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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Ed Aarons at the Vitality Stadium

Antoine Semenyo caps epic comeback as Luton fall apart at Bournemouth

Antoine Semenyo (right) punches the air in delight after scoring Bournemouth’s fourth and final goal
Antoine Semenyo (right) punches the air in delight after scoring Bournemouth’s fourth and final goal. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

A sensational second-half ­comeback from Bournemouth inspired by Antoine Semenyo denied Luton the chance to move out of the relegation zone, three months after Tom Lockyer had suffered a cardiac arrest in the original fixture.

It was an emotional evening for the Luton captain, who was greeted before kick-off by both sets of supporters having been, in his words, “technically dead” for 2min 40sec after collapsing on the pitch here in December. He watched his side surrender a three-goal lead after Tahith Chong, Chiedozie Ogbene and Ross Barkley had appeared to send them towards a comfortable victory that would have lifted them above Nottingham Forest on goal difference.

Yet, having been booed off at half-time, a stirring display from Andoni Iraola’s side allowed Dominic Solanke, Illya Zabarnyi and Semenyo to cancel out Luton’s lead in the space of just 14 minutes before Semenyo sealed victory with seven minutes ­remaining, meaning a dream start turned into a nightmare for Rob Edwards.

“There were some individual mistakes and we gave them encouragement with the early goal,” said the devastated Luton manager, whose side face Forest at Kenilworth Road on Saturday in a game that now takes on even more significance. “We put ourselves in a good position to win and we are all angry and hurting. But we have no alternative and must try to pick ourselves up quickly.”

Solidarity between the two clubs was in evidence all around the ­Vitality Stadium 88 days since Lockyer’s ­cardiac arrest, with the Bournemouth Supporters’ Trust having raised more than £2,000 to help with Luton fans’ travel costs. Before the match the Luton captain shook hands with the medical staff who helped to save his life on the pitch and he was greeted by a standing ovation from both sets of supporters.

Luton, who ended a five-match ­losing run with a late equaliser against Crystal Palace on Saturday, had found themselves trailing to early goals after slow starts in their past three matches. This time, they made no such mistake as Chong rounded off a quick break downfield by nodding in Jordan Clark’s dinked cross in the ninth minute. Only Arsenal have scored more goals from headers this season than Luton’s 14 so far.

Bournemouth’s last win here in the Premier League came way back on Boxing Day during their purple patch. They created several chances in the first half after dominating possession but were wayward with their shooting. Dango Ouattara fired over from a decent position in what was to become a recurring theme. It then needed a heroic last-ditch tackle from Reece Burke to deny Semenyo a clear run on goal.

Yet Luton always looked ­menacing on the break and so it proved just after the half-hour when Chong and Alfie Doughty played a delightful one-two before the wing-back’s cross was tapped in at the far post by Ogbene, with Ouattara guilty of losing his man. Bournemouth con­tinued to camp out in Luton’s half and Lewis Cook’s piledriver from long range forced Thomas Kaminski into action again but they were frustrated by dogged defending from a committed phalanx of white shirts.

It was another mistake from ­Ouattara that allowed Luton to score a third just before half-time after Issa Kaboré had relieved him of possession and burst down the field, setting up Barkley to smash into the net. “Town are staying up” rang out from the buoyant visiting supporters as Bournemouth left the pitch to a chorus of boos. Neither could have foreseen what was about to unfold.

“It’s very difficult to keep ­believing but the players did it,” Iraola said. “Everyone knew we had to improve and we showed our strong per­sonality in the second half.”

The Bournemouth manager hauled off Alex Scott and Luis ­Sinisterra and the changes made an immediate ­difference. Solanke set himself up with a sublime backheel through the legs of Daiki Hashioka before curling past Kaminski to pull one back. Chong had the ball in the Bournemouth net again soon after but it was ruled out for offside.

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There was a round of applause for Lockyer in the 59th minute – when the first match was abandoned with the scores level at 1-1 – but ­Bournemouth fans found their voices when Zabarnyi forced home a second despite ­Doughty’s des­perate attempts to clear off the line from a corner. Moments later they were in dreamland when Semenyo beat Kaminski at his near post to ­equalise and leave Edwards ­scratching his head.

The visitors looked like they had done enough to hang on for a point, but it was Semenyo who had the final say as Bournemouth became the fifth team in Premier League history to win a match in which they had trailed by three goals.

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