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Three talking points as Southampton rescued a point against Bournemouth

Rob Meech

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Charlie Austin’s second-half equaliser ensured honours were even in the south-coast derby between Bournemouth and Southampton at the Vitality Stadium. Austin, who once played non-league football for neighbouring Poole Town, fired home from close range on the hour mark to cancel out Ryan Fraser’s 42nd-minute opener.

A point apiece was a fair reflection of a match neither side managed to dominate for prolonged periods. The Cherries will feel aggrieved not have been awarded a first-half penalty when Adam Smith tumbled over in the box, with referee Jon Moss instead brandishing the Bournemouth defender a yellow card for simulation.

Nevertheless, the result keeps both clubs clear of the relegation zone, with Southampton climbing to 11th in the Premier League table and the Cherries to 14th. Here are three talking points from an absorbing clash.

Austin answers Saints’ goalscoring SOS

Despite their 4-0 thrashing of Everton last weekend, Southampton have struggled in front of goal. But they look a much more threatening outfit when Austin is in their XI. At whatever level he has played, the 28-year-old has always known how to put the ball in the net. The challenge for the Saints has been trying to keep him fit.

Austin’s leveller against Bournemouth underscored his predatory nature. From anywhere in the area he is deadly, as the Cherries found out to their cost. This was Austin’s seventh goal in his last 10 Premier League appearances and one which keeps Southampton on track.

With Manolo Gabbiadini out of favour, Austin has been tasked with leading the line. His physical attributes and aerial ability make him a tricky customer and if his notoriously fragile body can hold up over the winter, then boss Mauricio Pellegrino might have found the answer.

Referee Moss apologises after ‘dive’ call 

When Smith went to ground after a challenge from Sofiane Boufal, the awarding of a penalty seemed a formality. But while referee Moss did indeed sound his whistle, he booked the right-back for diving. It was a decision that dumbfounded the Cherries players and their manager Eddie Howe.

Replays showed that Boufal did not get any touch on the ball but did take the man. Perhaps Smith’s theatrical fall counted against him and convinced Moss that he was looking for a penalty. Either way, it was a poor decision and one for which he apologised afterwards.

That was scant consolation to Smith, however, whose fifth yellow card of the season triggered an automatic one-match suspension. Amid talk about VAR, this looked to be a prime example of an incident that would have been reversed upon further inspection.

Bournemouth let slip yet another lead

After a disappointing defeat at home to Burnley four days earlier, Howe was looking for a reaction from his much-changed starting XI. The Bournemouth boss made no fewer than five changes and was rewarded with a more spirited and energetic display.

That said, something that will concern Howe is the Cherries’s failure once again to hold on to a lead. In total, Bournemouth have dropped five points from winning positions this season – that’s second only to West Bromwich Albion. Often it is a lapse in concentration from an individual that is to blame.

Against Southampton, Lewis Cook was dispossessed on the edge of his own area after dwelling on the ball, which sparked the move that resulted in Austin’s equaliser. The England Under-20 World Cup winner was otherwise excellent, but the Premier League is an unforgiving place and such mistakes seldom go unpunished. It is an experience from which he will learn.

Rob is a freelance writer, specialising in football, who previously worked as a sports journalist at the Dorset Echo. A long-standing AFC Bournemouth supporter, Rob can often be found on the terraces at the Vitality Stadium. Follow him on Twitter - @RobMeech

Bournemouth

West Ham 1-1 Bournemouth: Three talking points from the London Stadium

Rob Meech

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Hernandez
Photo: Reuters

West Ham United and AFC Bournemouth extended their respective unbeaten runs with a 1-1 draw at the London Stadium. Both clubs have climbed away from the relegation zone in recent weeks and this was a keenly-fought encounter between two evenly-matched sides.

Following a goalless first half, the Cherries broke the deadlock through Ryan Fraser after a breakaway, only for Javier Hernandez to equalise for the hosts 64 seconds later. A share of the spoils was a fair reflection and means West Ham and Bournemouth, 11th and 12th respectively, have identical records from the past six Premier League matches. Here are three talking points…

Future looks bright for both clubs

Just a month ago, the outlook was markedly different for both West Ham and Bournemouth. At Christmas, the Cherries were in the bottom three and the Hammers were not much better off. But the eventful 3-3 draw between these two teams on Boxing Day proved to be the start of an unbeaten run for each, which has given both real hope of avoiding relegation.

Such is the congested nature of the bottom half that it only takes a couple of victories to change the complexion on the table. Both clubs have won two and drawn three of their previous five fixtures, which has been enough to put clear daylight between themselves and the drop-zone.

This game, much like the corresponding fixture at the Vitality Stadium, suggests neither West Ham nor Bournemouth should be in serious trouble at the end of the campaign – if they can maintain their form. Equally though, David Moyes and Eddie Howe will be aware that complacency is not an option.

Impressive Fraser continues his resurgence

Bournemouth’s upturn in results since Christmas has coincided with a revitalised Fraser. The Scottish winger, affectionally known as ‘Wee Man’ by Cherries supporters, now has three goals and one assist in his past four appearances. His finishing has noticeably improved this season and he took his goal against West Ham with aplomb, firing the ball past Adrian after a defence-splitting pass from the returning Junior Stanislas.

Furthermore, Fraser’s improved stamina has enabled him to be effective for longer. Previously, the 23-year-old began to flag towards the latter stages and he was often replaced. But a better diet has paid dividends this campaign and he is rapidly becoming a key figure for Howe. Fraser has pace to burn and a directness that gives the team something different. Now though, he is having a real impact in games and his five Premier League goals are second only to Callum Wilson in the scoring charts.

Can West Ham afford to let Hernandez leave?

Speculation has surfaced in the past few days that Moyes may be willing to sell Hernandez, who only joined the club last summer. His arrival under Slaven Bilic was hailed as a real coup, but he has fallen down the pecking order since Moyes took the reins, with the former Manchester United supremo preferring Marko Arnautovic up top.

Hernandez though, has a creditable career goalscoring record and underlined his predatory instinct at the London Stadium. Only a minute after the Hammers had gone behind, the Mexican popped up in the right place to poke the ball past Asmir Begovic. It was Hernandez’s fifth Premier League goal of the season, all of which have been scored from inside the penalty area.

With Andy Carroll expected to be sidelined for a month through injury, West Ham’s striking resources would be depleted further if Hernandez is allowed to leave. While he may not offer much outside the box, as he illustrated against Bournemouth that he is the ideal man to call on when a goal is needed.

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Bournemouth 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech

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Bournemouth
Photo: Reuters

Bournemouth came from behind to claim a much-needed victory over Arsenal, whose hopes of qualifying for the Champions League have suffered another blow.

After an insipid opening period at the Vitality Stadium, the action sparked into life when Hector Bellerin broke the deadlock on 52 minutes.

But Arsenal’s lead was short-lived, as goals from Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe – his first for the club – secured the Cherries’ fourth home win of the season, which lifted them to 13th in the table.

Arsenal, meanwhile, slipped further adrift in the battle to finish in the top four after their third consecutive league game without a win. Here are three talking points…

Alexis Sanchez moves closer to the Emirates exit door

All the pre-match talk centred on a player who wasn’t involved in the contest. Not only was Alexis Sanchez not named in the starting XI, he wasn’t even on the bench having not travelled to the south coast.

Manager Arsene Wenger was ambiguous when pressed on this in the aftermath of the defeat, but the insinuation was clear; the want-away Chilean will not be an Arsenal player come the end of the transfer window.

Both Manchester City and Manchester United have been heavily linked with a move for Sanchez, whose contract at the Emirates expires in the summer. Despite his uncertain future, this match was crying out for his never-say-die attitude.

Arsenal controlled the first half and deserved to be in front when Bellerin fired home. However, the Gunners were unable to add a second and Bournemouth capitalised with two late efforts. Arsene Wenger’s side are now without a win in four games in 2018 as their troubles mount.

Bournemouth buck the trend against the ‘Big Six’

Before this fixture, Bournemouth had lost all of their matches against the ‘Big Six’ this season, scoring only one goal in seven outings.

While those are not necessarily the games that will define their campaign, it was a worrying statistic that Eddie Howe needed to address. Facing an Arsenal team without Sanchez or Mesut Ozil looked like being the Cherries’ best opportunity to buck that trend, and so it proved.

With only nine points separating all the teams in the bottom half, an unexpected win can do so much to alter the picture. The Cherries didn’t fold after going a goal behind and they merited the three points for an enterprising second-half display.

Having beaten Arsenal for the first time in their history, Bournemouth are now four points clear of the drop-zone. They are by no means safe because of this result, but the psychological impact could be immense.

Jack Wilshere getting back to his best

Returning to the club at which he spent last season on loan, this was not the afternoon Jack Wilshere would have hoped for. Though it didn’t go well from a team perspective, the 26-year-old was close to his best at the Vitality Stadium.

He touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch and also completed more passes. After a frustrating start to the campaign where he struggled for minutes in the Premier League, Wilshere is now establishing himself in the starting XI.

He was Arsenal’s best player against Bournemouth and in a team that lacks leaders, he was one of the few who looked like he wanted the ball. Wilshere ran the show in midfield and was always keen to move forward with purpose.

England manager Gareth Southgate surely can’t ignore Wilshere’s form and, fitness permitting, he must be a shoo-in for the next squad. In a World Cup year, Wilshere is peaking at just the right time.

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Bournemouth

Bournemouth 2-1 Everton: Three talking points from the Vitality

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Ryan Fraser scored twice as Bournemouth claimed their first Premier League victory since November to move out of the relegation zone. The Scotland winger, who opened the scoring in the first half before Idrissa Gueye equalised for Everton, netted an 88th-minute winner as the Cherries ended a run of eight matches without a win.

It eased the pressure on boss Eddie Howe, whose side have climbed to 14th thanks to their fifth triumph of the campaign, and condemned the Toffees to their first defeat under new manager Sam Allardyce. Here are three talking points from an engaging clash at the Vitality Stadium.

Good things come in small packages

Although he may be small in stature, Fraser is having a big impact for Bournemouth this season. After a spell out of the team, the diminutive Scotsman has regained his place and become an integral player for Howe. Fraser’s third and fourth goals of the campaign could not have been more timely, as the Cherries celebrated only their third home triumph.

His first of the afternoon was a tidy finish after being found in space by Joshua King. His second, with the clock running down, was aided by a deflection to divert the ball past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, but that did not detract from the mazy run that took him into the box and in a position to shoot.

Fraser often struggled to complete 90 minutes last season, but his stamina has noticeably improved thanks to extra strength and conditioning work. Direct running with the ball has always been a feature of the 23-year-old’s play and now he is adding goals and a threatening dead-ball delivery to his repertoire.

Everton suffer first setback under Allardyce

The Toffees headed into this fixture high on confidence, having conceded only two goals in the six games under Allardyce’s stewardship. But this was a lacklustre performance and the Everton manager could have no complaints as they left the Vitality Stadium empty-handed.

Bournemouth controlled the game in the first half and deserved to go ahead, although the goal did stem from a misplaced pass by James McCarthy. The introduction of Wayne Rooney at the start of the second period had a positive impact and the Toffees duly equalised. But Cherries’ keeper Asmir Begovic was not called into further action and Everton’s defence could not withstand the pressure as Fraser bagged a late winner.

Allardyce has built his reputation on defensive stability and this was a rare lapse. A more pressing concern though, is a lack of firepower in attack, with Everton relying too heavily on youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin. A striker capable of scoring regularly is surely top of his wish-list for the upcoming transfer window.

Howe’s trust in his players is rewarded

While not at the stage where he was fearing for his job, there is no denying Howe was feeling the heat after a club record-equalling sequence of eight Premier League games without a victory. With a mounting injury crisis and his side sitting in the bottom three, questions were being asked about Howe’s credentials.

As ever, he stuck to his principles. And by naming the same team that drew with West Ham United four days earlier, he backed his players to respond. Howe was rewarded with a fluent performance that showed the players remained fully committed to their manager and his methods.

This was the first time Bournemouth had beaten a team in the top half this season and undoubtedly their most important three points. What will especially delight Howe is that, for the second game in succession, they netted a late goal when it was required. This character is sure to be crucial, with more twists and turns to come.

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