Review by Mark Wallington (Twitter: @mark_wallington)
In a beauty contest between Eddie Howe and Sam Allardyce my money would be on Eddie. In a relegation six pointer however, it takes a brave man to bet against Big Sam.
This was a game that both teams had to win. Odd then that Sunderland should play most of the first half as if it was a game they had to lose, with Bournemouth dominating completely. They hold the Premier League record for most goals scored in the first 15 minutes, while Sunderland hold the record for most goals conceded in the same time frame. So the first goal was inevitable really: a 13th minute cross-field ball from Arter, a centre from Stanislas, and there was Afobe, heading bravely home to keep both clubs’ records intact.
For the next half hour it felt as if we were at a Bournemouth home game, and not just because of the number of seagulls swooping over the pitch. The Cherries played some of their best football of the season. Arter controlled the midfield; Daniels and Smith spent more time attacking than defending. Bournemouth were first to every ball; they won every tackle. Sunderland were left scratching their heads.
But Big Sam isn’t beaten so easily. With the interval approaching he produced a tactical masterstroke that changed the game: he glared so fiercely at his players they quaked at the thought of his half-time hair-dryer and began to string together a few moves of their own. And that was all it took. The Bournemouth defence switched off and Sunderland equalised with the last kick of the 45 minutes.
I don’t believe Eddie Howe has a hair-dryer in his tactical arsenal. He’s far too sophisticated for such antics. His half-time talks are carefully crafted motivational gems, learned from his time studying Zen and the art of football management with the Dalai Lama.
Unfortunately, Saturday’s speech must have got lost in translation because his players came out for the second half like a team who just met each other down the local Wetherspoons.
The slick interplay of the first period deserted them: passes were misplaced, tackles mistimed. The game they should have had wrapped up in the first thirty minutes began to slip away and it was down to Boruc to keep them in the match with an instinctive close-range save.
As Sunderland pressed, Bournemouth fans found themselves counting down the clock again. But then, with just a few minutes to go, a chance of salvation arrived as Stanislas played in Lewis Grabban, and there he stood, the goal at his mercy.
For a split second his £8m price tag was a bargain; for a fleeting moment the fans’ three hundred and fifty mile, 7 hour journey home was going to be a cruise of joy; for an instant we even had a glimpse of the promised land of mid-table safety.
Grabban had other ideas and screwed the ball wide.
In the end it was no beauty competition. Eddie said Bournemouth were the dominant team and should have won. Big Sam said he was disappointed not to get three points. You got the feeling this game that both teams had to win was always going to be a draw.
As official sponsor of AFC Bournemouth and Crystal Palace FC, Mansion will be offering unique insights into the team’s games each week, through collaboration with a selection of passionate fan reviewers.