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Wadley's Verdict: AFC Bournemouth 1 Watford 1
JUST another quiet week at Dean Court.
This intriguing football club keeps on giving. A scriptwriter’s dream, Cherries rarely disappoint.
As plots go, even by recent epic standards, the past few days have fallen into the category of bestseller.
No strangers to tumultuous tales and the ensuing headlines, supporters of the red and black army are well versed. Well versed in the good, the bad and the ugly, as well as knowing, more than anything, to expect the unexpected.
Hollywood big shots could do far worse than to head down to Kings Park and aim their cameras at the stadium.
Thankfully, the classic storylines of yesteryear are no more. Administration, boardroom battles and the world’s most painstaking trans-fer embargo are X-rated horrors confined to the archives.
But while the signs of progress are now at every turn around Dean Court, some things never change. Drama follows Cherries and it has often haunted long-suffering fans but, more often than not now, there is usually a happy ending.
As the latest blockbuster unfolded during the past week, the outcome was a positive one.
Cast your minds back to Tuesday night for the starting point. In disposing with Burton Albion, Cherries booked one of the most eagerly-anticipated clashes in the club’s history by securing a home showdown with Premier League giants Liverpool. Firmly in the grip of FA Cup fever, supporters new and old camped overnight to claim a ticket to the hottest show in town.
Thinking they had never had it so good, then came the twist. Championship rivals Brighton, their envious eyes firmly fixed on star striker Lewis Grabban, swooped for Cherries’ leading man.
The 26-year-old, the club’s top marksman this term, held talks with the Seagulls and looked set to leave before sensationally turn-ing his back on Brighton to stay at Dean Court.
That was a turnaround that even the most seasoned of Cherries supporters would have struggled to envisage as they made their regular pilgrimage yesterday afternoon.
But as news filtered through that Grabban had shunned the Seagulls in favour of a new long-term contract with Cherries, the mood immediately lifted.
And just when you could have been forgiven for thinking you had seen it all, this match happened.
There was no respite as a captivating week reached a compelling conclusion.
To be frank, the opening 45 minutes of this clash were pretty dull. Very little happened. Then, in keeping with the hours which had preceded it, all hell broke loose.
Angry touchline exchanges, two penalties, a wrongful red card and a truly thrilling second half of football, it was a fitting finale to yet another eventful period in AFC Bournemouth folklore.
In a tight opening period, Watford’s Lewis McGugan wasted an excellent early opening when he fired wide having been released following a rapid counter and fine cross from Cristian Battocchio.
Daniel Pudil blocked from Matt Ritchie before Lee Camp made a sharp save low to his right after Battochio’s deflected 20-yarder had threatened to creep in.
Marc Pugh should have done better when set clear by Andrew Surman for Cherries’ best chance but the hosts were punished when their nemesis, Gabriele Angella, lit the fuse for a fiery second half.
The big centre-half, who had netted twice in Watford’s 6-1 mauling of Cherries in August, again leapt above the defence to crash a header past Camp from McGugan’s dangerous free-kick.
Then came the controversy. Cherries levelled from a penalty when man of the moment Grabban – who else? – won the spot-kick before coolly converting beyond Manuel Almunia.
However, that was only half the story as referee Carl Boyeson had initially waved away appeals but following consultation with linesman John Busby, he pointed to the spot and promptly dismissed the unfortunate Angella.
While television replays showed that Grabban had twice been impeded as he latched on to Eunan O’Kane’s fine pass, Angella was the innocent party in a clear case of mistaken identity. Fitz Hall and Joel Ekstrand were fortunate to avoid punishment as both appeared to halt the striker’s passage towards goal. With a sense of injustice leaving the visitors incensed, the Hornets’ mood was not helped as Cherries forced them to hang on by swarming all over them in a chaotic closing act.
Surman and Charlie Daniels both fired narrowly wide before Boyeson took centre stage by handing Cherries their second penalty in quick succession.
Again, Watford were left fuming as Pugh was felled after Hall and Almunia had both attempted to halt the Lancastrian’s charge. The referee sided with Cherries but there was to be yet another twist as the usually reliable Grabban was denied by former Arsenal stopper Almunia, who then recovered to brilliantly repel rebounds from Ritchie and O’Kane.
With the rain lashing down and conditions quickly deteriorating, the game had everything. Everything except a Cherries winner as Pudil produced a sensational goal-saving block, which he knew little about, to block a Ritchie drive, before Daniels headed over from close range deep into added time.
Heads bowed and body language disconsolate, Cherries’ players trudged off as if they had lost.
The downbeat reaction depicted the improvement made by Eddie Howe’s Championship outfit.
Supporters queuing overnight for tickets, a stadium full of fans and one of the country’s leading young managers on the touchline, this is a club transformed from those dark, old days.
But, more than anywhere, the progress can be witnessed on the pitch. Drubbed 6-1 at Vicarage Road, Cherries left Watford grateful to escape with a point in this return fixture. It showed how far the team had come in such a short space of time.
Liverpool are the next test for Howe’s men. Luis Suarez, ITV cameras and a sell-out crowd.
It promises to be just another quiet week at Dean Court.
MATCH FACTS AND ECHO MERIT MARKS
Cherries: Camp 6.5, Francis 7.5, Ward 6.5, Elphick 6.5, Daniels 7, O’Kane 8*, Ritchie 7, Arter 6.5, Surman 6.5 (Rantie, 78), Pugh 6.5 (Pitman, 78), Grabban 7.
Unused subs: MacDonald, Fraser, Harte, Cook, Allsop (g/k).
Booked: Ritchie, Pitman.
Hornets: Almunia, Angella, Hall, Ekstrand, Iriney (Abdi, 25), Faraoni, Battocchio, McGugan (Murray, 50), Pudil, Deeney, Fabbrini (Anya, 78).
Unused subs: Forestieri, Doyley, Bellerin, Bond (g/k).
Sent off: Angella.
Referee: Carl Boyeson (East Yorkshire).
Attendance: 10,353 (including 1,423 away supporters).
STAR MAN – Eunan O’Kane
Another assured performance from the ever-improving midfield maestro. Even in dreadful conditions, O’Kane again demonstrated his confidence and composure on the ball. Recently praised by boss Eddie Howe for his awareness and tactical nous, O’Kane has genuine Championship class.
His positioning is excellent and his work-rate exemplary, while his vision and dribbling give Cherries increased options going forward.
O’Kane’s influence was clear against Watford on Saturday as his precision passes led directly to the award of Cherries’ two penalties. Simon Francis produced a marauding display on the right, overlapping to deliver fine crosses.
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