There was a sting in the fairytale at Dean Court as Bournemouth’s long-awaited first match in the English league’s elite ended in defeat. “A great day for the club, a historic day, but a disappointing result,” said manager Eddie Howe.
In football, of course, the result is everything, and losing at home to a team that was nearly relegated last season, and lost three key players in the summer, is a disastrous result.
Howe is a positive character and there was much for him to feel positive about. Bournemouth played well enough to create three chances, and denied Villa much sight of goal, but promoted teams often perform between the penalty boxes only to falter within them. The chances were spurned at one end while at the other Rudy Gestede was allowed a free header at a corner from which he marked his Villa debut with a fine 72nd-minute goal.
Gestede scored against Bournemouth for Blackburn Rovers in the Championship last year, so this was hardly a case of being undone by Premier League expertise. “It was a textbook lower league goal,” moaned Howe. “We know what he does, but he’s a powerful lad.”
“He’s a battering ram,” said Tim Sherwood with approval. “My centre-halves do not like playing against him.” Relieved of that burden Villa’s defence were increasingly solid against an attack that scored 98 league goals last season.
This is the third successive season in which Villa have won their opening match but since both previous campaigns ended in a desperate struggle to avoid relegation they should not get carried away. There was much for Sherwood to be pleased with given his starting XI had only one survivor from the FA Cup final team and five new signings, four of whom were from Ligue 1.
More significant for Villa, it seemed before kick-off, was the loss of last year’s spine: Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke. With Jonas Okore also absent, injured, it was unsurprising Villa began cautiously. Their 4-5-1 formation, when in adventurous mode, could be a 4-3-3 but it was not in the opening stages as they sought to douse the home side’s enthusiasm.
This they did successfully, the free-scoring Championship winners being restricted for the opening 37 minutes to hopeful long shots. Then Marc Pugh drove into the box, debutant captain Micah Richards’ clearance went straight to Callum Wilson, the ball rolled to Dan Gosling… but he blazed over.
No matter, four minutes later Wilson broke behind Ciaran Clark onto a through ball. Surely now would come the first top-flight goal. Wilson, scorer of 23 goals last season, shot low but Brad Guzan saved with his legs. The American then made a smart reaction save from Pugh after Simon Francis had headed a deep free-kick back across goal.
Villa had offered little, but carried enough latent threat for Mark Clattenburg to have booked three home players. Sherwood, though, was happy enough. All was going to plan. On the hour he added Gestede who quickly missed a peach of a chance after the Cherries defence went AWOL. Villa were suddenly looking positive and Artur Boruc needed to make an excellent save low to his left to deny Ibrissa Gueye following Gabby Agbonlahor’s cut-back.
Max Gradel came on for Bournemouth, and immediately created a chance for Wilson that Clark cleared. It was a false indicator as a minute later 6ft 4in Gestede escaped Francis’s clutches to meet Ashley Westwood’s corner with a thumping header. This time the giant had done the slaying.