Brilliant Brooks orchestrates win
- Mike Dean
Two magnificent goals from David Brooks returned AFC Bournemouth to form ahead of Christmas with a 2-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion.
Winger Brooks got the scoring started as he fired home a delicious strike from outside the area, though the Cherries were indebted to a string of fine Asmir Begovic saves to retain their advantage to half time.
With 15 minutes remaining, the home side had a numerical advantage to add to the one on the scoreboard after Lewis Dunk picked up his second yellow and received his marching orders, and Brooks soon looped home a stunning header to add a second to both his and the team's tally.
With their extra man the home side passed their way across the finishing line to claim all three of the precious festive points in the final Vitality outing on the calendar year.
Captain Simon Francis returned to the starting 11 after his short injury absence, while a calf injury picked up in midweek at Chelsea limited Ryan Fraser to just the substitutes' bench.
Unusually kicking towards the Vitality Steve Fletcher Stand in the opening 45 minutes, Junior Stanislas won and took a free-kick a yard to the left of the penalty area inside the opening three minutes, his delivery bending a couple of feet over the bar.
Brighton midfielder Yves Bissouma struck narrowly over from range during an open start to the contest - and Bissouma was the danger man again as he exchanged passes with Pascal Gross on the edge of the area and from an angle took on a low effort that Begovic needed to sprawl quickly in front of to save.
Breaking smartly, Andrew Surman played Francis into a crossing area and his centre was glanced wide by the head of Callum Wilson, the Cherries' intent growing further when first Wilson - from a delicious Brooks through ball - and then Joshua King went close to breaking the deadlock.
The play switching from end to end, Jurgen Locadia stabbed in a 20-yard effort that Begovic dived to tip wide for a corner, and within two minutes the Cherries grabbed hold of the lead.
Worked down the left, King passed into Brooks' feet 40 yards from goal, the winger dribbling his way inside before unleashing a fine 25-yard shot to beat Mat Ryan and secure a Cherries advantage.
With two minutes to go to the break, Begovic made a stunning save, his best of the half, to claw out Dunk's flicked downwards header, the Bosnian's heroics keeping home noses ahead during the interval.
Following the restart the game became scrappy with both sides looking to assert themselves on the contest. Steve Cook had to be sharp to recover and thwart Florin Andone, the resulting corner well batted away by Begovic.
Passing 60 minutes and it was the Seagulls beginning to up their attacking ante, though a quick Cherries counter saw Brooks felled and Stanislas then swerved a slick free-kick within a whisker of the post and netting a home second.
Fraser entered the fray for the hosts and the Scot came close to providing a second when his low cross was cut out moments before Wilson looked set to slot the ball home.
Some Brooks trickery cleverly moved the ball through to Wilson and with the desperate Dunk sliding to intervene and catching only the Cherries man, referee Mike Dean had little option but to produce a second yellow card and then a red for the Brighton defender.
Now firmly pushing forwards, Fraser's pinpoint delivery was met by an even more exact headed finish from Brooks, the Welsh midfielder producing a beguiling flick to loop his effort over Ryan but under the bar to give his side breathing room.
King lasered a shot over from 22 yards in his last action of the game before being replaced by Lys Mousset, shortly followed by Brooks to a rapturous reception, and the Cherries comfortably saw their win out in the latter stages to move to a Premier League best 26 points for the club ahead of the home supporters opening their presents on Christmas morning.
Brooks lights up last home clash of 2018
Much has been made of Brooks' brilliant start to life as a Premier League player and his two moments of magic were largely the difference between two hard-working sides at Vitality. His first goal was about touch and precision while his second was all ingenuity, the home fans lapping up the quality shown once again from their summer signing.
The success over the Seagulls brought the curtain down on an excellent calendar year for the Cherries on the south coast, the side losing just five from 18 in the Premier League on their own patch during 2018 - with all five of those defeats coming against the division's big six sides.
Begovic at his best
Artur Boruc had impressed in the Carabao Cup at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, but Bournemouth's returning 'keeper was back in sensational form during the match with Brighton, making a number of terrific stops in the first half especially.
Begovic has played every minute of every Premier League game since his return to the club last summer, a run now stretching to 56 straight games, and the Cherries will be pleased to have their regular custodian in fine form as they head into matches away at Spurs and Manchester United.