Report by Akshay Kulkarni (@ImpatientPedant) at Vitality Stadium
AFC Bournemouth kicked off 2019 with a thriller, as a manic first half performance saw them draw 3-3 against Watford.
Initially 2-0 down to a Troy Deeney brace, an astonishing sequence of six minutes saw four goals fly in, three of them from the Cherries.
Callum Wilson scored his tenth of the season after Nathan Ake had opened the Cherries’ scoring on 34 minutes.
Watford then went ahead through Ken Sema, but it was only momentary as Ryan Fraser scored another Bournemouth equaliser in the 40th minute.
Needless to say, it was an exhilarating end to the first period.
The second half was not as end-to-end, however. Bournemouth edged the second 45 and, were it not for the acrobatics of goalkeeper Ben Foster, would have won it.
But in a match marred by inconsistent defending, a point for either side was probably merited.
Both sides have still not won their first match of the calendar year since 2012 – but it was not for a lack of trying.
Bournemouth remain 12th on 27 points, and Watford move one place up to eighth.
Thrilling first period
The first match of the New Year started off slowly. Both teams made significant changes – three for Eddie Howe’s injury-hit Bournemouth, and five for Javi Gracia’s Watford. Dan Gosling made his first start after a long injury layoff, and Junior Stanislas lined up at right-back for the Cherries.
David Brooks had the first real chance of the match in the third minute. Brooks did well to carve away some space in the box, but his curling left-footed shot was always rising. It took a while for both sides to find fluency after that.
Deeney, Watford’s returning captain, changed that in the 15th minute.
It was sloppy marking from Bournemouth, as Sema was allowed space to get away a cross inside the box. Deeney had all the time in the world to pick out his header, which beat Asmir Begovic in the Bournemouth goal.
The Cherries looked nervy defensively. A few minutes later, Sema was able to get off a shot which was blocked. Roberto Pereyra’s rebound skimmed the grass as it went wide.
But at the other end, the Hornets did not provide a defensive masterclass either.
In the 21st minute, Fraser was able to get off a low shot after a cross from Junior Stanislas. Foster, who has been on top form so far this season, saved well.
The Scotsman would regret that miss as Watford doubled their advantage five minutes later. It was Deeney again, after a terrible mix-up in the Bournemouth defence.
Gosling’s pass back was intercepted by Gerard Deulofeu, who ran at Steve Cook and Nathan Ake. The ball somehow squirmed out from under Cook to Deeney. His shot was central enough that Begovic should have saved, but it flew past the Bosnian and Bournemouth looked despondent.
It almost got worse in the 31st, as Abdoulaye Doucoure chopped back expertly to get away a shot. Mercifully for the Cherries, it flew cracked against the woodwork.
Doucoure should arguably have not been on the pitch, after a knee-high challenge on Ryan Fraser. It was only a booking, but both the crowd and Howe wanted more.
And then came the scoring blitz, the likes of which have always made Bournemouth entertaining to watch. It all started off with Ake.
A freekick in the 34th minute was played into Gosling, whose header saw an acrobatic save from Foster. But the Englishman could do nothing about Ake’s rebound effort, as the Dutchman headed into the open goal.
Bournemouth then went on to equalise from a free-kick. It was Fraser again with the assist, his tenth of the season. His ball for Wilson was perfect, and the striker’s header was directed expertly past a flailing Foster.
It was poor marking from the Watford defence, but Wilson’s finish was emblematic of the striker’s great season so far. He is now up to ten goals for the season.
Bournemouth were level, but amazingly, there were more twists to come.
Straight from kick-off, Watford went up the pitch. Deeney used his strength to win an aerial ball for Sema. The Swede took one touch and smashed a half-volley into Begovic’s near post, and Watford led again. As before, the Bournemouth defence were static as a route-one ball led to yet another goal.
Somehow, astonishingly, that was not the end of it.
From kick-off again, in the 40th minute, the ball was played through for Stanislas. Three Bournemouth players dummied, and it fell to Fraser to equalise yet again, making amends for his earlier miss with an identical finish. It was not exactly vintage Watford defending, but the attacking prowess of the Cherries was on full display yet again.
If that was not incredible enough, a goal from Josh King two minutes later would probably have taken the roof off the stadium. But the Norwegian’s header from a Stanislas cross crept wide with Foster rooted.
That was the last chance of a breathless first half. It seemed the New Year, and a cold January evening, did nothing to deter two thrilling attacking teams. It has to be said, however, the poor defending on either end helped that significantly.
The second half would have done well to even provide one goal, let alone six. And were it not for the acrobatics of Foster in the Watford goal, the Cherries would probably have got that last one.
Jefferson Lerma started off the half with one of many long-range attempts. In the 47th minute, he had an audacious effort from all of 30 yards. But it was saved comfortably by Foster.
The English keeper’s highlight came in the 63rd minute.
Yet another freekick from Fraser found Wilson six yards out. His header was flying in, but somehow Foster jumped and turned it over. It was a brilliant save from a keeper left hung out to dry by his defence all too often.
Foster’s positioning was as good as his shot-stopping, as he was out quickly to deny King in the 75th minute after a mistake from Craig Cathcart. Two minutes later, he was called upon to save again from Gosling’s fizzing shot.
Though Bournemouth were dominant in the second half, Watford had a few half-chances.
Cook pulled off a great last-ditch tackle to deny Pereyra in the 81st. Deulofeu then managed to get off a half-hearted effort which dribbled wide for a goal kick.
That was the last significant action of the match, which had everything except a winner. Both teams were only separated by two points at the start of it, and the point which keeps them that way was merited.
Though the match was almost unmatched in its thrills, the quality of defending was not exactly high-standard fare. The start of the January transfer window means both teams might be looking at rectifying that, especially the injury-torn Cherries.
Bournemouth still only have two wins in their last eleven fixtures. Though they are scoring goals, their tendency to ship goals has to be fixed if they truly want to consolidate their mid-table position.
Bournemouth: Begovic; Stanislas, S Cook, Ake, Daniels; Gosling, Lerma, Fraser, Brooks; Wilson, King.
Subs: Boruc, Surman, Mousset, Ibe, Defoe, Rico, Mings.
Watford: Foster; Mariappa, Cathcart, Sema, Holebas; Deulofeu, Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra, Femenia; Deeney.
Subs: Gomes, Britos, Cleverley, Success, Masina, Hughes, Quina.