Review by Mark Wallington (Twitter: @mark_wallington)
What a week it’s been for Artur Boruc. Last Saturday at West Brom he couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag. At Old Trafford this weekend he stood like a colossus, swatting, grabbing and smothering everything Man United’s highly expensive forward line could launch at him. Villain to hero in seven days. “We’re got a big Pole in our goal,” sang the Bournemouth fans.
This fixture has always been a bit of an outing for teams like Bournemouth, coming from the bottom half of the table. One of the privileges of winning promotion to the Premier League has always been coming to Old Trafford to get slaughtered.
And that was the way it looked for the first 20 minutes, as wave after wave of United attacks inundated the Bournemouth defence. Every move saw a very expensive player in red put through on goal. Boruc threw his substantial frame in the way of all he could, but the pressure was bound to tell: a miss, a near miss, an incredibly near miss and then a tap in from Rojo. Let the deluge begin!
But it didn’t. Quite the opposite; Bournemouth’s reaction to going behind was to launch sharp attacks of their own. And then they achieved something very few visitors to Old Trafford manage: they were awarded a penalty in front of the Stretford End.
It’s hard for a referee when 73,000 people in the crowd are baying for your lynching, but Kevin Friend held his nerve. So did Josh King, stepping up to take his second spot-kick of the week. Last Saturday he planted it bottom-right. This time he went top-left. The afternoon suddenly got a lot better for Bournemouth.
But it was about to get a lot worse for Mr Friend. Having thrown the Cherries a lifeline, he promptly torpedoed them from below. From a United corner Ibrahimovich elbowed Mings in the head. An outraged Andrew Surman shoved Zlaten to the ground, “Call yourself a footballer! You should ashamed of yourself, my man.” Cue a lot of discussion and remonstration, from which the ref. emerged with a ticking off for Ibrahimovich and a second yellow card of the afternoon for Surman. What the Lord giveth the Lord taketh away. Surman took the long walk, while Ibrahimovich trotted away from the scene all innocence and shrugs. But his afternoon was by no means over.
The second half was a ten man rear-guard action from Bournemouth that saw David de Gea become the loneliest man in Manchester. What Bournemouth were really hoping for was another bomb scare, and yet, as the clock ticked away, United became more and more desperate. They began to fire long range shots at Boruc who, by this point, looked invincible. Cook, Smith, and Daniels were also titans; and as for Mings, this was the game he proved his worth –all the hard work he’s put in off the pitch paid off. He had Zlaten in his face, literally, for most of the game, but never lost concentration.
The pivotal moment in the match came midway through the second half, when Adam Smith handballed in the box. Who should step up but Ibrahimovich, of course, the pantomime villain of the piece, all evil grin and waxed moustache. But his earlier misconduct was about to catch up on him. Boruc guessed right and shovelled the penalty wide.
From then on United never really looked like scoring. In fact they had played more creatively against eleven men than ten. At the final whistle they slouched off the pitch with heads bowed, while the Bournemouth players ran to their fans in jubilation. Eddie Howe punched the air in defiance. We all knew what he meant. It was just a point, but maybe a turning one.