8 The Daily Telegraph Monday 20 July 2020 *** Total Football Cruel finale puts Bournemouth on brink By Jeremy Wilson Var heartbreaker at the Vitality Stadium The injury-time drama that may have ended the Cherries’ hopes of staying in the Premier League 0 Bournemouth Southampton 2 Ings 41, Adams 90+8 There was no outward show of anger but, as Eddie Howe stood motionless on the touchline before slowly closing his eyes for several long seconds, his internal agony was tangible. Howe and his Bournemouth team thought they had just fashioned a 94th-minute equaliser that would certainly provide precious momentum and might even save their Premier League status. Some of the staff whose jobs could conceivably depend on staying up were openly celebrating and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale ran around the pitch in joy. But then came the Var referral and the verdict from Stockley Park. No goal. Offside. Not because the scorer, Sam Surridge, was in the wrong place when he punished Alex McCarthy’s fumble, but because Callum Wilson was judged to have interfered in the moments before the ball had gone into the net. It was the correct decision but, as Howe finally reopened his eyes in realisation of a 22nd league defeat of the season and an almost hopeless position, it was hard not to feel sympathy at the way in which Var verdicts are delivered. “It’s so difficult for the players and everyone connected with the club who have shared that joy and it is then taken away,” Howe said. “That’s the downside of Var. The emotion of the game, and what it means, gets wiped from history.” Howe was certain that Southampton’s second goal was a direct consequence of the emotional crash that his players had felt, and it is Bournemouth’s proud five-year stay in the Premier League that now looks likely to be over. They will be relegated unless they beat Everton on the final day of the season and Watford fail to gather a point in either of their last two games. Bournemouth must also overturn a four-goal swing to Watford and hope that Aston Villa do not gather four points or more from their two remaining games. Having previously saved Bournemouth from a position of minus 17 points in League Two, Howe knows that “crazy things happen” in football, even if there was still something here in the manner of defeat that felt decisive. “It is a tense week ahead because our fate is not in our own hands, but where there is hope, we have to believe,” he said. Lifting the players will clearly be a major challenge – Ramsdale said they were “dead on their feet” – although their mood will at least now be shaped by what happens over the coming days, when Watford and Villa respectively face Manchester City and Arsenal. Bournemouth had looked instantly nervy and, with Nathan Ake, Charlie Daniels and Simon Francis all injured, rarely looked defensively secure. It has been little better this season further forward and, although they did eventually settle into a rhythm that gave them possession and pressure, there was a glaring lack of cutting edge. Lloyd Kelly shot over, Callum Wilson headed wide and Josh King provoked a vital clearance from Kyle Walker-Peters. But beyond that there was little in the first half to really threaten McCarthy’s goal. Southampton, by contrast, were playing with a freedom and confidence that ensured they looked more incisive once they broke forward. James Ward-Prowse split open the Bournemouth defence, but Ramsdale moved quickly from his goalline to block Nathan Redmond’s shot. Oriol Romeu then produced a precise cross to tee up a free header for Ward-Prowse, but he squandered the chance. Southampton were causing particular problems down Bournemouth’s left and Ryan Bertrand’s overlapping run created space for Redmond to feed Danny Ings. It was only a half chance but Ings nudged the ball inside Jack Stacey and shot with deadly accuracy into the bottom left corner. Ings, whose professional debut came under Howe at Bournemouth, is now only two goals behind Jamie Vardy as the Premier League’s leading scorer, and will have been frustrated not to close further. Having almost increased Southampton’s lead with a curling shot, Ings replaced Ward-Prowse as the usual penalty taker after Var ruled that Harry Wilson was guilty of a handball in blocking Romeu’s attempted pass. Ramsdale, though, dived decisively to his left to briefly lift Bournemouth and provide hope. Harry Wilson forced a good save from McCarthy and Jannik Vestergaard made a brilliant block to deny Dominic Solanke. Next came the frantic finale and, after Var had again ruled against Bournemouth, Che Adams sealed victory with his second goal of Project Restart. It was Southampton’s sixth match unbeaten and a 31st point this season on their Premier League travels; an away record that is only surpassed by Liverpool. Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl later said that it was “hard to understand” why Bournemouth were in such trouble, especially after they convincingly beat Southampton 3-1 back in September. The two clubs have since gone in opposite directions and, having finished above Southampton in each of the past two seasons, the old order has returned and Bournemouth are again facing the prospect of life in a different division.
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