Bournemouth 2-1 Everton

A disaster for Seamus Coleman as he inadvertently deflected a long throw-in into his own goal cost the Blues a point, barely two minutes after Beto had pounced to score from close range after Bournemouth keeper Neto spilled an innocuous cross. These are the games Everton need to find a way to win and somehow, even after a training break in Portugal, they failed miserably to create enough openings and true chances.

It’s been twenty-one days since the Blues last kicked a ball in Premier League anger, a game that saw them fall to a two-penalty defeat at Manchester United. Since then, the first team squad has been split with some on international duty and the rest enjoying, and hopefully putting to good use, a mid-season, warm weather training break in Portugal.

Quite what Bournemouth have been doing since they last played is beyond me but under Italian coach Andoni Iraola, the Cherries have improved quite dramatically after a very sticky start to the season and are forging themselves into a respectable mid-table outfit. Sitting a full ten points ahead of the Blues, a gap that would only have been four had we not been harshly adjudged a points deduction, the home side were looking to avenge their 3-0 loss at Goodison back in early October.

Despite the length of this international break, Bournemouth had mixed news on the injury and fitness front with Iraola advising his pre-match press briefing, “Max Aarons has recovered from his hamstring injury, and Lloyd Kelly has started training with the group this week and has a chance of featuring on Saturday. We have no issues with Dom (Solanke), it’s a good moment for him personally. We’ve given him a bit of rest and time to recover. I 100% expect him to be involved.”

The Italian went on to advise that Marcos Senesi, Ryan Fredericks and Luis Sinisterra would all miss the Everton game thus leaving him to await a fitness evaluation on defender Kelly before naming his starting line-up: Neto (c), Smith, Mepham, Zabarnyi, Kerkez, Adams, Cook, Semenyo, Kluivert, Tavernier and Solanke.

Still awaiting a first Premier League victory at the Vitality Stadium with only two points from their six previous visits, Everton travelled south looking to improve that record and in so doing, put some extra distance between themselves and the bottom three relegation places.

For Blues boss Sean Dyche, the remainder of this trying season is now about adding the missing element from far too many games – goals. Urging his players to ‘stick to task’ he commented to the media saying, “A lot of the performance levels statistically have been right, we have spoken endlessly about it but, the words have to stop at some point.”

He expanded adding, “We have to take action and we have been very close to doing that. The freedom to miss, the freedom to score – that is the bit missing in a lot of our performances, the final moment. I think just reinforcing to the players the good work they are doing and reinforcing how important the final moments are of course. But they know that, it is about going into these games with the right frame of mind. Performance wise we are. But, we have got to win games, that is the job, end of.”

In squad news for the trip to the south coast, Idrissa Gana Gueye made a positive return to the Senegal side in a victory over Benin, and Seamus Coleman was Ireland’s Player of the Game against Switzerland and the manager commented on his club captain saying, “Seamus is a valuable member of the Club, let alone the squad – what he stands for, he’s been exceptional and he still is. To get those games [for the Republic of Ireland] under his belt is very pleasing because the hardest thing when you’re coming out of an injury is to get game time. He’s never out of contention as long as he’s fit, obviously, and he is fit.£

On the downside though, Lewis Dobbin, Arnaut Danjuma (both ankle injuries and Dele Alli (groin) were all unavailable as was Vitalii Mykolenko feeling unwell, and so looking to complete a league double over the Cherries and gain a first victory of 2024, Sean Dyche named his starting eleven: Jordan Pickford, Seamus Coleman (c), James Tarkowski, Jarrad Branthwaite, Ben Godfrey, Jack Harrison, James Garner, Amadou Onana, Dwight McNeil, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

On a cool and sunny afternoon, Sam Barrott was a new refereeing name to grace an Everton fixture.

Terrific vocal support from the travelling fans in the early exchanges that saw some solid challenges from players of both sides before the first chance fell to the home side with Cook feeding Semenyo who saw his shot parried by Jordan Pickford and Cook blasting the loose ball high and wide. Ben Godfrey conceded the first corner on five minutes, which Cook sent in low for Kluivert to try to flck the ball home at the near post, Everton smuggling the ball away to safety.

Tavernier sent a long diagonal ball for Kluivert and gaining the area he tried to feed Solanke, the ball eventually going behind off Semenyo. A free kick about ten yards outside the Everton area saw a shot Kluivert hit the Everton wall and the Blues looked to break quickly with Doucoure being closed down as he reached the edge of the Bournemouth area. The first real pressure from the Blues saw good work by McNeil eventually lead to a cross that fell to DCL and his shot on the turn was deflected behind for the first corner, that failed to trouble the home defence.

Kerkez brought down Seamus Coleman out by the right wing corner flag, and the cross from McNeil was headed behind for a corner from the left. Garner swung it to the near post where it was far too easily cleared by Solanke. Onana and Coleman combined to set up Harrison for a cross from the right that was hurriedly put behind for a third Everton corner, sent long and too strong for Branthwaite to get a meaningful header.

Twenty minutes played and a pretty even affair thus far with Everton looking to build their attacking moves and Bournemouth happy to respond with quick counters. Tavernier won a left wing corner after a quick counter, and Doucoure took no chances in putting it behind for another which saw a clearing header from Tarkowski cannon off Semenyo and over for a goal kick.

A scrappy period followed with untidy passing and careless fouls by both sides before Cook, Adams and Semenyo combined, the Blues defence getting back to foil the attack. Former RS Solanke was the first to see a yellow card on the half hour for a silly pull on Onana who stayed down and needed some attention to his left shoulder. From the free kick, the best chance of the half fell to DCL with Neto in the home goal making a good save at the expense of another corner that was wasted.

Everton came again with a shot from Garner going wide of the far post and after Doucoure stunted a Bournemouth attack, Mepham went through the back of DCL and was lucky not to see a yellow card. Doucoure then caught Adams to concede a free kick wide left that Tavernier sent far too long and harmlessly out for a goal kick. Another foul by Mepham on DCL saw the Blues number 9 have a word with the referee and then Cook went in heavily on Onana with no card shown either.

Into the final five minutes of the first half and Amadou Onana was booked for a foul on Tavernier, and the home side wasted the free kick before some confusion in the Everton area saw Branthwaite tangle with Adams, the home fans howls for a penalty fell on deaf ears and eventually, after some hurried defence from the resulting corner, Everton cleared. Another free kick to Bournemouth after a foul by Garner saw Solanke win a late corner off Coleman as two added minutes were announced, and again, the corner failed to produce.

Even Steven at the break as a half that had been punctuated by far too many free kicks, poor corners and stop-start football mercifully came to a close.

Half Time: 0-0

The Vitality Stadium was still bathing in the Spring sunshine as the teams took to the field for the second half with just about everybody hoping for something better than we’d seen in the first half, and no changes by either manager for the resumption of play.

Bournemouth pressure led to Pickford pushing a low shot from Tavernier to safety before the same player brought down Garner and the Blues wasted another free kick opportunity… and even after just five minutes of the second half, the game was taking on the mantle of the first goal wins it. Solanke with a nice take and turn got away from Godfrey, Seamus Coleman using his experience to get across and cover to foil the Bournemouth striker.

Garner broke up a Bournemouth raid to release DCL but the home defence got back quickly and denied him the chance to do anything positive. The next raid saw DCL go down after a slight touch by a defender, VAR had a quick look and decided the contact was minimal and play continued. Bournemouth won a sixth corner that failed to produce and when they came again, Branthwaite got a block on a shot by Semenyo, the ball bouncing nicely for Pickford to gather easily.

Mepham beat DCL to a cross from Garner to concede another corner to Everton that McNeil took short and with the home defence non-plussed, McNeil took a return ball to see a short range shot hit the post and be hurriedly put behind by Mepham, the follow-up corner being wasted.

Passing the hour mark, the game was still scrappy and increasingly looking like it would need a howler or a moment of genius to break the deadlock. A cross by Kluivert headed on by Solanke saw Tavernier send a shot across the face of goal and well wide ahead of the first change on 63 minutes that saw Kelly replace Kerkez on the left side of the home defence.

And it was the first touch of the ball by Kelly that led to the opening goal as he was found by Tavernier and he played a delightful cross for Solanke to rise between Tarkowski and Godfrey and beat Pickford with his close range header, and once again, Everton needed to recover from a deficit.

Branthwaite needed treatment after jarring his left knee and thankfully was okay to continue before Bournemouth again struck at pace with Semenyo crossing, under pressure from Onana, just to strongly for Solanke to get on the end of.

Changes for the Blues on 72 minutes saw Harrison and Doucoure replaced by Ashley Young and Andre Gomes respectively. Bournemouth responded a minute later with Tavernier and Kluivert being withdrawn for Billing and Dango.

Andre Gomes won a corner from the left with his first touch of the ball that he took and the home side cleared to touch. Solanke twisted and turned to draw a foul from James Tarkowski who was booked for his troubles. With the shadows lengthening as the sun began to drop behind the main stand, Everton made another change on 78 minutes with Beto replacing Amadou Onana to give the Blues a two-pronged attack – could they provide some better service for him and/or DCL to make the most of?

Ten minutes to play and good approach play by Beto led to a cross from the left being headed behind for another corner that Kelly cleared. Zabarnyi then cleared a low cross from McNeil, a header from Beto was easily gathered by Neto and Young needlessly fouled Billing as the home side looked to break. A ball into the Everton area saw Pickford slightly fortunate that his clearing punch on the ball saw it cannon off Solanke and go wide of the post.

Solanke was replaced by Unal with six minutes to play, the former RS striker getting a standing ovation from the home fans having bagged his 16th goal of the season and likely to earn his side three more points – could Everton do anything in the time remaining?

And indeed they could as a speculative cross from the wide left by McNeil was spilled by Neto and Beto coolly netted the loose ball.

Bournemouth poured forward looking to reclaim their lead, winning a corner that Pickford punched clear and out for a throw-in and with six added minutes about to announced, the throw-in was taken long and bounced up into the chest of Seamus Coleman and tragically into his own net.

Everton couldn’t find a way back and it has to be said that in all honesty, the three week break since the defeat at Old Trafford did not look to have been put to too much.

Full Time: 2-1

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