Written by Frankie Rudland (@RudlandFrankie)
An inspired display by David Silva was just enough to edge out a much improved Bournemouth in a thrilling affair at the Etihad.
The Spaniards superb free-kick gave City the lead after just five minutes before he later turned provider for Gabriel Jesus who produced a classy run and finish to double the home sides advantage.
VAR denied Josh King a goal in the second half after he had strayed just centre meters offside, whilst City also had a penalty correctly overturned after Jesus trod on the trailing leg of Steve Cook in the penalty area.
David Brooks eventually nudged in a late goal for Bournemouth who were previously denied by a combination of superb goalkeeping and misfortune, but City just about managed to cling on to their lead and ensure all three points remained in Manchester.
Howe resisted the temptation to remain unchanged from his sides win against Leicester, instead opting for a five man midfield in the hope of nullifying a Manchester City side that have frequently mauled Bournemouth both home and away.
Keeping out free-scoring Manchester City away from home was always going to be a mammoth task for the Cherries, and it took them all of five minutes to succumb to the Mancunian’s advances. The departing David Silva curled in an inch-perfect free-kick via the crossbar and past a helpless Aaron Ramsdale following a clumsy challenge from Jefferson Lerma on the edge of the area.
One almost became two just moments later, City’s utility man Fernandinho took aim from distance and rifled a low drive just shy of Ramsdale’s right-post as Pep’s side made it clear that they held no sympathy for survival threatened Bournemouth.
The Cherries attempts to escape their own half were met by a series of sweeping counter attacks from the home side, and makeshift centre-back Lloyd Kelly found himself collecting the first yellow card of the match after he illegally thwarted Gabriel Jesus from breaking through a stretched Bournemouth back line.
However, Bournemouth’s attacking efforts were almost rewarded just moments before the drinks break. Jack Stacey’s cross from the right eventually dropped to Josh King who swivelled and fired an effort which flashed past Ederson’s left post on 22 minutes.
Pep Guardiola named a heavily rotated back-line for Bournemouth’s visit to the Etihad, with both Stones and Otamendi returning to the starting eleven after a lengthy absence, and when the latter clumsily tripped Dominic Solanke, Bournemouth were presented with another chance on goal.
Junior Stanislas has been a man reborn in recent weeks, and he so almost made himself a hero once more as his curling strike from the resultant free-kick forced a spectacular save from Ederson who palmed his goal bound effort onto the post.
Howe’s side seemed to have the City defence rattled, and when Gosling’s cross-come-shot squirmed its way to Solanke in the area, it took a last-ditched block from Otamendi to prevent the former Liverpool man from adding to his recent tally and finishing into an unguarded net.
All too predictably, the Cherries were made to rue their spurned chances just moments later as David Silva slipped in Gabriel Jesus who nutmegged Stacey and clinically dispatched a low drive into the bottom corner to double the home sides lead on 39 minutes.
The goal proved a sucker-punch for the Cherries who entered the interval on the wrong end of a 2-0 score line despite registering more attempts than the hosts in the first-half.
Bournemouth’s positive display clearly didn’t go unnoticed by Pep, as Raheem Sterling and Eric Garcia entered the fray at the expense of Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker at the break.
The early stages of the second-half mirrored large patches of the first, with City controlling large amounts of possession without regularly opening up the visitors. As City performances go this was perhaps one of their more pedestrian showings.
Bournemouth were displaying a relentless attitude that had previously been dormant for so much of this season, frequently exploiting City down both flanks. And their spirited defiance was so nearly rewarded on the hour mark when Josh King nudged in from all of two yards following some tricky work from Stanislas on the right side of the penalty area, only for the linesman’s flag to immediately mute any away celebrations.
VAR replays showed that the Norwegian was offside by all of an inch as Howe’s side came agonisingly close to a route back in to the game.
Stanislas was once again the architect just moments later, combining well with Solanke down the right before forcing Ederson to palm his delivery into the path of the onrushing Gosling who’s half-volley deflected failed to find its way past a sea of City defenders.
Bournemouth looked reinvigorated from their triumph over Leicester at the weekend, and Josh King embodied their confidence as he breezed past Garcia and into the area forcing another smart challenge to deny his attempted cut back from finding a red shirt.
Eddie Howe smelt blood and made a triple attacking change with Callum Wilson, David Brooks and Lewis Cook replacing Solanke, Stanislas and Dan Gosling who had all given a good account of themselves.
Whilst VAR has so often been the enemy for Bournemouth in recent weeks, it proved an unfamiliar ally when the referee blew for a penalty to the hosts on 72 minutes. At first glance Steve Cook appeared to bring down Jesus in the area after an almost identical break saw Silva once again put the Brazilian in on goal. However, replays showed that Jesus had stood on the foot of Cook, sparing the defender’s blushed and keeping Bournemouth’s chance of a comeback intact.
Jesus did get another chance to double his tally just minutes later when Phil Foden worked space for the forward on the right hand side of the penalty area, but he dragged his low drive across the face of Ramsdale’s goal.
As the game entered the final ten minutes Howe’s side still refused to accept defeat, substitutes Brooks and Callum Wilson combined down the right before the latter pulled his shot agonisingly wide of the post after the Welshman’s cutback.
After almost 90 minutes of knocking at the door, Bournemouth finally got the goal they deserved. Rico whipped a devilish ball behind Stones which Wilson collected before turning on the gas and unselfishly squaring for Brooks to guide into the bottom right corner, setting up a nail-biting finale for both benches.
The Cherries came painfully close to a two-minute turnaround as Brooks scuffed a cross at Garcia who could only cushion the ball into the path of Callum Wilson after losing his footing, only for the England forward to snatch at the shot and spurn a golden opportunity for Howe’s side.
Manchester City were clinging on to all three points in the closing stages, with heroic blocks required to deny both Lewis Cook and Lerma as Bournemouth’s shot count continued its perpetual rise.
Substitute Sam Surridge was the last in a long line of Cherries players to spurn a late chance as he couldn’t quite poke past Ederson after meeting a flick on, and after a six-minute siege the referee spared Manchester City and called time on a frustrating evening for Bournemouth who remain on 31 points. 2-1 the final score.
All eyes will now be on relegation rivals West Ham and Watford who face off this Friday in what could be a key fixture in Bournemouth’s hunt for survival. The Cherries return to the Vitality this Sunday as they welcome fellow south coast residents Southampton.
Bournemouth: Ramsdale (6), Stacey (6), S Cook (6), Kelly (6), Rico (7), Stanislas (8), Billing (7), Lerma (7), Gosling (7), King (7), Solanke (6).
Subs: C Wilson (7), Brooks (7), H Wilson (6), L Cook (6), Surridge (N/A).
Manchester City: Ederson (8), Walker (5), Stones (5), Otamendi (7), Mendy (5), Fernandinho (6), Gundogan (5), B Silva (5), D Silva (9), Foden (6), Jesus (8).
Subs: Garcia (5), Zinchenko (N/A), Rodri (5), Sterling (5), Mahrez (N/A).