. Onwards & upwards!