Report by Dan Davis (@dan_davis20) at Vitality Stadium
AFC Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe’s 500th game in management was marred by a surprise defeat against an already-relegated Fulham side at Vitality Stadium.
In an end-to-end encounter, neither side were able to better the heroics of either goalkeeper until Fulham edged into the lead early in the second half – Aleksandar Mitrovic converting a penalty to put a halt to any potential celebrations for hometown hero Howe.
Cherries sported an unchanged line-up after a comprehensive 5-0 victory at south coast neighbours Brighton last weekend, although an injury sustained by Adam Smith in the warm-up instead saw Junior Stanislas called to the fore at right-back.
Emerson Hyndman, who returned in January at the end of a six-month loan at Scottish Premiership outfit Hibernian, was named among the substitutes along with highly-coveted striker Sam Surridge.
The visitors, managed by ex-West Ham midfield stalwart Scott Parker, boasted two changes – with club captain Tom Cairney and Timothy Fosu-Mensah missing out on the match day squad entirely. Denis Odoi and Jean Michael Seri lined up from the off instead.
Visibly fresh from their morale-boosting success at the Amex Stadium, Cherries started the brighter and carved out the game’s first opening within the opening minute. A superb floated ball over the top of Fulham’s defence picked out Callum Wilson’s run in behind, and the ex-Coventry frontman blazed over the crossbar on the turn.
Dangerous duo Joshua King and Ryan Fraser then combined sharply inside the penalty area soon after, with the Scot’s attempted strike from a tight angle deflecting behind for a corner kick.
Fraser’s set piece was typically inviting, allowing Nathan Ake, who was fielded at left-back once again, a free header at goal. The Dutchman’s goal bound effort scrambled free to the waiting Wilson, whose attempt to smuggle the ball home was superbly smothered by Fulham shot stopper Sergio Rico.
It was soon Steve Cook’s turn to chance his arm from distance, although the centre-half’s effort, in only his second game since returning from a lengthy injury lay-off, was neither on target nor handsome.
The hosts’ dominance ticked over into the 14th minute. Incisive play from both Dan Gosling and Fraser allowed the latter time and space to swing in a cross along the turf, which was narrowly thundered over the crossbar by King from 10 yards.
But Cherries were almost left ruing their wastefulness, after second-tier bound Fulham carved out two golden openings in quick succession. A floated delivery from a corner picked out the towering Maxime Le Marchand, whose powerful header was scrambled off the line by the handily-positioned Ake. Then, the visitors profited after a horrid deflection fell kindly for Mitrovic, who could only rifle over the crossbar from close range.
With Fulham’s brief period of superiority over, Fraser opted to seize control of matters and raced towards the Londoners’ backline. The winger, reportedly a transfer target for top flight giants Arsenal, then forced an athletic stop from Rico, the goalkeeper palming the effort wide of the left-hand post.
Soon after, the hosts received another injury blow, with Stanislas having to be withdrawn after an apparent heavy knock. Youngster Jack Simpson took his place.
Fulham then nearly pounced on Cherries’ makeshift back four on 38 minutes, as Odoi’s header forced a stellar, low stop from Artur Boruc in the last notable piece of action from the first half.
It was the visitors who emerged from the interval the brighter side, after ex-Liverpool wide-man Ryan Babel’s header warmed the palms of Boruc following Calum Chambers’ pinpoint cross.
And just five minutes later Fulham made the most of Cherries’ all too obvious defensive insecurities to open the scoring. The home side failed to scramble clear following a brief game of pinball on the outskirts of the penalty area, resulting in referee David Coote awarding a penalty following Simpson’s late and silly challenge on Mitrovic.
The Serbian powerhouse coolly dispatched the ball beyond Boruc from 12 yards, sending the Pole the wrong way and rolling into the opposite corner.
Waves of pressure from the visitors continued to stack up against Cherries’ defence, almost resulting in a second goal for Fulham. Joe Bryan’s marauding race down the far touchline resulted in a clever pullback into the path of Sessegnon, who could only fire into the grateful palms of Boruc. The Pole gathered at the second attempt.
The youngster came close once again just moments later after smoothly smuggling the ball beyond Ake on the byline, but his strike from a tight angle cannoned into a sea of Cherries bodies and was subsequently scrambled clear.
But back came Cherries, who have made a habit of scoring crucial goals at home. A perfectly-weighted pass split the Fulham defence in two and allowed Fraser to ghost in behind, although the Scot’s effort was smothered by the onrushing Rico. As the ball then squirmed free, the winger planted his attempt inches wide of the near post.
January signing Dominic Solanke was introduced by boss Howe on the hour mark, and squandered a guilt-edged chance to level the scores. Wilson seized upon the ball inside the box and forced Rico into a strong save, but as the rebound dropped back into danger, Solanke was unable to make the crucial contact and convert under pressure from Le Marchand.
David Brooks, who has been a standout star throughout Cherries’ campaign, then latched sweetly on to Jefferson Lerma’s chip over the top but could only skew his volley wide.
But as time ticked on, the points appeared to slip further from the hosts’ grasp. Bryan’s late strike was palmed wide by Boruc to further compound Cherries’ recent miseries.
Cherries: Boruc, Stanislas (Simpson, 22), Cook, Mepham (Mousset, 76), Ake, Brooks, Lerma, Gosling, Fraser (Solanke, 60), King, Wilson
Unused substitutes: Begovic, Hyndman, Ofoborh, Surridge