Written by Dan Davis (@dan_davis20) at Vitality Stadium
We’re less than 60 seconds into a chilly, rain swept encounter on the south coast when the first of many offside flags is raised, whipping violently in feeble resistance against the wind. Samir Nasri was the first individual unlucky enough to see his desperate scamper down the touchline prematurely halted, but little did the ex-Arsenal star know that his early frustration would later stretch to the full-time whistle.
The clash between two top flight outfits had promised much, but ultimately delivered a crucial, potentially season-saving, victory for Bournemouth. After a notably improved showing at Goodison Park last weekend, Eddie Howe can relax in the wake of the win in the knowledge that, at least for now, his side’s torrid run of form has been steered to an end.
But, in the beautiful game’s typically twisted and alluring way, the story could have been oh-so different. West Ham, desperately trying to disguise a Marko Arnautovic-shaped hole in painfully plain sight, had threatened to condemn their plucky opponents to another defeat. Andy Carroll, the towering frontman entrusted with a responsibility far beyond his skillset, contrived to hook over from a couple of yards in the closing stages of the first half. Nasri had cracked an effort agonisingly wide of the near post. The home crowd, baying and hollering for the taste of victory, could only watch on with baited breath.
The sight of goal is one that Bournemouth typically pounce upon. Their creative arsenal has the capabilities to link together in utmost unison, an enviable trait that has seen them tear through Premier League defences with childlike glee. But the end product has been painstakingly lacking in recent weeks, meaning the wait for a win extended for five games. Until today, that is.
Jefferson Lerma twice rocketed ambitious strikes over the crossbar and David Brooks, the Welshman who has spectacularly provided snapshots of brilliance to the top flight since his arrival in the summer, headed wide at the far post. Once again, however, the offside flag was raised, sparing Brooks’ blushes. The wait for a goal went on.
Lerma, the club’s record signing, then rolled an effort wide after Josh King’s intelligent pass. Nathan Ake, timing his burst towards the far post to perfection, nodded home but saw the effort chalked off after Wilson’s interventions caused the linesman to spoil the party once again. “It’s coming,” Howe would have roared to his frustrated subjects. “Keep going!”
The remainder of the first-half ambled along at pedestrian pace, always threatening to burst back into life but never conspiring to do so. The half-time whistle may even have come as a blessed relief to both sets of supporters, who would have been hoping either side could produce the goods after the interval.
And, of course, it was Bournemouth who seized upon the momentum after the break and swept away their opponents from the capital. The emphasis on patience, and continuing to plug away against opposition who often receded to the outskirts of their own sodden penalty area, worked miracles for the home side just when they needed them the most.
It would have been easier for Bournemouth to withdraw within themselves, and attempt to ride out a sustained spell of West Ham pressure in the meagre hope of launching a sweeping counter-attack. But their manager would never have allowed this – after all, he is a charismatic leader at the helm of a free-flowing, lightning fast style of play. And quite rightly he may have asked himself: why fix what isn’t broken?
So, Bournemouth continued to plug away. Errant passes were encouraged, hasty clearances from the backline were applauded, and the tireless running of the returning Wilson was often greeted with a guttural roar from the home faithful. The men clad in red and black pressed forward in the second period, firm in the belief that if they continued to do what they have always done, then they would be victorious.
They were delightfully and deservedly proved right under the lights. Just minutes after Steve Cook’s powerful header had been beaten away by the ever-reliable Lukasz Fabianski, Wilson crashed Bournemouth into the lead.
The 26-year-old, now an England international, personifies the grit and determination of the club he represents. He has battled back from the brink, after two severe ligament injuries threatened to derail him from reaching the peak of his limitless promise. And after returning from a recent hamstring strain in spectacular fashion, his reported £75 million price tag appears to be good value for money.
His opener was a textbook lesson in being in the right place at the right time. Ryan Fraser’s lung-bursting sprint along the left touchline culminated in the Scot attempting to float a delivery into the penalty area. The ball spun kindly off the sliding Issa Diop before dropping to Wilson, who took a couple of steps to steady himself before rifling a strike inside the top left-hand corner. Fabianski, in glorious fashion, remained rooted to the spot – allowing Wilson to take his chance with the perfect flourish.
After the celebrations that engulfed all four stands had come to a halt, the waiting game sparked up once again.
Carroll clambered highest to head Michail Antonio’s teasing delivery over the crossbar soon after, before Wilson was denied his second by the outstretched left palm of Fabianski. The technique on the effort was exquisite, and for a brief moment appeared destined to nestle in the far corner before the Pole’s stellar intervention.
The home side then saw frantic penalty appeals waved away by the referee, after Brooks had been felled inside the penalty area.
But Bournemouth’s patience and perseverance at both ends of the field were greeted with the ultimate reward deep inside second-half stoppage time. The visitors gifted possession to Bournemouth, who launched a rapid counter-attack forward through Brooks. The Welshman surged into the box, before tapping the ball across for the waiting King to slam beyond Fabianski from just a matter of yards.
Cue scenes of ecstasy inside and outside the stadium, and a long-awaited victory that may reignite the south coast side’s season.