Bournemouth were handed a painful lesson by south coast rivals Southampton on a miserable afternoon at the Vitality Stadium, blowing an early 1-0 lead and losing 3-1 in just their third Premier League home defeat of the season.
Nathan Ake was an absolute rock in the heart of Bournemouth’s defence, despite what the scoreline may suggest. Eddie Howe has experimented playing the Chelsea-loanee at both left back and centre back this season, but it would appear the Cherries boss will now settle on the latter after a second successive impressive display which also saw Ake bag his third Premier League goal this season in only six starts.
Bournemouth looked jaded, tired and a shadow of the team that trumped Liverpool 4-3 earlier this month and champions Leicester 1-0 in midweek. It can be argued that perhaps the busy winter schedule is taking its toll, but serious questions must be asked when Southampton scored three goals, as before today’s match, they were the joint lowest scorers in the Premier League this season and were without injured star striker Charlie Austin.
4 — Howe’s persistence to deploy right-back Adam Smith as an attacking right midfielder is mind-boggling. He also stuck with ten of the eleven players who beat Leicester on Tuesday night, when he had millions of pounds worth of players on the bench to rotate in — who will be quite rightly frustrated on Sunday evening that they did not get a start.
Player ratings: (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Artur Boruc, 6 –– The Poland international was surprisingly one of Bournemouth’s better players despite letting in three goals, none of which he could do much about. Distribution, however, continues to be a problem.
DF Simon Francis, 4 — Bad day at the office for the Bournemouth captain, who struggled at right-back. Really had to do better in defending the first Southampton goal. Perhaps it’s time to move back to central defence.
DF Nathan Ake, 9 — Easily the best player on the pitch. His excellent diving header on 6 minutes gave Bournemouth the perfect start, and he won almost every header and 50-50 he was a part of.
DF Steve Cook, 4 — Cook’s Jekyll and Hyde season continued on Sunday. He was the hero on Tuesday, but was very poor on Sunday. Looked tired, and his place in the starting XI is in jeopardy if Howe decides to move Francis into the centre.
DF Charlie Daniels, 5 — Struggled to contain Southampton’s attacking midfielders and was caught out far too often, although he linked up nicely with Marc Pugh and made some positive attacking runs.
MF Adam Smith, 3 — Once again looked a lost puppy in an attacking role, but it is not his fault Howe is playing him out of position. Managed to win the ball high up the pitch a few times but his general positioning was woeful and he was massively at fault for Southampton’s first goal.
MF Jack Wilshere, 7 — Certainly not as good as Tuesday night’s performance, but impressive considering he’s played three games in eight days after struggling with his fitness at Arsenal the past few seasons. Delivered an excellent ball to Ake for the first goal.
MF Harry Arter, 6 — Not at his best, but the aggressive midfielder managed to avoid a yellow card in a heated local derby which means he will not be suspended for the clash with Chelsea on Boxing Day.
MF Marc Pugh, 6 — Relatively quiet game and struggled to make much of an impact. Ryan Fraser will be looking over his shoulder.
FW Josh King, 7 — Was a real menace going forward, and would have put Bournemouth 2-0 up in the first half only to be denied by a great save from Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
FW Callum Wilson, 4 — Poor display from Bournemouth’s top goal scorer, as he wasted numerous goal scoring opportunities, including one near the start of the second half where King had made an excellent run into the box and squared but Wilson shot over from six yards.
MF Ryan Fraser, 7 — Came on early in the second half and made a great impact, his pace and dribbling caused Southampton all kinds of problems. Should start against Chelsea.
FW Benik Afobe, 4 — Replace Wilson just after the hour mark. Flopped once again and didn’t look interested. Could be on the move in January.
MF Jordan Ibe, N/R — Injected some pace into a lifeless Bournemouth performance for the last twenty minutes or so but came on too late to make a significant impact.
Liam Grace is a blogger who covers AFC Bournemouth for ESPN UK and ESPN FC. Twitter: @LiamGraceESPN