The Vitality Stadium has been the scene of some classic Premier League games in its short time as a top flight football ground. Or at least some classic finishes.
This season, with the allotted five minutes of added time already played, Raheem Sterling’s shot deflected off a Bournemouth defender and nestled in the corner of the net. That resulted in pandemonium from the Manchester City fans in the corner, and a red card for the England winger who was booked for his celebration.
The goal went down as a 97th minute winner, breaking hearts of Cherries fans looking on, and while the game continued for another few minutes (John Stones entered the fray on 90+9, which must surely be close to a record of some sort) the drama had all but finished.
And yet, as stunning as that finish was, it wasn’t actually the timeliest breathtaking Premier League goal scored at the Dean Court Ground.
This is the Bournemouth’s third season in the Premier League, and the last two years have produced exciting, goal-filled games with another North West side in Blue, Everton. Last season, Romelu Lukaku scored four goals at Goodison Park as the Toffees beat the Cherries 6-3, with four of the goals coming after the 80 minute mark.
The season previous, though, was when the real thriller happened, this time on the south coast.
With the score at 2-0, the clock hit 79 minutes, and Bournemouth were staring a fifth defeat in six matches square in the face. But when substitute Adam Smith scored with a beautiful strike in the 80th minute, it wasn’t simply a just reward for a spirited second-half performance from a man who didn’t start the game; it was also a lifeline for a newly-promoted team whose stunning injury crisis had been a factor in their slip into the relegation zone in their first ever Premier League season.
It set up what we would normally call a grandstand finish: the home team, coming from two down to make the final 10 minutes of the game interesting in front of their fans who were fearful of what defeat would mean for their team’s ability to resist the drop.
They got their reward for their industry with just three minutes left of normal time; a Junior Stanislas strike seemingly sealed a point for the Cherries. What happened next both changed everything and changed nothing.
This was, after all, a team who were being considered relegation fodder by this point. Deprived of huge goalscoring threats in Callum Wilson and Max Gradel with long-term injuries, as well as record signing Tyrone Mings and captain Tommy Elphick depleting their defensive reserves. They had won just two of their 13 games so far and were joined in the relegation zone by Newcastle United and Aston Villa at the time, both of whom spent the following season in the Championship.
The problem with celebrating a last-minute equaliser – or indeed a ‘winner’ – is that you don’t really know if the game is going to end that way. Ask any French player on the pitch that night about David Trezeguet’s winning goal at Euro 2000 and they’ll tell you it was one of the best moments of their lives: when they celebrated the euphoria of having scored a goal in the final of a major tournament, they didn’t have to worry about holding out for the rest of the game, it was a golden goal in every sense. For Bournemouth, when Stanislas scored in the 87th minute, they didn’t have the luxury of continuing the celebrations of the equaliser – they had to defend three minutes plus stoppage time.
And there was to be a lot of stoppage time. Enough time for Ross Barkley to break Bournemouth hearts in the 95th minute of the game. And also enough time for Junior Stanislas to mend them again, scoring in the 98th minute, later than Sterling’s goal the other week.
Barkley’s goal changed nothing, in a way. Stanislas’ first goal didn’t prove to be the equaliser, but his second goal did, and the world righted the initial wrong. But in another way, it changed everything for Bournemouth. It might be an exaggeration to say that their entire season, and perhaps even their continued Premier League existence depended on it. But not too big an exaggeration as the next three games of the season announced that Bournemouth were here to stay in the big league.
Defeat at home to Everton might have denied them that. The next two fixtures were Chelsea away and Manchester United at home, but the euphoric feeling of coming back from two goals down to a traditionally big side thanks to what felt like two last-minute equalisers gave the Cherries the confidence to go on and record two victories in those games, and a third on the spin away to West Brom.
It didn’t just save their season – which was looking like sinking thanks in no small part to injuries and bad luck – but it made people sit up and take notice of the small club from the south coast. This weekend, both sides could use the same kick-start to their season, and although this game will be at Everton’s Goodison Park, and although it involves two teams still in the relegation zone, history points to it being a classic.
Maybe this time it’s Everton who need a goal to change everything.