Bournemouth’s season is finally up and running, the sense of relief evident in the fist pump from Eddie Howe that greeted the sight of Jermain Defoe rolling back the years with his first goal for the club since 2001, when the England international was a teenager, his manager was a team-mate and the thought of winning Premier League matches was a long way from anyone’s mind.
Defoe, Bournemouth and Howe have come a long way since those days, when they were knocking around in the third tier, yet they badly needed this victory to ease the tension that was creeping into these parts after four successive league defeats. For a brief period it looked as though that sequence would be extended to five after Solly March headed Brighton & Hove Albion in front early in the second half but two goals in six minutes turned the game on its head.
Defoe and Andrew Surman were the scorers but it was Jordon Ibe who provided the most influential contribution by coming off the bench to set up both goals at a time when Bournemouth were crying out for some craft and guile to break down a resolute Brighton defence. Remarkably Ibe never had an assist to his name in his previous 28 Premier League appearances for Bournemouth – a statistic that spells out just what a struggle it has been for him since moving south from Liverpool for £15m last year.
Not that a lack of confidence appeared to be a problem when he came on midway through the second half. It was an exquisite backheel that set Surman free for the midfielder’s first Premier League goal for the club and a wonderfully weighted pass that released Defoe for the second to bring a smile to Howe’s face after a testing few weeks.
“I’m very relieved,” the Bournemouth manager said. “I think that is the emotion. It is pure relief for everyone connected with the club. At the start of the season you’re desperate to hit the ground running and get off to a good start – that hasn’t happened. We had to dig really deep tonight, that was a real test for us and thankfully the players came through it.
“It would have been easy to go under. I think that’s the most impressive thing about tonight’s win – we did it the hard way. We went 1-0 down and I’m sure the players were looking at each other and thinking: ’How are we going to respond here?’ Full credit to them and it maybe took Jordon’s cameo to spark that revival.”
Up until that point Bournemouth had rarely looked like scoring as they ran out of ideas as to how to find a way through the massed ranks of yellow shirts that were content to sit deep and frustrate their opponents. Too many passes went sideways rather than forwards until Ibe’s introduction gave Bournemouth a new dimension.
“Jordon showed real quality in the final third,” said Howe. “His backheel was a moment of magic – that was the first time we really opened Brighton up – and then the weight of pass was so good for Jermain. Full credit to him for his impact. He’s a player of immense promise. I feel the same as a lot of other people I’m sure, that you underestimate how young he is because it feels he’s been around a long time. But I think he’s come back a better player than he was last season. Hopefully this is the start of a real lift for him.”
Chris Hughton admitted that he thought his Brighton side would go on and win the game when March converted a superb cross from Pascal Gross, who has been involved in all four of their goals this season. That breakthrough had been coming after a spell of Brighton pressure in which Surman cleared two headers off the line, from Shane Duffy and Davy Pröpper, and Dale Stephens nodded another chance against the crossbar.
On top and in front, Brighton were in command for a spell but unable to see the game through. “You’ve got to be resilient right until the end,” said Hughton, who hopes that the knee injury Gross picked up late in the second half is not serious. “I thought we defended really well for large periods but the two times we didn’t was on their goals and that’s a tough lesson for us.”
Indeed from the moment that Ibe’s pass ran into Defoe’s path there was a sense of inevitably about what would follow. “He’s one of the best finishers I’ve ever seen,” Howe said. “The disappointing thing for us this season is that we haven’t created enough chances for him. That was the first real chance that he got and he took it.”
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