Review by Mark Wallington (Twitter: @mark_wallington)
The afternoon began with a very pleasant autumnal walk from Stoke station along the Trent and Mersey canal, with a late lunch at a narrowboat cafe right by the Bet 365 stadium. I was in such a good mood I thought, why spoil things by going to the match? Bournemouth’s away form wasn’t offering any encouragement.
How wrong could I be? On the walk back at 5pm my mood was even better, with a win and three precious away points safely in the bag!
Bournemouth were on their game from the kick-off, with Wilshire and Arter snapping at heels and setting up early forays deep into Stoke’s half. They really should have been 2 up within 20 minutes. We could tell Shawcross’s tackle on Wilson was a penalty even from the other end of the ground, and then King missed a golden chance.
A goal had to come – and from a nicely floated free kick, there was Ake, rising above the Stoke defence to head powerfully home and score his first for the club. Here was a player determined to take full advantage of a rare start, and as Stoke came pressing for an equaliser, his game just got better and better. He’s fast, strong, good in the air and happy to take a pass wherever he is. On this form it will be hard for Eddie Howe to leave him out even when Adam Smith comes back from suspension.
However all the good work from the first half was almost undone within minutes of the restart, as somehow Bournemouth contrived to give away a penalty. But Federici – another reserve player wanting to make an impression – pulled off a very clever save, diving the wrong way to present Bojan with such a gaping goal that he panicked and hit the cross bar.
From then on the breathless end to end play we had been treated to in the first period degenerated in an unsightly dogfight – the pitch littered with injured players, as Bournemouth fought to defend their slim advantage. Stoke mounted wave after wave of attack, but the Bournemouth defence looked stronger and more organised than it has for many weeks. And it was clear Stoke had run out of ideas when up went the substitutes’ board and on trotted the pylon that is Peter Crouch.
I’d not seen him in the flesh before and it really is unsettling the way he towers over a defence. And if you think his legs are long, you should see his arms! He looks like Mr Tickle out there.
The trouble with bringing on Crouch however, is that everything you’ve practised on the training ground is immediately abandoned. All tactics are off bar one. The long ball!
For the last fifteen minutes of the game Stoke launched everything in Crouch’s direction, which caused a few instances of panic. One goal mouth scramble had the away fans covering their eyes, and with minutes to go, Walters really should have equalised. But with Ake and Cook dominant, the Bournemouth defence held firm and Federici was able to handle anything that did find its way through.
All the injuries meant the Bournemouth fans had to suffer an agonising 6 minutes of added time. When the ref finally blew we were as exhausted as the players. They all came over and punched the air and we punched back. A deserved win. Just.