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Mitchell's verdict: AFC Bournemouth 1 Blackburn Rovers 3
PATIENCE and pragmatism were the buzzwords from the Cherries boardroom last week but anyone still in need of a reality check soon got one on Saturday.
Buoyed by a thrilling 3-3 draw at Middlesbrough and a promising start to the Championship season, hopes were high against a Blackburn side who had laboured recently, especially on the road.
But this most unforgiving division quickly provided a wake-up call to those daring to dream as Rovers brutally punished Cherries for leaving margins for error during the first half.
A slight discomfort with their system and the lack of usual verve and tempo combined with Blackburn’s steadfast pressure to rattle Cherries. And despite manfully battling back with 10 men after the interval, the game was realistically up.
However, to simply dismiss as poor Cherries’ first-half display would sell short the efforts of both sides, whose circum-stances differed in the build-up to this clash.
A well-drilled Rovers outfit, boasting the Championship’s most consistent team selection this season, were handily placed to take full advantage of Cherries’ off day.
Returning frontman Leon Best and strike partner Jordan Rhodes quickly scented blood, with lively wingers Tom Cairney and especially star performer Josh King providing the ammunition.
But Blackburn’s ability to cause chaos was aided by the foundation of a goalkeeper and back four that had been unchanged from the start of the campaign, a luxury Cherries boss Eddie Howe could have only dreamed of during an injury-plagued Championship opening.
It might be argued that the forward-thinking formation implemented at the outset of this match – described as “very brave” by Middlesbrough boss Tony Mowbray the previous weekend – was symptomatic of a Cherries casualty list that makes uncomfortable reading.
Yes, Cherries were caught cold in the first half, but Rovers should be credited for their chilling proficiency.
And after Howe’s embattled charges, shorn of midfielder Shaun MacDonald before his first-half replacement Richard Hughes was dismissed, had produced a resilient second-half display, murmurings of discontent from the stands seemed harsh.
The disappointment of a slow start prevailed at the final whistle but in the cold light of day, encouragement should be taken from Cherries’ never-say-die attitude post interval.
Howe’s side, which sported one change with MacDonald replacing Hughes in the centre of midfield, came close to the perfect start when Tokelo Rantie found the net from Brett Pitman’s centre, only to be denied by an offside flag.
It was to be the beginning of a bristling display from the South African who carried the fight despite cutting an isolated figure on a tough afternoon, a problem £8million Blackburn poacher Rhodes didn’t have to ponder.
The hosts never truly recovered after a simple-yet-effective move had seen goal machine Rhodes open the scoring with a stooping header from Best’s fierce low centre in the 10th minute.
Elliott Ward survived a seemingly strong penalty shout moments later when his flailing arm caught a deep cross from the right, while Ryan Allsop did well to punch away Rhodes’s swirling 20-yard free kick after MacDonald had lunged at King.
Cherries continued to retreat and it came as no surprise when Cairney threaded on-rushing midfielder Corry Evans through to drive across Allsop’s goal for Best to apply a far-post finish.
The Rovers pressure didn’t subside and after Tommy Elphick had sent King sprawling to give referee Rob Lewis no option but to point to the spot, Rhodes confi-dently converted from 12 yards.
Howe shuffled his pack at half-time with Ryan Fraser replacing Pitman but any plans to settle down the contest quickly went up in smoke when Hughes, who had been booked for a late lunge on Cairney less than 30 seconds after the restart, clattered Evans from behind five minutes later and was inevitably dismissed.
However, the hosts refused to capitulate against one of the second tier’s more illustrious opponents and Cherries went close when the belligerent Rantie teed up Marc Pugh to rattle Jake Kean’s upright.
Rovers remained dangerous on the break but the 10 men almost snatched a lifeline when Pugh’s inswinging free-kick was met on the volley by Elphick, who saw his crisp effort beaten away by Kean.
The home side finally got the goal they deserved when Rantie dropped deep and turned Hanley to play in Fraser – whose pace and purpose complemented the record signing’s strong display – to delicately roll his first senior goal past the exposed Kean with 16 minutes to play.
It proved to be the end of any meaningful action as Cherries gradually tired, but there was as much to take from the second half as there was to learn from the first. Cherries’ season will not hinge on this result, only what they take from it.
STAR MAN - Tokelo Rantie
Ploughing what seemed a lone furrow at times, the South African would have been frustrated by the swarm of defenders that surrounded him during his bright spots in the first half.
Ryan Fraser’s introduction provided a welcome boost for the hard-working front-runner who found a willing partner in crime to attempt to steal a strike with.
Fraser took the full-time plaudits he deserved for his energy and intent, but Rantie’s drive to make a difference in the most testing of circumstances spoke volumes for a player who sporadically displayed his significant ability to Cherries’ faithful.
Cherries: (3-4-1-2, then 4-4-2) Allsop 6, Elphick 5, Ward 5.5, Cook 5.5, Francis 5.5, O’Kane 5.5, MacDonald 5 (Hughes, 32), Pugh 6 (Coulibaly, 80), Pitman 5 (Fraser, h-t, 7), Grabban 5.5, Rantie 7*.
Unused subs: Harte, Surman, Addison, Flahavan (g/k).
Booked: MacDonald, Elphick, Hughes.
Sent off: Hughes.
Blackburn: (4-4-2) Kean, Kane, Dann, Hanley, Spurr, King, Lowe (Marrow, 84), Evans (Williamson, 63), Cairney, Best (Olsson, 63), Rhodes.
Unused subs: Kilgallon, Taylor, Morris, Eastwood (g/k).
Booked: Evans, Best, Lowe.
Attendance: 9,441 (including 997 away fans).
Referee: Rob Lewis (Shropshire)
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