It is not often that someone who plays only 30 minutes is named the man of the match, but such was the impact of Bournemouth substitute Jordon Ibe against Brighton & Hove Albion that he was the obvious choice.
Introduced by Eddie Howe just after the hour mark, with his side 1-0 down and staring at a fifth successive defeat, the former Liverpool winger produced two moments of real quality that transformed the game and secured the Cherries’ first Premier League victory of the campaign.
Last season did not go according to plan for Ibe, who had joined Bournemouth for a then club record fee of £15 million in the summer of 2016. He struggled to establish himself in the starting XI and was dropped to the bench by Howe last autumn.
However, the 21-year-old showed encouraging signs in pre-season that he had got to grips with what the manager expected of him, culminating in his decisive contribution at the Vitality Stadium that yielded two assists.
Just four minutes after replacing Ryan Fraser, Ibe made a telling impact with a back-heel that wrong-footed the Seagulls’ defence and was slotted home by Andrew Surman for his maiden Premier League goal.
The imagination Ibe showed was a quality Bournemouth had been crying out for after a predictable and lacklustre first-half display. The equaliser emboldened the hosts, who had looked demoralised after falling behind to a Solly March header shortly after the resumption.
Ibe, yet to break his goal-scoring duck for the Cherries, so nearly found the net with 20 minutes remaining when his fierce shot was diverted behind for a corner by Brighton skipper Lewis Dunk.
It wasn’t long before the Bournemouth man was in the thick of the action once more. After collecting the ball from a cleared corner, he shimmied past two defenders and threaded a pass through to Jermain Defoe who, in trademark fashion, swivelled and fired beyond keeper Matthew Ryan.
It was apparent from his team-mates’ reactions that they realised the importance of Ibe’s performance, which was by far his best in a Bournemouth shirt. It could be the catalyst for the tricky winger to justify his hefty price-tag and become a mainstay of the team.
There have never been any doubts about Ibe’s talent. It is his game awareness and decision-making that have sometimes come in for criticism. Now with his confidence restored, Howe will be hoping he can perform in such a manner more consistently.