Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth side scraped their way to a vital 2-1 win at home against Everton on Saturday which saw them climb up the table and out of the relegation zone.
Given the lateness of the goal, Everton fans will be bitterly disappointed not just with the result but the manner of the performance, which gave rise to Sam Allardyce’s first loss as Everton manager.
In conjunction with Swansea’s late turnaround, this result leaves neutrals with an intriguing set up at the bottom half of the table going into the second half of the season.
With the title all but sealed up by Manchester City, don’t be surprised to see all eyes turn downwards to look at how things unfold at the wrong end of the Premier League.
This match offered insight into both teams, their star players and the mindsets of their managers. Here are four things that we learned from the game.
1 Ryan Fraser is one to watch
Ryan Fraser has had an inconsistent season so far, occasionally showing his brilliance, as he did earlier against Southampton, but overall failing to impress.
In this game, the Scottish winger rose over and above the others on the pitch and capitalised on Everton’s nervousness and submissiveness.
Beginning the scoring with a delightful half-volley finish, he won the game for Bournemouth with a deflected winner to give his side all three points. He also chipped in with three key passes and should have picked up a couple of assists if not for Jordan Pickford’s heroics.
At the age of 23, Fraser needs to take confidence from this display and elevate his performances for the rest of the season. He could learn a lesson from Bournemouth compatriot Jordan Ibe, another young winger whose career has completely tailed off after his move to Bournemouth from Liverpool.
Fraser has set the bar for the type of performances he should be striving for and, while he cannot realistically be expected to perform so well in every match, he needs to chip in with a few more goals and assists and cement his starting position for the Cherries.
2 Jordan Pickford deserves to be England No.1
With Joe Hart struggling to nail down a starting position for West Ham, one would expect that he will not be England’s first choice goalkeeper at this summer’s World Cup.
The two leading candidates to take over are Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland and, yesterday, the former showed once again why he deserves the starting spot.
This match was just a representation of Pickford’s form this season, once again keeping his side in the game when Bournemouth were on the front foot.
He made five saves, including a fantastic reflex stop from Callum Wilson’s effort and, if Everton had been able to hang on to a 1-1 draw, he would certainly have been in the running for Man of the Match.
Pickford has carried over his remarkable form from Sunderland to his new club. He has made the third-most saves in the Premier League so far, and the joint-most saves from inside the six-yard box.
Sam Allardyce has been given the praise for organising the Everton defence, yet he has Pickford to thank for many of his positive results during his tenure. Not many Everton players deserve praise after this defeat, yet Pickford’s stock will only have risen after this match.
3 Eddie Howe won’t change his style...
Despite Bournemouth’s perilous position in the table leading up to this match, Eddie Howe has stuck by his philosophy, playing a fluid passing style, keeping the ball on the ground and attempting to outplay the opposition.
It has not been as successful this season with Bournemouth at times looking toothless going forward and averaging under a goal a game. Yet when his side is at full flow, it is a marvel to behold.
From a neutral’s perspective it is hard not to admire the football on display. Take into account the fact that more and more teams are resorting to deeper and deeper defensive football and it is hard not to applaud Howe’s stubbornness for eye-catching football.
Perhaps for the sake of the Premier League as a whole, we should be hoping Bournemouth do not go down this season. Lose the Cherries and the beautiful game becomes just that little bit less beautiful.
4 ...but Sam Allardyce needs to change his
Sam Allardyce could take notes on his opposite today. Backs to the wall, defensive football works fantastically against the Liverpools and Chelseas of the Premier League but it is now two matches in a row, including one against am ailing West Brom, in which Everton have completely failed to impress in matches where they have been favourites.
Similar criticisms are cropping up that were pointed out at the end of Ronald Koeman’s tenure. Just three shots on target from those last two games and only one goal, it is clear that something needs to change. And while undoubtedly Everton need to sign a striker or two in January, Allardyce needs to bear the brunt of the blame for his tactical mentality and line-up.
Against West Brom, Allardyce bafflingly employed a five-man defence and against Bournemouth he opted for three defensive-minded midfielders in Schneiderlin, Gueye and McCarthy. Unsurprisingly Everton offered no threat going forward, Calvert-Lewin was completely isolated once again and it was not until Niasse was brought on that the Toffees showed any signs of scoring.
Allardyce must bear the criticism for choosing to leave attacking-minded players like Davies and Niasse on the bench and Sandro’s failure to make even the squad will lead to questions over whether Allardyce can handle managing a side with expectations higher than survival.
If Allardyce wants this job to be long-term, as he has often expressed, he needs to prove that his teams are capable of playing more progressive football. He did a fantastic job in taking Everton away from the relegation zone but now needs to show something different.
The fans are already turning against the unappealing, unexciting football on display and, while Allardyce can be forgiven for his tactics against Liverpool and Chelsea, he cannot be forgiven for his tactics against West Brom and Bournemouth.
Big Sam lost this game as much as Bournemouth won it and he will not be asked to stay on past the summer if something does not change.
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