At around 3.45pm on Saturday, it was tempting to begin writing Bournemouth’s Premier League obituary. Trailing 2-0 to Nottingham Forest at half-time of their crunch clash at the City Ground, the Cherries looked set to extend their winless streak to five matches. Managerless and the bookmakers’ favourites for relegation, Bournemouth fans had little to cheer.
That is until the second half got under way. A fine Philip Billing strike halved the deficit in the 51st minute, before Dominic Solanke levelled the scores shortly after the hour mark with his first goal of the season. From there the momentum was with Bournemouth, and their winner felt inevitable. Jaidon Anthony was the man who completed the turnaround after Scott McKenna was caught in possession, sending the away end into raptures.
It was a huge result for Bournemouth. The week began with the sacking of Scott Parker, whose post-match comments after a 9-0 defeat by Liverpool were more responsible for his dismissal than the result itself. Gary O’Neil was handed the reins on a temporary basis, and he steadied the ship with a 0-0 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers in the midweek round of fixtures.
Still, few anticipated Bournemouth mounting a comeback after falling two goals behind at the City Ground. The visitors had been outplayed in the first half, but they showed tremendous character and resolve to come out fighting after the break.
O’Neil deserves credit too. At half-time switched from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-5-2. Bournemouth saw more of the ball in the second period, and the wing-backs provided thrust down the flanks. Crucially, they did not let their heads drop despite a confidence-sapping start to both the match and the season.
Bournemouth fans will enjoy looking at the Premier League table on Monday. Despite being written off as relegation fodder, the Cherries have seven points to their name – more than Wolves and Aston Villa, the same as Newcastle United and Southampton, and one fewer than Fulham and Leeds United, both of whom have been hailed for their bright starts to the campaign.
There is still considerable work to do. Bournemouth’s squad is probably the weakest in the division on paper, and the owner Maxim Demin will not be willing to break the bank in January to fund a survival bid. Sustainability is the focus at the Vitality Stadium, so the incoming manager should not expect to be able to conduct a squad overhaul in the mid-season market. Yet Bournemouth’s second-half performance against Forest suggests this group is capable of picking up points at this level.
“I honestly haven’t considered whether I want it permanently,” O’Neil said when asked about his future after the game in the East Midlands.
“I feel like my job at the minute is to get Bournemouth as many points as I can in this period that I am here. I am fully focused on that.
“The minute we came off the pitch, I just thought that we need to get ready for Brighton. Whether that is me or someone else, we just need to get some rest into them and go again.”
It would be a huge gamble to appoint such an inexperienced head coach, but O’Neil and the players have made the job look more attractive than it did in the immediate aftermath of Parker’s exit. That might be the caretaker manager’s most significant contribution of all.