Written by Akshay Kulkarni (@ImpatientPedant) at Vitality Stadium
Manchester City ground out a 1-0 win at AFC Bournemouth in a testy encounter at the Vitality Stadium.
The champions were frustrated by a flat Bournemouth back five for the whole first half.
But a series of deflections finally saw Riyad Mahrez score the winner in the 54th minute.
The goal was coming for a dominant City, but up until then it was a great defensive effort from a normally porous Cherries backline.
Yet, for all the relative calm at the back, Bournemouth had nothing going for them up the other end of the pitch. And City had opportunities to make the scoreline look better.
Mahrez then saw two further chances which were missed, and Sergio Aguero had an incredible 25-yard-effort come back off the bar.
A constant throughout the match was abuse directed towards referee Kevin Friend. The fired-up Bournemouth support were aggrieved at many perceived fouls given against them, and tempers flared late on after a foul on Josh King.
But Manchester City held on for a crucial win and Bournemouth have still never beaten the Citizens. Cherries boss Eddie Howe can still take heart from the way his team held on.
Defensive formation for the Cherries
The omens pre-match were not good for Eddie Howe’s side. They were fresh off a 5-1 thrashing away at Arsenal, their ninth away loss in a row.
Though the Cherries are a different proposition at home, they had never ever won against the visitors. The last time Bournemouth even got a point against City, manager Eddie Howe was in the lineup – a 0-0 draw in 1999, in the third tier.
With this in mind, perhaps, Howe stuffed his side with defenders, Jack Simpson and Charlie Daniels coming in to the lineup along with the fit David Brooks. Opposite number Pep Guardiola’s deep squad meant even his four changes saw a formidable side turn out on the South Coast.
The opening ten minutes were all City, as Bournemouth lined up in a back five and were pinned back in their own half. Even simple defensive blocks were cheered loudly by a noisy Vitality Stadium.
The first real chance fell to City’s captain David Silva on 19 minutes, when he fired wide from a low Kevin de Bruyne cross.
A major flashpoint then occurred four minutes later, as the returning David Brooks was brought down on the breakaway. A foul was not coming from referee Kevin Friend, and the home support were livid.
City had another half-chance in the 30th minute, as Nicolas Otamendi’s acrobatic snapshot from a corner went over the bar. A few minutes later, Sergio Aguero fired high and wide from another corner.
The home support’s frustration at the referee was a constant theme for the rest of the half, and it somewhat took away from Bournemouth’s solidity. The champions were unable to break down the back five, and never really tested Cherries keeper Artur Boruc.
Then came a deflected John Stones effort late on, and a curling Raheem Sterling shot from the edge of the box. But the Cherries stood firm, and the flat back five repelled every City attack in the first 45.
The Citizens’ best chance was the last action of the first half, as a corner caused panic in the Bournemouth half. Boruc went down well to save from a City snapshot, and Mepham eventually scrambled clear. But for all of City’s efforts, they ended the first half goalless.
City finally break through
The second half started with a curious substitution, as John Stones went off for Vincent Kompany. It was another substitute, Mahrez, who finally broke down the stubborn Cherries in the 54th minute.
The ball fell to Oleksandr Zinchenko on the edge of the box, who managed to find Mahrez free at the back post. It was one of Bournemouth’s rare defensive errors up to that point. The Algerian slotted it into Boruc’s near post, and City were ahead. It had been coming, but it was certainly not vintage from the Citizens.
Bournemouth looked to respond, but City reminded them how dangerous they were in the 65th minute.
The Cherries looked to break away with Ryan Fraser, but City won the ball back and sent Sterling on his way. The Englishman fired into the side netting, but again the Bournemouth fans felt aggrieved, wanting a foul on Fraser. It was fair to say Kevin Friend made no friends on the South Coast.
The league’s top scorer Aguero was kept relatively quiet by the Cherries backline throughout. He had a good effort, made by the effervescent Sterling, saved in the 70th minute.
Seven minutes later, Mahrez should really have made it 2-0. A defensive breakdown saw Sterling through on goal, after a Jack Simpson header, but Boruc dived well on the edge of his box to claw away. The rebound fell to the Algerian, who had the entire goal to aim for from the edge of the box. The winger’s effort was terrible, however, and was nowhere near the goal.
It was not for want of trying that Aguero wasn’t on the scoresheet. In the 81st minute, he saw an audacious attempt from 25 yards bounce off the bar. Boruc was scrambling, but Aguero didn’t look like he meant it. It would have been a brilliant goal had it gone in.
Tempers flared late on, and Pep Guardiola had to intervene to stop Joshua King and Walker coming to blows. Both players were booked for their troubles.
City almost made one of their numerous corners count in the 86th minute, and Boruc dived well to save from a snap header from Mahrez.
That was one of the last actions of the match as it petered out. Manchester City were jubilant with their win, and Bournemouth supporters went home ruing a strangely encouraging performance.
For all of Bournemouth’s rare solidity at the back, it has to be said that the Cherries offered nothing going forward. Their terrible record against Manchester City continues, and the Citizens go top of the league ahead of the Merseyside derby tomorrow.
The Cherries next travel to relegation strugglers Huddersfield, with Manchester City hosting Watford. Hopefully Cherries build on this defensive effort as they look to end the season on a high.
Bournemouth XI: Boruc; Clyne (off for Ibe), Mepham, Simpson (off for Rico), Ake, Daniels; Smith, Fraser, Surman; Brooks (off for Mousset), King.
Substitutes: Begovic, Gosling, Mousset, Ibe, Rico, Taylor, Surridge.
Manchester City XI: Ederson; Walker, Stones (off for Kompany), Otamendi, Zinchenko; David Silva, de Bruyne (off for Mahrez), Gundogan; Sterling, Aguero (off for Jesus), Bernardo Silva.
Substitutes: Muric, Danilo, Kompany, Sane, Mahrez, Jesus, Foden.