Review by Mark Wallington (Twitter: @mark_wallington)
Newcastle is normally the most welcoming of cities, but arriving there on match day can be an unsettling experience for the away fan.
Supporters wearing black and white had been boarding the train since York. The carriages were bursting with them by the time we arrived on Tyneside. As I joined the scrum at the ticket machines I couldn’t help thinking: 99% of the people on this station are desperate for me to have a miserable afternoon.
This is the furthest fixture for Bournemouth fans, 350 miles, and the journey isn’t over when you get to St James Park. The away section is right at the top of the Sir John Hall stand, up so many flights of stairs high altitude training is recommended. The effort is worth it, however. Not only is the view of the pitch superb you can also see right across the city and the bridges over the Tyne, as far out as the coast. It’s a wonderful stadium; pity about the team that plays there.
This was a big game, more than six pointer, a season definer. “I’m not contemplating defeat!” said Steve McClaren. But he hadn’t told his players this. They looked bereft of ideas from the kick-off. Bournemouth didn’t have to do a great deal to come away with all the points.
They were hesitant to begin with, as if aware of the importance of the fixture, but once they realised how toothless Newcastle were they quickly gained confidence. Ritchie worked the wide open spaces down the right. Gradel’s trickery was too much for the home defence on the left. The opening goal may have been a soft deflection off the unfortunate Taylor, but Bournemouth deserved to be well ahead by then anyway.
They were terrier-like in their pressing, never allowing Newcastle time on the ball. Francis and Cook were dominant in the air at the back; Afobe was a handful upfront. Inevitably, the lead was increased after the break: a neat one two between Grabban and Ritchie, and King suddenly found himself through on goal. He hit the ball so hard the Newcastle keeper didn’t flinch.
Jonjo Shelvey was the home side’s only hope; anything they created came through him. It was his chipped pass for Perez to run on to which brought Newcastle’s goal and gave the game some tension towards the end, although by that time the home fans were leaving in despair. The terraces were half empty when Charlie Daniels settled matters by rifling home the Cherries’ third.
“You’re getting sacked in the morning,” sang the Bournemouth fans, which is always a bit mean, but Steve McClaren cut such an isolated figure standing there on the edge of his technical area, his water bottle his only friend, the sack felt like the kindest thing you could wish for him. How different Eddie Howe must have been feeling: seven points from a week’s work. We’ll be thinking about Europe at this rate.
Back at the station the mood was very different from the morning. The misery belonged to the throng of black and whites, while the few black and reds settled down for the long but very contented journey home.