IN the end, the occasion played second fiddle to the performance. Cherries were excellent.
Against teams like Liverpool, often the best the underdogs can hope for is simply to do themselves justice. But it was clear very early on that not-so-little-these-days Bournemouth were capable of winning the game. Perhaps they should have.
On that score, it was groundhog day. Plenty of possession, some wonderful moments from the likes of Andrew Surman and Harry Arter, but, in the end, a lack of cutting edge that has been apparent for some time. How many days of January are left again?
Cherries had to start well and they did. For 25 minutes of the first half, they made the fourth-placed team in the Premier League look very ordinary. That team boasted the England captain, Steven Gerrard, Europe’s most in-form striker Luis Suarez and another of our summer 2014 hopes, Daniel Sturridge.
Cherries forced two corners inside the opening two minutes as they came out of the blocks in a fashion akin to the excitement in the stands.
After three minutes, a superb move between Lewis Grabban, Arter and Marc Pugh saw the latter cross into the danger area. Surman, though, headed narrowly over Brad Jones’s crossbar. It was a start with real intent.
Another corner followed yet more neat inter-play between Arter, Surman and Pugh. Jones then avoided embarrassment by tipping Simon Francis’s free kick from deep into the Ted MacDougall Stand. Three minutes later, the Liverpool goalkeeper punched Matt Ritchie’s corner clear. It was all Cherries.
Pugh was next to go close, his header from Ritchie’s free kick after 22 minutes flashing wide.
But Gerrard was into his stride now. His stunning free kick three minutes later curled narrowly over Lee Camp’s crossbar after Arter had felled Suarez 25 yards out.
A minute later, Brendan Rodgers’s side were in front. It was so cruel on Cherries, but we have seen it before in this season of realignment since promotion from League One.
Suarez picked up the ball wide on the right and crossed for Victor Moses. He took a neat touch to open up some space before drilling past Camp from the edge of the box.
The goal didn’t rock Cherries as those watching Eddie Howe’s men for the first time may have expected. Moments after Moses’s opener Grabban fired straight at Jones. Jordan Henderson was then on hand to block Ritchie’s shot from distance.
Arter and Surman were running the show against Gerrard and Henderson. Surman, in particular, showed that touch of class. He looked like a Premier League player.
On the half-hour, Arter cut loose from 30 yards but while his shot looked to have Jones in trouble, it was wide of the target. Grabban then saw his right-foot drive blocked after he had linked well with Arter.
As Cherries continued to push, Kolo Toure threw himself in the way of Surman’s shot on the turn from inside the penalty area. It was a great chance.
From the corner that followed, Tommy Elphick rose high above both Toure and Martin Skrtel, but his header flew over. At the other end, after 38 minutes, Henderson blazed over when superbly teed-up by the twisting and turning Suarez. It was a huge let-off for Cherries.
Arter had three more chances to find the net before half-time. The first he blasted deep into the MacDougall stand, before his second attempt was easily saved by Jones. On the stroke of half-time, the midfielder’s right-foot shot was blocked by Skrtel.
Rodgers felt his side had not worked hard enough on one side of the field, presumably in front of right full-back Martin Kelly who was tested over and over by Pugh and Charlie Daniels. In the second half, the Liverpool manager’s attention to detail was clear as Pugh and Daniels were given far less time on the ball.
But it was still Cherries who looked the most threatening.
They pressed, played at a high tempo and showed no lack of attacking invention.
They could have had a penalty early in the second period after Kelly appeared to pull the shirt of Francis. Referee Lee Probert said no.
With Skrtel off the pitch receiving treatment following a clash of heads with Surman, it was the home side’s chance to get back in the game.
On 57 minutes, Arter burst clear down the right, but he delayed his cross and Gerrard blocked. The Liverpool captain was booked moments later following words with official Probert.
On the hour, Sturridge made it 2-0 and, effectively, it was game over. Suarez picked up the ball midway inside the Cherries half and turned, before playing in the England striker with a defence-splitting through ball. In front of national manager Roy Hodgson, Sturridge coolly slotted past Camp. It was precision. It was ruthless.
Cherries still looked threatening, though, despite seeing less of the ball. Gerrard was now dictating at his pace. Some of Liverpool’s possession play was wonderful.
Surman’s shot on 62 minutes flashed wide. Ritchie then followed up by missing the target.
Camp had to be quickly off his line to deny Suarez after Phillipe Coutinho had played in the Uruguayan on 67 minutes. Grabban then fired wide. It was a breathless period of play.
Sturridge’s clever lob following Henderson’s lofted ball from deep on 72 minutes clipped the top of Camp’s crossbar, before the striker skewed a shot horribly wide three minutes later. In a show of good humour, the Reds fans gathered in the MacDougall stand chanted “What the ******* hell was that?” at their own man.
Suarez tried a lob of his own on 76 minutes after Sturridge had returned the assist favour, but he, too, failed to trouble Camp. The Suarez show was turning out to be a damp squib.
Ten minutes from time, with Cherries’ efforts beginning to take a toll, Sturridge was denied by Camp. On the stroke of full-time, Grabban’s fearsome right-foot shot was well saved by Jones. Camp then had the final say over Suarez with a good, strong save from close range.
So, Cherries are out of the FA Cup. It matters not.
A club which prides itself on family values and looking after those that have, in turbulent times, looked after it, made many more friends from a game in which they stuck to principles Liverpool Football Club would have been proud to call its own.
Indeed, the performance made the occasion.
Cherries: (4-1-4-1) Camp 7.5; Francis 7.5, Elphick 8, Ward 8, Daniels 7.5; O’Kane 8; Ritchie 7.5 (Fraser, 73), Surman 8.5*, Arter 8 (Pitman, 78), Pugh 7.5 (Rantie, 73); Grabban 8.
Unused subs: Cook, Harte, MacDonald, Allsop (g/k).
Liverpool: (4-4-2) Jones; Kelly (Flanagan, 73), Toure, Skrtel, Cissokho; Moses (Sterling, 84), Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho (Alberto, 84); Suarez, Sturridge.
Unused subs: Aspas, Ibe, Sama, Mignolet (g/k).
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).
ECHO STAR MAN - ANDREW SURMAN
Surman’s performances over the past few weeks have proved Eddie Howe was right to sign him on loan.
On Saturday, against the England captain, one of the finest midfielders of the modern generation, Surman showed he has that touch of Premier League class.
Alongside Harry Arter, he was outstanding.
With the protective force of Eunan O’Kane behind him, Surman largely dictated the pace of the game and showed tremendous vision and awareness when Cherries attacked.
This was his best performance in a Cherries shirt.
- GRAB tomorrow’s Daily Echo for your bumper 16-page FA Cup special looking back on Cherries’ FA Cup date with Liverpool including photos, report and in-depth match reaction from Dean Court.