Review by Mark Wallington (Twitter: @mark_wallington)
Seagulls swooped in numbers over the Stadium of Light for most of this game. They should have been omens of good fortune for a Sunderland team needing to win, to have any chance of avoiding relegation. But Bournemouth are no strangers to a sea breeze, and there was a prize on offer for them here as well: the Holy Grail of 40 points.
So keen were they to get off to a good start, they actually managed to mess up the kick off – at least two of the forward line were caught ahead of the ball. Play was restarted and immediately Bournemouth launched into the attack. For ten minutes they looked as though they would bowl Sunderland over, as Arter sprayed passes left and right, and Pugh and Smith swung in crosses. The Black Cats looked lost on their own pitch, and when they did finally gain some possession, their tactics were woeful. They just hoofed the ball upfield, in the general direction of Defoe.
Thanks to Francis and Cook, this ploy rarely worked, and on the one occasion, when Defoe did find himself in on-goal, he was as surprised as anyone and hit his shot straight at Boruc.
Bournemouth’s game plan was, of course, much more complex. They can often hypnotise an opposition with their passing drills, but on Saturday they seemed to hypnotise themselves as well, ending up in knots with their clever triangles.
It was frustrating to watch, particularly when Sunderland looked as though they were there for the taking. For all Bournemouth’s possession the nearest they came to a goal in the first half was a sublime piece of geometry from King. He managed to bend and loop his shot from the edge of the box, around the goalie, so that it hit first the bar and then the upright, before bouncing harmlessly clear.
Things became more interesting in the second half; there was even a fracas involving just about everyone on the pitch, following a late tackle on Lewis Cook. Tempers flared and, of course, Arter managed to get himself booked.
With ten minutes left, the game finally opened up. Sunderland tested Boruc on a number of occasions as they pushed forward. But this just meant they were vulnerable to the counter, and Bournemouth eventually punished them. A couple of penalty appeals was quickly followed by a Ryan Fraser break. He squared to King, who side-footed home. It was like a knife going in. It was the 88th minute and Sunderland knew they were relegated.
The exodus of home fans was instant. Those who remained did so only to yell abuse at David Moyes. The away fans, by contrast, stayed on long after the final whistle, as Eddie Howe and his whole team came over to us and celebrated our 41 points and another successful campaign.
It had been far from a vintage performance, but this is a tough and exhausting league and relegation hangs over half the teams like a spectre. There’s huge relief in just surviving.
As we filed out the seagulls were still circling the stadium, but now they looked like vultures.