Town plumb new depths

Bournemouth couldn’t have hand picked a better away game to reverse their poor 2019 form than at the John Smith’s Stadium and they strolled to a comfortable victory barely breaking sweat.

Absorbing what passes as pressure from the home side it would be easy to describe their performance as rope-a-dope (with the emphasis on dope), but that would imply energy from the home side and determined defending; the former, particularly in a quite dreadful first half, simply wasn’t the case and they didn’t need the latter.

Quicker, more comfortable on the ball and infinitely more coherent as a unit, the visitors should have won the game in a canter but were guilty of failing to convert several highly promising opportunities. Against other opposition, such profligacy may have cost them but once they went ahead the outcome was in little doubt.

Injuries to Hogg and Kongolo stripped the hosts of aggression which others, notably Billing and Zanka, were never likely to replace.

Bacuna, playing a right wing back role to which he looks entirely unsuitable defensively, played with the required intensity but in the wrong position before half time.

Offensively, he at least got in to areas to deliver in to the box – sadly, his efforts were as poor as his colleagues. On the rare occasion that crosses were not cleared by the first defender, they sailed over Mouniè or he was easily eased off his jumping by the excellent Bournemouth centre backs.

As always, some of Town’s build up play was acceptable with Pritchard, Mooy and Durm having some joy down the left, but none of it resulted in a goal scoring opportunity as the Cherries swatted away threat with consummate ease.

On the break, Bournemouth were lively, rapid and dangerous. In stark contrast to their hosts, they looked capable of scoring every time they crossed the halfway line and after 20 minutes they secured the 3 points.

Losing the ball upfield, Town were on the back foot and extremely vulnerable with Bacuna treading water trying to track Fraser as Brooks strode in to the wide open space in front of him. The former Blade had the simple task of playing in the unmarked Fraser who crossed for Wilson to chest in his umpteenth goal against the Terriers.

The goal celebration took up a ludicrous amount of time with Taylor making the point that he was looking at his watch to add on time at the end of the half. With blessed relief for the home crowd, only 2 minutes were actually added.

A single, weak shot from Mouniè and a Mooy free kick which was punched away comfortably by the under employed Boruc was the totality of Town’s threat on Bournemouth’s goal as the collective perturbation once the danger area is approached blighted the Terriers yet again. The quality of crossing was abysmal. Perhaps only Lössl could leave the pitch at half time with his reputation unharmed.

Siewert, presumably rueing some of his selection decisions, smeared some lipstick on the pig at half time by removing the languid Billing, relieving Bacuna of the failed experiment on the right in to central midfield and moving Durm to right back with Löwe coming on to the left.

The small improvement was inevitable rather than uplifting, with round pegs sitting uneasily in round holes and a better shape but the increased threat to the visitors was marginal at best.

A flurry of home pressure briefly excited a crowd subdued by the first half dross and a cold wind, but optimism was hardly surging as our collective memories of the past 15 months introduced grim reality.

20 minutes in to the second half, Bournemouth scored an unnecessary second. Stanković, who had a mixed bag of a game; assured at times but sloppy at others with a bad, potentially red card challenge on Brooks thrown in, failed to tackle King midway in the Town half and the Norwegian played an excellent ball to Wilson who reverse passed to the unmarked Fraser to finish.

The speed, understanding and clinical execution of the goal cruelly illustrated the difference between the two teams. While Bournemouth, all be it somewhat patchily over a season, continue to develop a philosophy, Town are a hollowed out husk of the team which made the unlikely leap to the highest level.

It is, of course, pertinent to point out that the south coast club has had many advantages over Town for several years, not least the ability to sign better quality players with a Russian sugar daddy and better geography, and that Town’s foundations were built on a once in a generation group of players who inevitably slammed hard in to a thick glass ceiling, but the deterioration is still difficult to take.

The introduction of Rowe from the new development regime offered a glimpse of the future, and he looked pacy and unfazed by the occasion even if his first contribution was to try a floated cross to the back post hoping for a teammate to be there. Add optimistic to his list of qualities.

Having accepted the inevitability of relegation quite a long time before anyone at the club (who may or may not have privately shared the view), supporters now turn their attention to next season and how the club can turn things around. The performances of recent weeks under a new manager, Wolves included, offer little evidence that a successful Championship season can be achieved. The team which took the field and performed as it did would struggle badly in the rigorous environment in to which we are about to be plunged.

The exodus of fans well before the final whistle should worry the hierarchy. The one constant of a dreadful season, other than the dearth of goals and points, has been the patience of the support. It has run out.

The season cannot end soon enough.

Stick a fork in us, we’re done

That didn’t last long, did it?

For the romantics dreaming of a hugely improbable barnstorming end to the season to recover pride from a horrible, possibly very damaging season yet another meek, mediocre performance away from home shook us back to reality.

There were a couple of mitigating factors for the defeat with Hogg going off in the first half with injury and Stanković (who impressed again) succumbing to muscle fatigue, but little excuse for an abysmally uninterested display from Billing who seems to have regressed all the way back to the irresponsible displays of his youth; forgivable then, but not now.

His failure to track Andone’s run on to Knockaert’s cross for Brighton’s winner was typical of a laissez-faire attitude permeating his afternoon which also included a slow motion recovery from what he believed to be a foul challenge and a saunter back while his team came under pressure. He also managed to prevent Town launching a counter attack with numbers in the second half with an exceptionally poor pass.

After a first half of vague promise with decent efforts by Pritchard and Bacuna, Town’s inability to provide decent service to either Mouniè or Grant, whose promising full debut was regrettably not followed up, meant they were unable to take advantage of a fairly dismal home side. Neither team looked like they belonged in the top flight with mistakes littering a contest short on quality, guile or invention.

Brighton’s best moment was an effort by Jahanbakhsh which dipped on to the bar with Lössl rooted and presumably assuming the ball would sail over. His one error of judgement was more than made up for by some smart saves as the keeper continued his good form.

In front of him, Schindler and Kongolo played well behind Stanković with the latter producing last ditch tackles which prevented the home side taking what would have been, at that point, an undeserved lead. Life, it should be said, was made relatively easy for the visitors with most of the home side’s play being attempts to bring an out of form Murray in to the game.

Brighton were a little more lively in the opening exchanges of the second half, but two substitutions turned the course of the game. While the Seagulls were enlivened by the appearance of Andone, returning from suspension, Town had to replace a key individual in Stanković and adopted a new shape.

His replacement, Hadergjonaj, produced an excellent late cross for Mouniè but Ryan made a good save to prevent an immediate equaliser and wasn’t further troubled.

Andone’s movement caused problems from the moment he came on, and he should have done much better when he slipped by Town’s defenders. Lössl made a comfortable save, but the alarm bells were ringing. Not long afterwards, the Dane had to be at his best to keep out a fierce drive from the Romanian.

Town were visibly disintegrating. The possession advantage gained in the first half disappeared, errors multiplied and opportunities for transition spurned. With passing laboured, the visitors’ threat, such as it had been, receded to virtually nothing – Mouniè’s late chance was an outlier to say the least.

Brighton deserved their win for a much brighter second half, aided by Town’s enforced change at the back; they were largely mediocre in a poor spectacle but still had too much for their surely doomed opposition.

This depressing season cannot end soon enough.