AFCB’s 2016/17 campaign kicked off on Sunday afternoon against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, but there was to be no repeat of last year’s heroics in the Sunday afternoon sunshine.
The visitors left Dean Court with all 3 points, but despite the result there were genuine positives Bournemouth could take from their performance. The opening 40 minutes in particular will have pleased Howe, who is leading his side into their second Premier League season, and he looked to have the tactical measure of opposite number, Mourinho, throughout the first half.
Lewis Cook was introduced in a new look midfield and the 19 year old had a quietly confident debut, showing some neat touches and looking every bit the assured, creative presence Howe had sought for his squad. Record signing, Jordan Ibe, was also making his competitive bow and he too impressed on occasion, without managing to make a real impression on the game. The team were well organised – Ibrahimovic hadn’t been given so much of a sniff, and the two sides looked evenly matched in a game largely contested in the middle of the pitch.
The Cherries defence, which started off rock solid, was eventually breached by a freak goal shortly before half time. Francis sold his goalkeeper short with a back-pass, Juan Mata latched onto it, and Bournemouth were in deep trouble. Boruc got down to save well, but was left stranded as the ball embarked on a series of unlikely ricochets, eventually ending up at Mata’s feet. And the Spaniard was presented with a tap in to open the scoring.
Going forward, the home side were restricted to half chances – Callum Wilson in the centre forward role still looks a player short of match sharpness, and up against a well organised Manchester United defence, found himself on the periphery of the game. Josh King looked dangerous when running with the ball, but an incisive final pass eluded Cherries on the day as they struggled to carve out meaningful openings.
The lack of a forward threat invited the visitors on, and while the second goal was almost as unfortunate as the first, it probably reflected the balance of play. £60million man, Anthony Martial, made a complete mess of a good chance in the box, drilling a shot straight into the ground. His tame effort deserved to end up in the goalkeeper’s arms – or in row Z – but instead popped up onto Rooney’s head. The England man duly kept his composure, nodding across Boruc into the bottom corner to double the lead.
It was now a long way back for the Cherries, who began to toil. United had little motivation to push forward, and with the home team forced on chasing the ball on a sweltering August afternoon, the game began to drift. Ibrahimovic took advantage of tiring legs in midfield to drill home from distance, with his accurate drive being his only real contribution to the game. Although Howe will have been disappointed with the space the Swede was afforded in the build up.
Some cheer for the home fans was provided by Adam Smith’s superb drive into the top corner in the 69th minute, as memories of the comeback against Everton last season were stirred. But Howe’s men had left it too late, despite a series of chances in the closing stages.
The Cherries will, of course, be disappointed at an opening day defeat, but the performance overall was still of sufficient quality that the home fans won’t be too dismayed. The season is a long one, their squad is undoubtedly the most talented ever assembled at Dean Court, and it seems unlikely the team will suffer such misfortune on too many more occasions.