AFC Bournemouth are on the brink of relegation from the Premier League, after a heartbreaking 2-0 loss to South coast rivals Southampton.
The Cherries were denied the opportunity to momentarily climb out of the bottom three after a combination of wasteful set pieces and yet another disheartening VAR decision late on.
Eddie Howe made two changes to his Bournemouth side that narrowly lost to Manchester City on Wednesday. David Brooks, the Cherries’ sole goal scorer in that 2-1 loss, replaced Dan Gosling in midfield, while Callum Wilson was preferred to Dominic Solanke up top.
Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl shuffled his Saints line up, making no fewer than five changes from their Thursday night draw with Brighton and Hove Albion. Kyle Walker-Peters, Jack Stephens, Ryan Bertrand, Stuart Armstrong and Shane Long were all recalled to the starting XI.
In a game they needed to win, Bournemouth seemed more than aware of the fact and started with the required intensity that Howe would have desired from them. The best chance of the opening stages came from a speculative shot on the turn from Lloyd Kelly, which would have likely hit the net if it weren’t for a deflection which sent it the wrong side of the post for The Cherries.
Soon after, Josh King will have been frustrated not to have been awarded a penalty after he was nudged off balance inside the Southampton area by Jack Stephens, but referee Craig Pawson dismissed the forward’s appeals.
After the drinks break, Bournemouth sustained their heavy pressure, mainly through a succession of long throws and corners. However, for all their possession in the Southampton half, clear cut chances were few and far between.
But for all their good work, Bournemouth made the costly mistake of affording the country’s most in form striker the time and space to get an effort on goal. All Danny Ings needed was one opportunity, and he made it count. The former Bournemouth man picked up the ball on the left-hand side and easily worked an opening for him to curl a low effort past Aaron Ramsdale to make it 1-0 to Southampton, very much against the run of play.
Ten minutes into the second half, Bournemouth found themselves again on the wrong side of a VAR decision. Initially waved on by Craig Pawson, the game was called back to award Southampton a penalty after Harry Wilson was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the area.
Ings stepped up with a chance to double the Saints lead, but he uncharacteristically produced a tame effort from the spot and Aaron Ramsdale got down easily to keep it out and the score at 1-0 and offer the home side a much needed lifeline.
Harry Wilson had a good chance to redeem himself when the ball worked its way to him inside the Southampton box, but his first-time effort was comfortably saved by Saints’ ‘keeper Alex McCarthy. The former Reading and Crystal Palace keeper was again on hand to smother a Bournemouth opportunity, quickly coming off his line to deny Junior Stanislas an all-important equaliser.
Southampton spurned another huge opportunity to double their lead, as Nathan Redmond was given the freedom of the Vitality by the Bournemouth defence and broke in one on one with Ramsdale. But the young Bournemouth keeper was on hand to make another outstanding save to keep the Cherries in with a chance of nicking a vital point.
Dominic Solanke must have thought he was the man who’d rescued Bournemouth, when the ball fell for him in the Saints area. It looked like all he had to do was hit the target to level things, but the young forward hesitated which allowed Jannik Vestergaard to recover and make an important last ditch block.
McCarthy, for the umpteenth time, denied Bournemouth when Harry Wilson produced a neat curling effort destined for the bottom corner, but keeper’s fingertips turned the ball round the post much to Bournemouth’s disappointment.
In the 94th minute, local boy Sam Surridge looked to have made himself a hero as he found the back of the net. For the first time in the game a long throw paid off for the Cherries, Surridge flicked the ball on and Callum Wilson attempted to turn it in but missed the ball. McCarthy spilled the flick on and Surridge turned it home.
However, Wilson was stood in an offside position and was ruled to have infringed on the attack. Harshly disallowed, summing up the season.
To add insult to injury, Che Adams doubled Southampton’s lead in the dying embers of the game. He linked up with Saints number 20 Michael Obafemi and struck a venomous shot home close to penalty spot to ensure the game finished 2-0 to Southampton.
The only scenario now that could save Eddie Howe’s men from playing Championship football next season, is if Watford fail to pick up a single point from their last two games, and the Cherries defeat Everton in their last game. This said, they will still have to overturn a -4 goal difference on the Hornets over these remaining games.
One thing that could provide some hope to the minds of Bournemouth fans, is knowing that now managerless Watford’s final two games are against Manchester City and Arsenal.
AFC Bournemouth: 12 Aaron Ramsdale (GK), 17 Jack Stacey, 3 Steve Cook ©, 26 Lloyd Kelly, 21 Diego Rico, 19 Junior Stanislas (Solanke 68’), 29 Philip Billing (Gosling 87’), 8 Jefferson Lerma (Surridge 82’), 20 David Brooks (H Wilson 45’), 7 Josh King (Cook 68’), 13 Callum Wilson
Subs: 1 Artur Boruc (GK), 4 Dan Gosling (Billing 87’), 6 Andrew Surman, 9 Dominic Solanke (Stanislas 68’), 14 Arnaut Danjuma, 16 Lewis Cook (King 68’), 22 Harry Wilson (Brooks 45’), 25 Jack Simpson, 44 Sam Surridge (Lerma 82’)
Booked: Billing 46’, Cook 78’
Southampton: 1 Alex McCarthy (GK), 24 Kyle Walker-Peters, 5 Jack Stephens, 4 Jannik Vestergaard, 21 Ryan Bertand, 22. Nathan Redmond, 16 James Ward-Prowse ©, 14 Oriol Romeu (Hojberg 77’), 17 Stuart Armstrong, 7 Shane Long (Adams 66’), 9 Danny Ings (Obafemi 90+3’)
Subs: 28 Angus Gunn, 10 Che Adams (Long 66’), 20 Michael Obafemi (Ings 90+3’), 23 Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Romeu 77’), 27 William Smallbone, 29 Jake Vokins, 38 Kevin Danso, 43 Yan Valery, 47 Will Ferry
Booked: Vestergaard 34’, Ward-Prowse 90+3’