Bournemouth dreaming big after capitalising on Brighton’s malaise

Bournemouth dreaming big after capitalising on Brighton’s malaise

There were a few eyebrows raised when Bournemouth owner Bill Foley said in December he is confident the club can qualify for Europe within five years but that prediction doesn’t look at all outlandish now. A comfortable victory thanks to goals from Marcos Senesi, Enes Unal on his first Premier League start and Justin Kluivert means Andoni Iraola’s side still have an outside chance of achieving that this season after totally outplaying a Brighton team who have clearly lost their way under Roberto De Zerbi.

In December, Foley – the American billionaire who has big plans for Bournemouth with a new 18,500 seater stadium in the pipeline – cited their south-coast rivals’ participation in the Europa League this season as an example of what can be achieved with the right approach. Yet while he might face a fight to hang onto Iraola’s services in the summer after an outstanding first campaign that has seen Bournemouth move four points clear of Brighton and into the top half of the table despite failing to record their first win until 28 October, things are unravelling quickly for De Zerbi.

Having been overlooked by Liverpool and Bayern Munich this week, it is no wins in the last six matches for the Italian as Brighton’s hopes of another European campaign have evaporated. De Zerbi’s response to the trashing by Manchester City in midweek was to make seven changes with only captain Lewis Dunk, Valentín Barco, Pascal Gross and João Pedro retaining their places. That meant first Premier League starts for the 21-year-old defender Odel Offiah – the nephew of the rugby league legend Martin – and the 19-year-old striker Mark O’Mahony, who Brighton’s manager described this week as “the new Evan Ferguson”.

The Republic of Ireland forward was tipped as one of the league’s brightest prospects 12 months ago but was one of eight players missing through injury, with De Zerbi hoping that Offiah and O’Mahony could provide his side with “fresh energy”. Sadly for the former Cork City striker, who was signed last January for just £50,000, his only real impact here was at the wrong end.

Antoine Semenyo – who was carried off on a stretcher late on with a suspected knee injury in the only negative for Iraola – has been at the heart of Bournemouth’s strong finish to the season and a sublime flick from the Ghana forward on the right flank left Barco for dust in the 11th minute. Dominic Solanke’s shot appeared to strike Dunk’s elbow but the referee, Paul Tierney, dismissed claims for a penalty. Bournemouth’s frustration was short-lived, however, as Senesi was on hand to nod home from the subsequent corner after the ball had popped up invitingly off the shoulder of the unfortunate O’Mahony.

Marcos Senesi heads in Bournemouth’s opening goal at the Vitality Stadium.View image in fullscreen

Brighton responded well to going behind and should have drawn level had Facundo Buonanotte not delayed his shot after gliding into the penalty area on the right-hand side to allow Mark Travers to save with his feet. But De Zerbi’s side looked extremely fragile in defence and a mistake from Igor Julio allowed Adam Scott to pick out Unal, only for the Turkey forward to drag his shot badly wide.

A surging run from Scott needed Dunk to deflect his shot over the bar as Bournemouth smelled blood but Unal was too casual after Semenyo was gifted possession by Bart Verbruggen just before half-time. While Iraola was a bundle of energy on the touchline, De Zerbi looked thoroughly miserable with his hands in his pockets as Solanke was allowed time and space to shoot but could only pick out the Brighton goalkeeper.

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O’Mahony was sacrificed at the break for the experience of Danny Welbeck as the visitors’ defence remained under siege. Bournemouth should have doubled their lead almost straight after the restart when Solanke’s flick around the corner played in Kluivert but he could only find the side netting. It wasn’t long before they had a second: Unal had just tested Verbruggen with a free-kick from almost 40 yards out when he found himself unmarked at the back post to guide home a hanging cross from Dango Ouattara.

Having spurned several opportunities to make it even worse for Brighton, Kluivert finally found the net with a thumping finish from Ryan Christie’s pass three minutes from time to leave De Zerbi with plenty to ponder.