AFC Bournemouth ended their 2016 at The Vitality Stadium on a disappointing note as Southampton came from a goal down to win the South West clash 3-1.
A second half brace from Jay Rodriguez was enough to separate the two sides as the Saints came from a goal down early on to secure a convincing win as the Cherries struggled to create any clear opportunities going forward in the last 45 minutes.
Ahead of the big local clash Eddie Howe made just one change from the side that defeated the champions Leicester City in midweek as Callum Wilson came back into the starting line-up to replace Benik Afobe. Meanwhile, Saints boss Claude Puel made six changes from the side that drew 0-0 with Stoke City on Wednesday night. The two sides met twice last season and both teams took the spoils on home soil, the Cherries won 2-0 back in March and the Saints won 2-0 at St Mary’s back in November last year. Before AFC Bournemouth’s most recent win over the South Coast side, they had lost to them four times on the bounce.
The home side got off to the perfect start after Jack Wilshere played a superb ball in with the inside of his boot to pick out Nathan Ake, who fired home with a powerful diving header at the near post to give the Cherries the lead after just six minutes. Howe’s men looked very strong in the opening exchanges and went close again after skipper Simon Francis played in Josh King inside the area who fired his effort straight at Fraser Forster. Had he put the shot either side of the Saints keeper then it would likely have been 2-0.
That missed opportunity marked a turning point as Southampton came forward on the counter attack, resulting in Ryan Bertrand cutting inside and firing a strike across goal into the far corner to put the visitors level with 12 minutes on the clock. The Saints grew into the game more and more and began to take control, going close to a second after Sofiane Boufal fired the ball across the box which Francis hacked away just a couple of yards away from the goal line.
Boufal was at the forefront of incidents in the first half as he was booked for diving just after the half hour mark and was perhaps lucky to still be on the pitch after he quite clearly brought down Callum Wilson just after the quarter of an hour mark by grabbing him by the ankle and pulling him back. He escaped without a caution from referee Mark Clattenburg on that occasion, but it could have been a very different story.
In the second half Southampton came flying out of the blocks, creating a chance instantly as Nathan Redmond went through one on one producing a save from Artur Boruc. On 51 minutes Rodriguez put the visitors in front as he slid in to put the ball over the line following the initial effort from influential half time substitute Steven Davis. Just five minutes later the former England international was in again, forcing a save from Boruc.
Throughout the second half the Cherries struggled to create any real chances as they continued to spurn opportunities with crosses not picking out any players in the box and Howe’s men were unwilling to shoot from the edge of the area on a number of occasions.
After failing to find the equaliser the home side were punished as Rodriguez rifled home a superb strike as he hit the ball on the half volley while on the turn to find the top corner and seal the three points for Southampton.
Reflecting on his sides defeat, Howe put it down to a lack of full match fitness after his squad played three league matches in the space of eight days: “Physically from the start of the game we didn’t look right today”, he said.
The Cherries will look to bounce back on Boxing Day when they travel to league leaders Chelsea.