Written by Toby Foster (@TobyFost) from the Vitality Stadium
Bournemouth were plunged further into the relegation mire as Nigel Pearson’s revitalised Watford ran riot in a three-goal rout at the Vitality Stadium.
Abdoulaye Doucoure took advantage of a first-half Cherries defensive debacle to put the visitors in front, before strikes from Troy Deeney and Roberto Pereyra sealed the deal after the interval.
The home side were dealt a pre-match blow with the news that goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale had sustained a minor injury in training, forcing Eddie Howe to place 20-year-old Mark Travers between the sticks for just his third Premier League start.
Chances were hard to come by during the scrappy opening exchanges, but Travers was forced into action to block a smart Gerard Deulofeu strike from inside the box. At the other end, Ben Foster parried away Harry Wilson’s free-kick in Bournemouth’s sole shot on target of the entire match.
Contests between relegation-threatened sides are rarely cordial affairs and this occasion was no different, with several full-blooded tackles flying in as both sides looked to impose themselves upon proceedings. Oft-maligned referee Mike Dean did well to keep a lid on the inflamed passions, though he was left no choice but to book Adam Smith for a particularly crunching challenge on Ismaila Sarr.
Signs that the wounds inflicted last week by West Ham on the Cherries’ defence had not yet healed were there from the get-go, and so it was that Bournemouth’s bungling backline suffered its worst shemozzle of the season to gift Watford the opening goal.
Travers, put under pressure on the ball from the relentless Deulofeu, hurriedly punted a clearance straight to the onrushing Sarr. Under no pressure, the Watford winger was able to guide the ball to an unmarked Doucoure, who had time to take a touch before rifling his strike home past Travers’ flailing grasp to embolden Hornet hopes.
Far from being motivated by Eddie Howe’s half-time team talk, Bournemouth continued to deteriorate after the break, with a breakdown in tactical discipline leaving the shape or formation of the side unclear for large parts of proceedings.
Steve Cook and Nathan Ake were all at sea when Doucoure’s neat flick-on from a Sarr cross found Deluofeu in a shooting position, and though the Spaniard’s shot was errant, it was a sign of the Cherries’ startling vulnerability on the counter-attack.
Sarr, revelling in splendid isolation down the left flank, set up his side’s second when his cross was deflected to the feet of the onrushing Troy Deeney, who slammed a strike into the top left corner with trademark aplomb.
The introductions of Philip Billing, Lewis Cook and league debutant Sam Surridge were insufficient to stem the yellow tide as the contest developed into little more than jubilant target practice for the side who had been propping up the Premier League table until Pearson’s arrival.
Watford’s duo of late substitutes, Andre Gray and Roberto Pereyra, combined in injury time to put the shine on an already convincing victory – the latter slotting home from close range after Ryan Fraser had cleared Gray’s shot off the line.
Having at one stage looked like a side this season with aspirations to reach the hallowed Top Six, Bournemouth’s campaign has now developed decisively into one where the club’s very survival in the Premier League appears to be in mortal peril.
The most frustrating element of the Cherries’ latest grim defeat was that their opponents, through the genius of newly-appointed Nigel Pearson’s ‘Back to Basics’ approach, have become everything Bournemouth used to be – defensively competent and enthusiastically versatile in attack.
An ashen-faced Eddie Howe stood with firmly gritted teeth on the touchline as he watched the latest dismemberment of his once-proud, once-respected side, now corroding and eroding before his very eyes.
With twenty points from twenty-two games and sitting last but one in the league table, the prospect of a drop down to the Championship shark tank is looming even more threateningly in Bournemouth’s wing-mirrors.
And as the fixture list offers little solace with the business end of the season looming large, the seemingly unavailing loyalty of the club’s owners to Howe is now being tested to and perhaps beyond its limit.
As Watford’s most famous fan once sang: “It’s a sad, sad situation…”
Teams and Player Ratings
Travers – Catastrophic blunder gifted Watford the opener, firing a starting gun on the most torrid ninety minutes of his fledgling career… 4/10
Francis – One excellent delivery into the box but his lax marking left Sarr free to cause mayhem… 5
S Cook (c) – Run ragged and looked totally out of his depth, as has been the case for much of the season… 4
Ake – Lacked his usual attacking influence and one of the prime culprits for the defensive disaster. On this evidence, Frank Lampard will be finding other uses for £40m… 5
Smith – Not one to shy away from a physical battle but Deulofeu gave him the slip all afternoon… 5
H Wilson – Bournemouth’s brightest attacking outlet, but today that wasn’t much of an accolade… 6
Gosling – A passenger. Hauled off by Howe before the ticket inspectors arrived… 4
Lerma – Put in more of a shift than some, but couldn’t wrestle control of the Watford-dominated midfield… 6
Fraser – A few decent runs yet for the umpteenth time this season, he was all snap and crackle but no pop… 4
C Wilson – Eight touches of the ball in the entire first half. Can’t be blamed for poor service though he might as well have taken the week off… 4
Solanke – 29th league appearance ended without a maiden goal for the Cherries. Quiet as a church mouse, but there’s always next time… 4
L Cook (for Gosling, 59’) – Fared no better than the man he replaced… 4
Billing (for Lerma, 59’) – Added some much-needed physicality to midfield and had a couple of long-range efforts, but couldn’t stem the Watford tide on his own… 6
Surridge (for H Wilson, 75’) – Showed some promise with darting runs and youthful fearlessness when on the ball. Deserves a starting berth next weekend… 6
Subs not used: Boruc, Surman, Rico, Simpson
Foster 7, Mariappa 7, Dawson 7, Cathcart 7, Masina 7, Chalobah 7, Capoue 6, Sarr 8 STAR MAN (sub Pereyra 82’), Doucoure 8 (sub Quina 86’), Deulofeu 7 (sub Gray 90+1), Deeney 7
Subs not used: Gomes, Success, Dele-Bashiru, Holebas