Barnstorming Cherries Take The Bridge
31st January 2018, 7.45pm
Some of us keep a list of the best AFCB games we have ever witnessed. This morning many lists will have a new entry, quite possibly at No 1. For this was a performance and result probably unequalled in our history.
Where to start? Teamsheet - Eddie's recent reluctance to tinker with a line-up that was getting results continued, with the only change seeing Junior Stanislas replacing the injured Adam Smith. Despite the transfer rumours, most were relieved to see Harry Arter on the bench. Benik Afobe being a notable absentee.
On paper it looked possibly like a back 4, but in practice it was a back 3 of Cook/Ake/Francis, with Daniels and Fraser playing as wing-backs, L Cook and Gosling in the middle, Ibe and Stanislas supporting Wilson up front.
It actually took about 20 minutes in before this formation became obvious, since we spent most of that period on the front foot, pretty much continuing from where we left off in the Carabao Cup match at the same venue a few weeks ago. It was an impressive start, full of urgency, running, closing down and (mainly) crisp passing. The one thing we lacked was a cutting edge up front, with the final ball often letting us down. Fraser playing a ball forward down the right for Ibe, who wasn't there (but should have been); Daniels and Stanislas struggling to find the same wavelength on the left. Despite the dominance, apart from a 20 yard effort from Ibe straight at Courtois, we failed to create any clear chances.
Chelsea weathered the early storm and as expected, started to grow into the game. Slick passing and full of movement coming forward, there was an ominous sense that a goal might be on its way. On the whole the defence held firm, although no game would be complete without at least one howler. Fortunately on this occasion Steve Cook rescued his own faux pas by producing possibly the tackle of the night to take the ball away from Hazard's twinkling feet just as he broke towards the box. This seemed to stiffen the Cherries' resolve and they saw out the rest of the half with relative ease.
So after a goalless but entertaining 1st half, the talk at half time was for the need to take what few chances might fall our way in the 2nd half. No doubt Eddie delivered the same message to the players, but none of us in our wildest dreams could conjure up what followed.
We started the 2nd half largely the same as the 1st, full of pressing, not allowing Chelsea to regain their stride. And on 51 minutes we finally made a breakthrough and breached Chelsea's defence. A long goal kick from Begovic was poorly dealt with by the Chelsea defence, Wilson and Ibe played a couple of neat one-twos, Wilson sprinted into the box, Ibe threaded it through, and you won't see a more confident finish all season, with Wilson slamming it past the onrushing Courtois.
The red part of the Shed erupted. Memories of December 2015 came flooding back - surely we can't do this again? On that occasion we had to hold out for 8 minutes. We look at the clock - 39 minutes left. Bloody hell, this could be a long half.
As expected Chelsea came surging back at us, pressing for a quick equaliser. Unlike the recent Cup Tie however, there was to be no instant reply. Maybe we learnt from that experience. The defence held firm, every man giving his all. We weren't going to capitulate that easily this time around, but everyone knew we needed another goal. Or preferably two, ha ha.
And as if by magic, that's exactly what happened. On 64 minutes, in the best move of the game, Stanislas and Wilson combined on the left, and this time Wilson turned provider, sliding the ball into Junior's path as he barrelled into the box. He still had plenty to do though, but coolly poked it through Courtois's legs. 3 minutes later, we increased the lead further. Corner on the right, up went the battle cry - Boscombe, BOTN! The ball ended up with Stanislas on the left edge of the box, he made some space, shot fiercely, half smothered by a defender, but Ake was there to pounce and stab the ball into an empty net.
The travelling Cherries were in dreamland, in full voice, volume turned up to max, and went through pretty much the entire repertoire, non stop, for the remaining 23 minutes. Even a new chant for the occasion - 'Are you Arsenal in disguise?!' - aimed at the Chelsea fans who were already streaming for the exits.
Chelsea kept huffing and puffing in an attempt to salvage something from the debris, but there was no way they were going to blow our house down. There are some days you feel a team just isn't going to score, whatever they might try, and that's finally where we had them. Just for the record, this was Chelsea's A team. They had won 7 of their last 8 games at the Bridge, and hadn't conceded a goal in the previous 4. Champions of England? You're having a laugh!
Begovic - 7 - solid performance with not that much to do
Daniels - 7 - shaky in 1st half but got stronger
Cook S - 8 - a rock in defence, and that tackle
Ake - 8 - Chelsea could have done with him last night, LOL
Francis - 7 - solid
Gosling - 7 - tireless
Cook L - 8 - one of his best performances, and a sumptuous string of pirouettes in the 2nd half
Fraser - 8 - keeps getting better. I even lost count of the headers he won!
Ibe - 7 - also getting better, good assist for Wilson's goal
Stanislas - 7 - still playing himself back into form and fitness, took goal well
Wilson - 9 - a masterclass in selfless teamwork and the most clinical of finishes
Subs used - King (for Stan) 6, Pugh (for Ibe) 6 and Mouseet (for Wilson) 6
So, finally, back to my all time Top 5. It spans the last 45 years. Is it greedy to have two matches at Stamford Bridge in there? They might rebuild it, but there will always be a corner that is forever Bournemouth.
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