Jordon Ibe made the difference as Bournemouth came from behind to beat Brighton 2-1 on Friday Night Football. Is the former Liverpool winger finally ready to start fulfilling his potential?
Bournemouth were staring at a fifth consecutive Premier League defeat when Eddie Howe called for Ibe midway through the second half at the Vitality Stadium. Brighton were deservedly in front after Solly March’s opener, and the home fans were beginning to feel nervous.
It only took two minutes for Ibe to provide the spark they needed. His smart backheel was perfectly weighted for the onrushing Andrew Surman to equalise, and six minutes after that he found Jermain Defoe for the winner. In a tightly-contested game, two moments of ingenuity made all the difference.
The victory was vital for Bournemouth, whose upcoming fixture list includes daunting away trips to Everton, Tottenham and Stoke, but it could prove even more significant for Ibe. “What a night this could be in his Bournemouth career,” said Jamie Carragher in the Sky Sports commentary box. “Hopefully he can go on and justify that fee on the back of this.”
That £15m fee has become something of a burden for Ibe since his arrival from Liverpool last summer. The 21-year-old was regarded as one of the most exciting young players in the country during his time at Anfield, with Brendan Rodgers talking up his ‘huge future’ on one occasion and Jurgen Klopp lauding his ‘brilliant talent’ on another.
Bournemouth seemed like a perfect place for him to begin fulfilling his potential, but his first season on the south coast was disappointing. After starting their first 11 games of the season, Ibe lost his place. Howe admitted he was disappointed by the winger after an FA Cup defeat to Millwall in January, and Ibe only made two further starts before the end of the campaign.
Ibe did not contribute a single goal or assist in 25 Premier League appearances, but he started the new season with a vow to improve. “Last season I was poor and didn’t even get a goal,” he said. “I know Eddie Howe put a lot of trust in bringing me here for that price tag. I’m hoping the fans will see the real Jordon Ibe this season. I’ve got a lot to prove.”
And so, 14 months on from his arrival at the Vitality Stadium, Ibe finally set about showing exactly what he is capable of. His first assist was an example of the flair that has marked him out as a rising star since his teenage years, and there was impressive skill and composure for his second.
After bringing down a high ball following a corner, Ibe drew Anthony Knockaert, Tomer Hemed and Lewis Dunk towards him before prodding the ball through to Defoe with the outside of his boot. Ibe’s self-belief had come flooding back, and he was only a couple of inches away from extending Bournemouth’s lead with a stoppage-time free-kick.
“He injected something completely different into the game and took the game away from Brighton,” said Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville afterwards. “It was that little bit of inventiveness and creativity that unlocked them and pulled them out of position.”
Ibe had a transformative impact on the team, with his speed and directness causing Brighton problems from the moment he stepped onto the pitch. Having only mustered seven shots in 65 minutes before his introduction, Bournemouth attempted six in the final 25.
“He’s such a talented footballer,” Howe told Sky Sports. “We were hoping for Jordon to explode, and to show the player that we see every day in training. He can beat people in tight areas and he did that for the two goals. I thought it was very special play. I hope that’s the kick-start and the confidence boost he needs because he can be a difference-maker for us.”
It felt like an important step for Ibe, whose match-winning cameo earned him the man-of-the-match award. The youngster has endured a testing period on the south coast, but his prospects look brighter now. So, too, do Bournemouth’s.