Not everyone grows up to be an astronaut
Not everyone was born to be a king
Not everyone can be Freddie Mercury
Everyone can raise a glass and sing
Well I haven't always been a perfect person
And I haven't done what mam and dad had dreamed
But on the day I die
I'll say, at least I bloody tried
That's the only eulogy I need
To almost quote Frank Turner, that just about sums up our performance at Bournemouth. We came from behind with a goal in each half to put a smile on the face of the Scottish gentleman forced to spend the afternoon in the stands thanks to the use of language something similar to that used by our Ian when a Southampton fan remonstrated with him for making a rude gesture at a picture signed by McMenemy. Poor Moyes had to sit near Graeme Souness as well, poor fella.
Of necessity, the day begin in the middle of the night, with alarms across Wearside going off from 4am onwards. As usual, the bus (a git posh one, with a lounge area at the back) was a burble of conversation for twenty minutes as we put the world in general and Sunderland AFC in particular to rights. Conversation subsided, Winks nabbed the lounge for his kip, and the rest of us stretched out on the seats and the floor to catch up on our interrupted sleep. As the bus was posh, it had several TVs, which all showed the satnav. A novel way to both keep us up to date with progress and send us to the land of nod. Sunrise was a dismal affair somewhere south of Doncaster, and a fairly uneventful trip ended, for me, with a desperate dash across Kings Park, next to the Vitality, to the pavilion facilities. Apparently eating the remains of the previous evening’s Chinese take-away for breakfast is not a good idea – as the facilities in the pavilion will testify.
Anyway, we found the Cricketers Arms to our liking, what with its prominently displayed picture of Basil Fawlty thrashing his Austin 1100 with a leafy branch. In our chat with the home fans, we never did establish exactly which hotel in Bournemouth was actually worse than Fawlty Towers, but the conversation was canny. They reckoned that every year they stay up is a minor miracle, that they’d be goosed without Eddie Howe, that Defoe was still held in the highest regard there, and that they’d either thump us out of sight or lose by the odd goal. Oh, and they agreed that Wilshire would be a world-beater if he had half a brain.
Early team news was that there was to be no duck broken by Rodwell, and that Anichebe would start – positivity! Having a go!
Jones Papy Kone PVA
Watmore Pienaar Ndong McNair
With the setting sun very much in the eyes of the visiting fans (thank the Lord for flat caps) we kicked off towards our right, and didn’t settle into the game at all. Pickford was in action early on, palming away a fierce shot high to his right as Bournemouth threatened. We’d only had cursory touches of the ball when, after eleven minutes, Stanislas moved in from their left and the ball was threaded through to Smith. The full-back ran into the space we’d left and out in an awkward cross that Kone didn’t dare touch – Gosling did, though, with an easy finish in the middle of the goal with Pickford taken out of the equation. Here we go again was the general opinion in the away seats. Defence all over the place, opposition well on top – but, our heads didn’t stay down for long. There were a few choice words exchanged amongst the visiting fans as the name of the previous manager was chanted, but we battled away on the field and started to get a bit of a grip. Pienaar was directing things in the middle as we probed for a breakthrough, but had to rely on Pickford to produce another cracking save low at his left side of goal as they burst through again to keep us in the game. Just past the half hour, Anichebe, who’d been bouncing their defenders around and showing a fair turn of pace for a big Lad – let’s face it, a heeyowge Lad – took a great pass from Pienaar in the box with his back to goal, ignored the overlapping PVA, and spun to unleash a ferocious shot high into the net with his left foot. No stopping shots like that – the sort of goal that’s usually scored against us. Whoop whoop! Back in the game, still an hour to go, let’s crack on and win this one.
That goal proved a bit of a turning point, as we established the upper hand and held it for the rest of the half. We pressed the home defence, with Defoe all smart little turns and runs, and Anichebe doing a passible impersonation of either a runaway train or an immovable object as he either charged goalwards or held up the ball. Watmore had the ball in the net, but most of us had already seen the flag raised for offside so we didn’t feel too let down. We ended the half, and the one added minute, on top on the field and off it dreamt of even better things in the second half – three points, even.
No changes for us for the second half, the sun hand thankfully disappeared behind the west stand, and we, somewhat unbelievably for us, carried on where we’d left off. Wowser, that’s a welcome novelty. They’d brought on Afobe on for Ibe, which I appreciated as the latter had been a bit of a pest in the first half, although Jones had generally held him at bay.
Anichebe kept on battering away, and we almost got our rewards when Papy, up for a rare corner, did well to get in a header – but it was blocked. Despite our best efforts, the Cherries threatened when they did manage to break out, and we held our breath as their man pulled the trigger near the penalty spot, but Papy stretched out a long leg and got the vital touch to divert the ball away from goal. With Pienaar still pulling the strings, we set up a chance for Ndong, but Boruc managed to stop the shot. Pickford made another save, and then came the first big talking point of the half. Pienaar, booked earlier for basically running into their man and barging him over, tried to get his foot around the ball but it bounced off the top and hit their man on the shin. No intent whatsoever, and no real force in the challenge, but a free-kick in this day and age, and in this division. It would have been get up and carry on in Friday’s FA Cup tie between Eastleigh and Swindon, but of course in the Prem you have to roll about at the slightest contact. I don’t think the second yellow would have been forthcoming had not the Bournemouth team surrounded Mike Dean making raking gestures with their feet, but produce it he did and we’d lost our most influential midfielder with half an hour still to play.
After being on top for so long, going a man down seemed to hit us hard mentally, and Bournemouth took the upper hand. Our defence could hardly be described as a well-drilled and organised unit (that isn’t going to happen at the minute without O’Shea) but Billy Jones won vital headers, and Kone and Papy hoyed themselves in the way of things to great effect – and if anything got past them, young Jordan was there. He’s one of our own, apparently. When he was beaten, the shot from Stanislas shaved the foot of the far post.
With twenty to go, Denayer came on for the tiring McNair, who’d also taken a knock, and the returning loanee looked to provide an extra layer of protection in front of the central defence. Without him being directly involved, the effect was pretty instantaneous. Jones popped the ball down the line to Defoe right, and he cleverly flicked it in to Watmore. The pass was perfect for Big Vic to run onto, and as he approached the spot out came a defender’s leg to knock him over. There were muted protests from the home players, but these did not include the offender, who simply walked away looking glum – he knew it was a penalty. Up stepped Jermain and planted it cleanly into the net to ensure Boruc didn’t save his fourth in a row. Mayhem in the East stand as we celebrated what might just be the goal that gets us our first win. Fifteen minutes to go. Fifteen minutes to hang on. Fifteen minutes to make it even better. Fifteen minutes whatever.
..in which to see Pickford produce the save of the game, clawing away a blast from King up to his right, and Watmore replaced by Love to provide more defensive cover and hang on to what we had. As spell of pinball in our box ended with another corner, but, as with the previous eleven, it didn’t cause us a problem. Our outlet was now Big Vic, and he chased down every loose ball and was given the ball to run into the corner with defenders bouncing off him. When Defoe was replaced by Gooch in the dying minutes of normal time, you could see Big Vic thinking “Haway man gaffer, I’m pooped” – much has he had when Love had come on ten minutes earlier. No matter, he stuck to his task and it was fitting that the whistle went, after an energy-sapping five added minutes with the ball at his feet right in front of the travelling fans. When you need another hero, you find one. 2-1, a great comeback, a lively and entertaining game that, for once, went our way.
Man of the Match? Jones produced a decent showing, winning more than his fair share in the air, and setting up the move that brought the penalty. Pickford produced enough saves to keep him in the England manager’s mind, and was probably the pick of the bunch, but Big Vic, whose name scans beautifully into song, produced the sort of performance that fans love…and all with a broken rib. The sort of performance that inspires team-mates as well as fans, and the sort of performance we need in our current situation. That’s a proper footballer, and I expect he’s still in the biggest Radox bath seen when we watch MOTD2 tonight. I’m off to watch MOTD1 for the third time, after catching it via the wonders of Ron’s mobile phone on the bus, which was preceded by a film called, appropriately, The Way Back. It’s still a long way back for the team from our current league position, but we’ve made a start, and it won’t involve as much tramping through the mountains as the folks in the film.
Our way back was a long and winding one (thank you, Scotch Corner. Not) but at least, for the first time in a while, it was a happy one with singing and smiles replacing the usual moaning and scowls.
Keep the Faith
ALS T Shirts click here