Review by Phil Sawyer (Twitter: @sawyer_phil)
AFCB and Tottenham played out an entertaining goalless draw on Saturday lunchtime – a result which extended the Cherries unbeaten home run to four games, and prevented the visitors hitting the top of the table.
Bournemouth provided far stiffer opposition to their opponents from North London than they managed in this fixture last year, despite Spurs arriving with an unbeaten Premier League record. Although his side was ultimately unable to find the breakthrough which could have brought this run to an end, this performance was justifiably lauded by Howe as genuine progress from the 5-1 capitulation in the equivalent meeting last season.
Despite late disruptions in the shape of injuries to Surman and Stanislas, Howe stuck to his principles in setting up his team, with the intention of continuing the recent run of sparkling home form. It was clear from the start that the Cherries had no intention of entrenching deep – preferring to hassle and press their opponents, closing and working hard high up the pitch. Spurs were perhaps taken a little by surprise by the pressure they found themselves under! Bournemouth’s energetic front line refused to allow their guests the simple pass out from the back, which forced a rethink from visiting manager Mauricio Pochettino.
This high pressing tactic frustrated Spurs, who resorted to a physical approach, which in turn brought the referee’s performance under scrutiny. Having already been booked for a clumsy, mis-timed lunge, Eric Lamela should have got his marching orders for a grim carbon copy of his foul on the stroke of half time. Inexplicably, Craig Pawson kept his cards in his pocket – as he did when Sissoko appeared to land an elbow flush in Harry Arter’s face late on in the contest. Whilst Arter was (without the benefit of a damning video replay) generous in accepting an apology for the transgression, there can be little doubt, in review, that Spurs were extremely fortunate to finish the game with 11 players.
On such things Premier League games can be won and lost, but in truth this was a game low on clear cut chances. Daniels came closest for the Cherries – forcing a stunning save from Lloris early in the contest, before Lamela clipped a post for Spurs – but this became a battle for midfield supremacy, as defences came out on top. Spurs dominated possession for periods of the game – but in the closing stages it was the home side that were looking more likely to make the breakthrough, with Afobe getting close on the final whistle.
Special mention should be made of Steve Cook’s performance. The central defender’s physicality, positioning and ability to step out with the ball made him a clear man of the match. With the England manager watching on, it was Cook that caught the eye on a field packed with young English talent.
The game itself won’t be remembered as a classic, but it provided a fascinating insight into the tactical evolution of Howe’s side. Refusing to abandon a confident, passing style in the face of elite opposition is a real hallmark of the Bournemouth approach, and gaining a valuable point was testament to the preparation of the side. After a rollercoaster first season in the Premier League, the Cherries manager has steadied his ship, and Dean Court is fast becoming a ground that opposition teams will dread visiting.