I was optimistic on Saturday at 2pm when I read the team sheet; Dwight Gayle up front for Perez at last, Hayden starts and Mitro on the bench. We should win this I thought…
We dominated the first 20 minutes and we clearly looked like the home team. The passing was quicker and Gayle pressed high up the pitch, Ritchie looked back to his usual self and with Hayden in the centre we looked solid in midfield.
The early pressure didn’t bring a breakthrough however and a crucial injury to Lascelles close to half-time would eventually rob us of the player and Rafa Benitez of a third sub of choice. We nearly conceded immediately after Lascelles rejoined play from treatment off the pitch, coming on in the defensive third and playing Bournemouth onside as they attacked – surely that was a schoolboy error that the physio could have prevented?
A change of ends signalled a change in composure of both teams.
We increasingly looked edgy and our tempo dropped, Bournemouth running through us at will. Hayden and Shelvey looked spent in midfield and we were overrun at times, often relying on long balls over the top, when carrying the ball in the midfield was also an option.
Perez replaced Joselu, Murphy for Atsu who also looked spent/injured, and as Clark had to come on for Lascelles, that meant once again we would not see Mitrovic.
I’m sure he would have come on for Gayle, though that’s not the right swap for me, I’d prefer to see Mitro and Gayle as a front pairing and Ritchie as the number 10.
Murphy looked nervous and was ineffective but the lad has had little pitch time so I will reserve judgment, though many around me have already made up their minds that he’s another dud. A bit unfair in my view.
The inevitable arrival of Defoe in the final quarter of the game gave us all that sinking feeling and so it proved, when he drove powerfully to force a corner from which Bournemouth scored. Even in his veteran years his class shone through, give me Defoe for Perez any day.
Rafa Benitez has some tough decisions ahead of him….
What to do if/when Merino isn’t available, continue with Gayle for Perez and even play only one up front and add another body into midfield?