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. Defoe and Bournemouth have come a long way since those days and it was the predatory touch in front of goal that the striker showed here that prompted Howe to bring him back for a second time.
That strike gave Bournemouth their first Premier League win of the season on a night when the introduction of Jordon Ibe changed the complexion of a game that Brighton had within their grasp for a brief period. Solly March’s header early in the second half threatened to condemn Bournemouth to a fifth straight league defeat until two goals in the space of six minutes.
Ibe was involved in both, setting up Andrew Surman’s first Premier League goal for the club with some dexterous footwork before releasing Defoe with another moment of class. Signed on a free transfer from Sunderland in the summer, Defoe thrashed a low shot beyond Mathew Ryan and Howe could finally rejoice.
This was the first top-flight meeting between these clubs and the onus was always going to be on Bournemouth, who were at home and desperate to get some points on the board, to make the running. Dominating possession, they did exactly that against a Brighton side content to sit deep and defend in numbers, yet finding a way through that bank of yellow shirts to create decent goalscoring opportunities proved difficult.
For long periods in the first half Bournemouth’s build-up play was neat and tidy, but there was no gear change to prise open Brighton. So much of their passing was in front of Brighton, going sideways rather than forwards as murmurs of discontent started to be heard in the stands, and on the rare occasions that Howe’s team did get in behind the visitors’ defence, the final cross or pass was poor.
Bournemouth, in short, were playing into Brighton’s hands and by half-time Chris Hughton was entitled to think that his game-plan had worked perfectly. Bournemouth looked like they were running out of ideas as to how to break Brighton down and the announcer was chancing his arm when he asked the home supporters to show their appreciation for the team at half-time. “The goal’s that way,” one wag had shouted a few moments earlier.
Low on confidence, Bournemouth badly needed a goal to infuse them with a little belief and to draw Brighton out from their defensive lines. The closest they came in the opening 45 minutes was when Defoe allowed Marc Pugh’s pass to run, turned sharply on the edge of the area and swept a right-footed shot that flashed beyond the far upright.
The move started down Bournemouth’s left, where Charlie Daniels was seeing plenty of the ball and getting into some promising positions but not quite delivering when it mattered.
Pugh, one of three changes to the Bournemouth side that lost at Arsenal, thrashed an earlier chance wide from about 12 yards and Joshua King should have done better when Shane Duffy’s careless and wayward square pass presented him with the ball 25 yards from goal. King seemed to be caught in two minds and ended up trying to place a shot that Lewis Dunk blocked in a moment that rather summed up Bournemouth’s lack of conviction.
Playing on the counterattack, Brighton threatened only sporadically. Anthony Knockaert, who showed some nice touches, cut in from the right and unleashed a 25-yard shot that slipped a few feet wide of Asmir Begovic’s near post. Brighton’s only other foray forward of note in the first half came about when Davy Pröpper intercepted Arter’s pass, rode a couple of tackles and dinked the ball onto the roof of the net.
Brighton, however, were much more menacing at the start of the second half. Surman twice headed off the line to deny first Duffy and then Pröpper.
There was another reprieve for Bournemouth when Dale Stephens nodded against the underside of the bar, but the home team’s good fortune was about to run out. Pascal Gross turned Daniels one way and then the other before digging out a superb cross that March nodded powerfully into the net.
Bournemouth badly needed a response and Surman provided one, showing impressive composure to finish off some excellent approach play that culminated in a lovely backheel from Ibe setting him free inside the area.
Surman did the rest with a flourish, sitting Duffy on his backside with a clever dummy before placing his shot in the corner. Bournemouth suddenly looked like a different team and in the blink of an eye they had a second.
Once again Ibe was the architect, finding Defoe with a beautifully weighted deft pass that the striker dispatched with glee.