IT WAS Groundhog Day for Eddie Howe against his former employers.
For the second time this season, Howe’s men took the lead against high-flying Burnley and failed to preserve it.
At Turf Moor in November, Tokelo Rantie had opened his Cherries goal account with a stunning strike from 25 yards in the 50th minute.
Against the Clarets yesterday, Rantie was credited with breaking the deadlock in the 51st minute, although there was an element of doubt surrounding who had actually applied the final touch.
The bottom line, however, was that in both games, Cherries conceded avoidable equalisers and shipped valuable points.
While Danny Ings had been their tormentor six minutes from time when the teams had met earlier this season, Keith Treacy repeated the feat midway through the second half this time round.
On both occasions, momentary lapses proved costly for Cherries, the fruits of their labours and their heroic defensive efforts undone by sucker-punch equalisers.
Cherries have lost 10 points this season by drawing five times after being ahead – twice against Burnley, twice against Brighton and once against Middlesbrough.
At the Riverside in September, there was certainly no need for an inquest, while the Seagulls were good value for their point at Dean Court in November thanks to Ashley Barnes’s finely-taken goal.
And while a share of the spoils at the Amex on New Year’s Day was probably a fair reflection, had Cherries prevented Stephen Ward from levelling in the 89th minute, one point would have been three.
The profit and loss account also shows Cherries to be eight points better off having won once from a losing position and drawn five times after coming from behind. They have also never lost having scored first.
Treacy, signed by Howe during his time as Burnley manager, cashed in after Cherries at been caught napping at the far post – in not dissimilar circumstances to Leicester’s Kevin Phillips a fortnight earlier.
The Republic of Ireland international fastened on to a deflected cross from fellow substitute Ross Wallace and made no mistake from close range in the 67th minute.
Reflecting on a case of déjà vu, Cherries boss Howe said: “Momentarily, we switched off. Without naming names, we let a runner go and then switched off at the back post. Three or four errors cost us. They were only minute mistakes but, at this level, you get punished.”
Howe would have been torn between contentment and frustration after seeing his team take another point from the Clarets with Sean Dyche’s men unbeaten since Boxing Day and having lost just three times in the Championship this season. Cherries also blunted the most prolific strike-force in the division.
Rantie was restored to the Cherries starting line-up as Howe opted for a change in personnel and formation in a bid to combat a testing playing surface and inclement weather conditions.
Understandably, chances were few and far between during the first half with Simon Francis’s 30-yard piledriver drawing a rare save from Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton.
Eunan O’Kane, who was forced off on the stroke of half-time with a hip injury, saved the day for Cherries after the Clarets had threatened a breakaway, the midfielder on hand to stop Michael Kightly going clear.
Cherries broke the deadlock six minutes into the second half when Ian Harte’s corner caused havoc. Although Rantie was credited with glancing it home, inconclusive television replays suggested either Steve Cook or a Burnley defender may or may not have had the final touch.
Cherries goalkeeper Lee Camp, a relative spectator throughout, was powerless to prevent Treacy from levelling before Heaton saved from both Lewis Grabban and Tommy Elphick as the hosts attempted to regain the lead.
And after substitute Yann Kermorgant had headed past the post from a Matt Ritchie cross, referee Graham Scott, who had appeared to be making up the rules as he went along, made his most baffling decision when he awarded Cherries a free kick on the edge of the 18-yard box after Grabban had been sent to ground by Kieran Trippier inside the penalty area.
Kermorgant was unable to right the wrong when he put the free kick over the crossbar before Francis went close to grabbing a dramatic winner late on when his rasping drive clipped the woodwork.
Star man – Tommy Elphick
Cherries’ inspirational skipper led from the front as Eddie Howe’s men blunted the most prolific strike-force in the Championship with Danny Ings and Sam Vokes never looking likely to add to their 40-goal partnership.
Commanding in the air and in the tackle, Elphick nullified Vokes’s aerial threat and worked in tandem with Steve Cook to ensure Ings would be well marshalled throughout.
Although Cherries paid a heavy price for dropping their guard with Keith Treacy’s equaliser, all four defenders performed admirably and Ian Harte showed his class by delivering some delightful set-pieces.
Dean Court groundsman James Lathwell and his staff also deserve great credit for their efforts in getting the game on.
Cherries: Camp 6.5, Francis 6.5, Cook 7, Elphick 8, Harte 7.5, Ritchie 7, O’Kane 6.5 (MacDonald, 45, 6.5), Arter 7, Pugh 7, Rantie 6.5 (Kermorgant, 70), Grabban 6.5 (Pitman, 86).
Unused subs: Smith, Surman, Fraser, Allsop (g/k).
Booked: Pitman, Kermorgant.
Clarets: Heaton, Trippier, Shackell, Duff, Mee, Arfield (Treacy, 61), Jones, Marney, Kightly (Wallace, 61), Vokes (Barnes, 81), Ings.
Unused subs: Stanislas, Edgar, Long, Cisak (g/k).
Referee: Graham Scott (Bedfordshire).
Attendance: 10,422 (including 1,406 away supporters).