Hearing Charlie Austin’s name sang with gusto, loudly and proudly, at full time must have been Eddie Howe’s worst fear. It was the Southampton striker, who the Bournemouth manager repeatedly tried and failed to buy while he was on trial at the club from Poole Town in 2009, but later made his first signing at Burnley, who cancelled out Ryan Fraser’s opener to earn a share of the spoils in this entertaining clash between two south coast neighbours.
In truth, it is a point that does little for either team, who both will feel they could have taken victory on another day. Mauricio Pellegrino had cited the “bigger picture” pre-match, owing to the gruelling December schedule, this the first of seven matches this month, so it came as little surprise he made six changes from the team that came unstuck in the sixth minute of injury time against Manchester City in midweek – two of which were enforced with Cédric Soares and Shane Long missing with hamstring and calf injuries respectively. Jérémy Pied made his first league start since May at right-back while Austin ably filled the void up front.
Howe, too, rang the changes with all three second-half substitutes from Wednesday’s disappointing home defeat by Burnley, Adam Smith, Lewis Cook and Jermain Defoe, all given starts. Top-scorer Callum Wilson dropped to the bench while Harry Arter was left out altogether. Despite changing personnel, Bournemouth were again sluggish out of the blocks. Virgil van Dijk’s free header from James Ward-Prowse’s outswinging corner sailed wide of Asmir Begovic’s goal before Pied thrashed an effort wide from 30 yards.
It took Bournemouth 20 minutes to stir. But when they did, Fraser Forster certainly knew it, with the Southampton goalkeeper called into action twice in quick succession. First, unknowingly, his left shoulder denied Defoe after the striker diverted Adam Smith’s lashed effort goalwards before he then pushed clear Nathan Aké’s diving header. Then came Jon Moss’s contentious decision, one that was always going to dominate the post-match agenda. When Smith bombed into the box, he was tripped by Sofiane Boufal but appeared to maximise the contact with the Southampton winger. Moss, though, awarded Southampton a free-kick and booked Smith for diving. Defoe, too, earned a yellow card for his protests.
Bournemouth were irked but continued to apply the pressure, with Charlie Daniels fizzing a rasping effort wide from 35 yards, one reminiscent of his rocket here against Manchester City in August. The next Bournemouth attack, three minutes before the interval, finally found the Southampton net. When Wesley Hoedt dallied on the ball, Joshua King, pressing high up the field, stole possession and spread the ball across to Andrew Surman, who then shifted the ball over again for Fraser to emphatically sweep home. It had been coming, with Southampton too often complacent in defence. Saints, though, should have fired an instant leveller, but Boufal blazed high and wide from Ryan Bertrand’s low cross.
Pellegrino summoned Nathan Redmond, who leapt to the defence of Pep Guardiola after their bizarre exchange on Wednesday night, in place of Ward-Prowse at half-time. Given Guardiola’s gushing praise, for which he has since apologised, perhaps it was inevitable that Redmond would play a starring role, feeding Austin for the equaliser, when his low cross was smashed home by the Saints striker at the front post. Austin tried to calm the pocket of delirious away supporters, one of whom threw a flare onto the pitch. A steward soon intervened.
Both teams could have snatched a winner – the Bournemouth substitute Wilson could just not react quickly enough to seize upon the rebound from King’s late strike, while Austin, lurking at the back post, failed to reach an overcooked Bertrand cross with the goal at his mercy.