Game Week 14 saw the rich get richer – and the poor get poorer. Bournemouth remain in the drop zone on the back of a moral victory against Everton, and only Sunderland emerge with a real degree of satisfaction, having beaten a solid Stoke side to move away from the bottom three.
HOWE vs EVERTON – 3 Points
Though the Cherries are still in the relegation zone, repeats of their heroics of the Everton match in the coming weeks may yet save them from joining the likes of Barnsley, Swindon and Blackpool as first season dropouts. Throughout the first half, the gulf in class was embarrassing, as Everton surged forward with menace and broke up the feeble Bournemouth attacks with ease.
Although every Bournemouth defender had been culpable for the shambolic first half performance, someone had to depart. Duly, it was Steve Cook whom Eddie Howe identified as the weakest link, replacing him with Adam Smith, and the difference thereafter was quite startling.
Smith looked by far the more accomplished footballer, as his youthful optimism and high stamina combined well with Sylvain Distin’s experience and composure. This confidence was visibly diffused further down the field as Everton tired and played with ill-deserved arrogance.
The phantom stoppage time that followed Everton’s apparent ‘winner’ remains a mystery, but Bournemouth’s 98th minute equaliser was well deserved.
Tip: 2-0 is a dangerous scoreline, especially for a defence with an average age below 24, shorn of an experienced captain. Rival managers are unlikely to back opposition strikers in this situation, so strongly consider their inclusion, even when all appears lost.
FLORES vs VILLA – 2 Points
This game would have been earmarked by Aston Villa as a key shot for redemption, and although the Premier League’s basement club fought tooth and nail, the Villans are looking more and more likely to be facing Championship opposition next season after a dismal 3-2 reverse at home to newly promoted Watford.
The latest success story in Watford’s courageous, swashbuckling season can once again be largely attributed to the form of front pair Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney. However, there was a lot of managerial brain behind what could be the victory that not only condemns Villa to relegation, but puts Watford on a sure course for survival.
Home or away, victories over this Villa side are nothing special, but Quique Flores’ half time response to Villa’s equaliser was superb, particularly with Gomes leaving the fray due to injury.
By deploying the Scottish midfielder Ikechi Anya, Watford had a newfound degree of steel, in stark comparison to what Juan Paredes could offer – style but little substance. This substitution also provided the inexperienced deputy goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis with additional cover.
Subsequently, Watford regained their composure and hit Villa with an almost-inevitable duo of sucker punches to seal the game – and possibly Villa’s fate.
ALLARDYCE V STOKE – 1 Point
Stoke City came to Wearside on the back of three successive clean sheets, making this a potentially difficult game for Sunderland.
The personnel initially deployed in Sam Allardyce’s adventurous 3-5-2 formation proved useless, but he at least had the humility to correct that mistake before Stoke could damage the Sunderland rearguard. Jeremain Lens came on for the ineffective Sebastian Larsson after the break, partnering Steven Fletcher in a two-pronged attack against ten-man Stoke.
Sunderland were a changed side from that moment, causing Stoke many problems. Most improved of all was the wingplay, as there was now a greater outlet for attack. Ultimately, it is no coincidence that the match winning double blast was only made possible by a goal and an assist respectively for opposite-sided wingers Patrick van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin.