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Three talking points from Crystal Palace’s eventful 2-2 draw with Bournemouth

Rob Meech

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Christian Benteke squandered a stoppage-time penalty as Crystal Palace and Bournemouth shared the points in an incident-packed encounter at Selhurst Park. Jermain Defoe had fired the visitors into an early lead before Luca Milivojevic equalised from the spot after Wilfried Zaha had gone down.

Scott Dann put the Eagles ahead four minutes later but, in a frantic end to the first-half, Defoe restored parity thanks to an unstoppable volley for his second of the afternoon. Palace enjoyed the better of the second period and had a golden chance to claim all three points in the dying moments.

Despite not being the designated penalty taker, Benteke grabbed the ball only to see his spot-kick saved by Cherries keeper Asmir Begovic. The result means Roy Hodgson’s side return to the bottom of the Premier League table, while Bournemouth remain 14th. Here are three talking points…

Clinical Defoe shows his true colours

After a quiet start to his second spell at Bournemouth, Defoe showed his class against Palace. Questions had been asked whether the former Tottenham Hotspur striker was suited to the Cherries’ style of play, which relies on the striker making runs into the channels to pull defenders out of position.

That is not Defoe’s game. His strength is his finishing ability and he was much more clinical here than in previous matches. The 35-year-old’s first goal – his 200th league strike – was archetypal; creating space in the box from a cleverly-worked corner and directing his shot past Julian Speroni.

The second goal was just stunning. Latching on to Lewis Cook’s downfield pass, Defoe let the ball drop over his shoulder before volleying it beyond the Palace stopper. While not of the same quality, it was reminiscent of Marco van Basten’s famous volley from an impossible angle in Euro ’88. Eddie Howe is still searching for the right combination in attack, but there is no doubt that none of his other options have Defoe’s goal-scoring pedigree.

Selfish Benteke costs Palace victory

While Defoe’s season has finally caught fire, Benteke’s is still struggling to ignite. It’s now 11 appearances without a goal this season for the Belgian, who appeared to defy his manager’s wishes by taking the injury-time penalty ahead of Milivojevic. This could result in serious repercussions for Benteke, who no doubt incurred Hodgson’s wrath in the changing room during the fall-out.

It’s all well and good if he scores, but by missing he cost his side two crucial points that might be the difference between relegation and survival at the end of the campaign. Benteke’s logic in assuming responsibility for the penalty was obvious. A last-minute goal would have restored his confidence ahead of a hectic run of fixtures during the Christmas period.

No player is bigger than the team, however, and the former Liverpool striker should have put aside his personal feelings and left it to Milivojevic, whose first-half penalty had given Begovic no chance.

Zaha controversy rekindles diving debate

Six days earlier against Southampton, huge controversy had erupted when Bournemouth defender Adam Smith was booked for diving, despite appearing to have been fouled. It was a decision for which referee Jon Moss subsequently apologised. At Selhurst Park, it was Zaha under the microscope.

Both of Crystal Palace’s penalties were awarded for supposed fouls on the tricky winger. For the first, contact with keeper Begovic appeared to be minimal after Zaha had raced clear. And for the second, Charlie Daniels looked to have cleanly won the ball. Bournemouth would have been fuming if Benteke had scored the penalty.

By retrospectively banning Everton striker Oumar Niasse for diving – coincidentally against Palace – the FA has set a precedent. It will be interesting to see how the panel interprets the first incident involving Zaha and whether they take any action against the Ivory Coast international.

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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