West Ham 3 Bournemouth 4: It has been a long time since the Premier League boasted a team that every neutral could have a soft spot for — not since the days of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle perhaps — but Bournemouth are looking contenders to carry that mantle.
There’s something rather magical about Eddie Howe’s side and their refreshing ‘attack at all costs’ mentality that has kept their own supporters entertained for the last three years and now looks set to become a weekly tonic for the rest of us.
Some of the football played by Howe’s side in a remarkable 4-3 victory at West Ham — and some of the defending that allowed the home side stay in the match until the bitter end — was irresistible to watch.
It was no one-off, either. Last season fans who watched every Bournemouth game home and away in the Championship would have seen 143 goals in all — more than followers of any other club in the second tier. Not all of them were at the right end, of course, but nobody could say the Cherries haven’t been value for money.
It reminds one of the heady Keegan days on Tyneside and more recently of the Ian Holloway era at Blackpool when the attacking Tangerines won the hearts of so many neutrals.
Bournemouth, though, have a little more to them than that Blackpool side which inevitably ended up being relegated. For a start they have a striker in Callum Wilson whose hat-trick at Upton Park seems to suggest he is made for the top flight; and they have the financial backing from wealthy owner Maxim Demin that means they may well be able to hold on to him.
“Callum was outstanding,” said Howe, looking back on a match which saw Bournemouth go from 2-0 up to 2-2 before eventually taking the points with Marc Pugh adding to Wilson’s trio of goals.
“He’s a real menace with his pace and movement. He’s also a huge part of what we are doing and we are not looking to lose him, or anybody.”
It will be interesting to see how far Bournemouth’s philosophy can take them. But there was a little irony seeing them winning in such style at Upton Park — a club that sacked Sam Allardyce and brought in Slaven Bilic to revive ‘the West Ham way’.
Hammers fans are still singing ‘West Ham United, we play on the floor’ in celebration at Allardyce’s departure; but their ex-manager could barely hide his dismay at the team’s lack of defensive organisation as he covered the match as a television pundit for the BBC.
“I still don’t know what the West Ham way is,” he said. “Playing attractive football and winning perhaps. But winning is the first priority, that’s a thing everyone knows.”
That’s the part West Ham are finding difficult at the moment, despite goals from Noble and Kouyate inside four minutes which took them to 2-2 early in the second half — and despite a late strike from Maiga that gave them hope of scrambling a late point. Add in a red card for Carl Jenkinson for giving away the penalty that allowed Wilson to complete his hat-trick and you can see there is serious work to do.
The Cherries, by contrast, believe a first Premier League victory will be the springboard to an exciting season, even if Allardyce remains unconvinced.
“If Eddie is going to survive he is going to have to play a different system depending on who he’s playing,” he said. “He needs to be more pragmatic and then he’ll get the results to stay up.”
It’s probably good advice from Big Sam. But us neutrals are rather hoping that Mr Howe isn’t listening.
Randolph 6, Jenkinson 4, Reid 5, Ogbonna 6 (Tomkins 35; 6), Cresswell 6, Obiang 6, Noble 7, Kouyate 7, Nolan 5 (Jarvis 45; 6), Payet 6, Sakho 6 (Maiga 73; 7).
Boruc 6, Francis 7, Cook 6, Elphick 7, Surman 7, Gradel 8 (Gosling 85), Daniels 7, Wilson 9, King 6 (Pugh 51; 7), Ritchie 7 (Smith 90), O’Kane 6.
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