Monday 11 November 2019

King's goal haunts his old master Solskjaer

Bournemouth 1 Manchester United 0

Joshua King lines up his match-winning shot against Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea at the Vitality Stadium. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Reuters
Joshua King lines up his match-winning shot against Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea at the Vitality Stadium. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

Ben Fisher

At the end of a week when Ole Gunnar Solskjær trumpeted the strides Manchester United have made of late, a jarring first defeat in four matches brought his side back to reality with a thud. United dithered and dawdled in their savannah away strip and, after a promising start full of impetus, came a horribly beige performance.

The numbers speak volumes of their sorry predicament: ambling in mid-table, they remain without back-to-back league wins since Solskjær took permanent charge in March, while their tally of 13 points from 11 matches is their lowest at this stage of a top-flight season since 1986-87. This was even more galling for Solskjær given it was Joshua King, the Bournemouth striker once a pupil of his in United's reserves, who inflicted this latest wound. In finishing drills after training, King opened his ears trying to perfect the killer instinct synonymous with Solskjær's playing days.

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TOPSHOT - Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford (L) goes for the ball against Bournemouth's English defender Adam Smith (R). Photo: Glyn KIRK / AFP
TOPSHOT - Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford (L) goes for the ball against Bournemouth's English defender Adam Smith (R). Photo: Glyn KIRK / AFP

For United, any feel-good factor fostered over the past fortnight has quickly diminished. The raw and painful reality is they have tasted victory in the league only once since the end of September and Solskjær acknowledged they must improve if they are to give themselves any chance of qualifying for the Champions League.

"We need a response because games like this you need to win if you want to challenge for top four and we're disappointed," the manager said.

"It's a test of character when you come down to places like this; 1-0 down, half-time. In the second half, at least we went for it. We didn't stop trying but it was the lack of quality that couldn't give us the point or three. Two more games before the international break we've got a chance on Thursday to qualify [for the Europa League knockout stage] and then Brighton at home."

On this evidence, United are going nowhere fast and that Solskjær is already dissecting their deficiencies in the race for the top four highlights the challenges ahead. By contrast, for Bournemouth this was almost the complete performance; Nathan Ake and Steve Cook were immense in defence, Jefferson Lerma a ubiquitous presence in midfield and King and Callum Wilson pests United simply could not control in attack. Aaron Ramsdale, the England under-21 goalkeeper who spent last season earning his stripes at AFC Wimbledon, was again unflappable.

Bournemouth goalie Aaron Ramsdale celebrates his team's goal. Photo: Harry Trump/Getty Images
Bournemouth goalie Aaron Ramsdale celebrates his team's goal. Photo: Harry Trump/Getty Images

However, as Solskjær conceded, it was King who ultimately made the difference. "He's always a threat, he's strong and when you win the game with a moment of magic like that you say 'well done'," he said. "He's developed into a very good player."

Daniel James pierced holes in Bournemouth's backline early on, supplying Andreas Pereira and Fred, both of whom ended up aquaplaning on a saturated surface, but it was King's goal that illuminated an entertaining first half. The striker chested Adam Smith's dinked cross before juggling the ball away from a statuesque Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who allowed the striker to swivel unchallenged and lash the ball home on the volley.

It was an emphatic finish but another instance of powder-puff defending, not long after Wan-Bissaka got away with allowing King to tee up Ryan Fraser to test David de Gea.

"I'm sure that will be a special moment for him," said the Bournemouth manager, Eddie Howe. "When you play against your former clubs, it can have extra meaning. We felt we needed that win for our own confidence and impetus into our season."

Solskjær felt the international break reinvigorated his squad but, after going behind here, his side surrendered all tempo and they struggled to hurt the hosts until the substitute Mason Greenwood rattled a post eight minutes from time. A crude challenge on Marcus Rashford aside, Bournemouth captain Cook - the first player to make 150 Premier League appearances for the club - further enhanced his reputation, shepherding the backline brilliantly as a stirred United tried to up the ante.

Scott McTominay, in front of the watching Scotland assistant coach, Steven Reid, forced Ramsdale to parry but Bournemouth held on to leapfrog United.

"Could've, should've - that's football," Solskjær said. "The front four looked promising but flattered to deceive. It looked like we could create chances but didn't have the last pass, or the last finish. That's something we need to improve on."

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