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Payne's verdict: Blackpool 0 AFC Bournemouth 1
PERHAPS artistic impression doesn’t matter so much after all.
Nine days ago Cherries tore Doncaster to shreds with a performance that was as pleasing to the eye as the Dean Court faithful could have wished for.
On Saturday, Bloomfield Road witnessed a contest that was lacking anything like the same pizzazz. Ultimately, though, for Cherries, the same result.
Blackpool, heading into proceedings off the back of 17 games without a win, set out to spoil their visitors’ passing game and largely speaking, it worked a treat.
The advanced midfield three of Chris Basham, David Perkins and Stephen Dobbie were always on Cherries' case, while Isaiah Osbourne sat deep and swept up the leftovers.
Andrew Surman and the recalled Eunan O’Kane often found their hands full in central midfield and flowing passing moves were at a premium.
Lewis Grabban and Brett Pitman had little to work with up front given that wide men Ryan Fraser and Matt Ritchie, although energetic and willing, were seldom afforded space.
Great news for Eddie Howe’s men then, that Blackpool elected to press the self-destruct button early in the second half. Keeper Matt Gilks had a rush of blood to the head, giving away a clear penalty from which Grabban applied the required finish.
However, the game was won in the defensive third rather than attacking areas.
In the final 20 minutes, Blackpool went direct. Ball after ball rained in on the edge of the 18-yard line, each one repelled or subject to a misdirected touch under pressure.
The back four, Tommy Elphick in particular, were rock solid. Keeper Lee Camp was decisive when he needed to be. This from a team that until last Saturday had not recorded a clean sheet since Boxing Day.
Midfielder Harry Arter and striker Yann Kermorgant, who between them bagged all five of Cherries’ goals against Doncaster, were sidelined due to injury, so O’Kane returned and Pitman came in for his first start since January 14.
Having last tasted victory on November 30, Blackpool were understandably keen to arrest their barren run from the opening whistle.
Eleven minutes in, Stephen Dobbie forced the first meaningful save when he cut in from the left and drove the ball towards the far corner, only to see Camp parry strongly away.
Timid in the opening exchanges, Cherries created two opportunities midway through the opening period, with both falling to Ritchie.
Grabban broke from midfield before teeing up his team-mate and the former Swindon man fired a 25-yard daisy-cutter straight down the throat of Gilks.
Moments later Ritchie found a better opening as he took up a more central position outside the area and unleashed a crisper effort, but again the keeper gathered.
Grabban volleyed well off-target before Simon Francis survived loud handball appeals right on the corner of his own penalty area, while Basham unsuccessfully tried his luck shortly after.
The game petered out into half-time with the only other attempt of note coming when Ian Harte’s free kick round the wall was blocked and cleared to safety.
Moments after the restart, a timely boost. Grabban’s electric pace allowed him to nick a loose ball beyond Gilks on the left side of the area and the keeper slid in foot-first, sending the ex-Rotherham man crashing to the deck.
Gilks was punished for his error when Grabban stroked the 48th-minute penalty low into the left corner, with the right hand of the cautioned stopper arriving a fraction too late to keep it out.
Seconds after the game had resumed, Ricardo Fuller headed wide a cross from Andy Halliday and the former Stoke man wasted two further opportunities shortly after, in amongst which Fraser was denied a second spot kick at the other end.
Blackpool’s attacking misery was summed up by an audacious effort from Basham in the 62nd minute, the midfielder shooting from the right flank with Camp off-limits but the ball went out for a throw-in on the opposite side.
Halliday sliced wildly off-target and Pitman lashed his only clear attempt – a free kick from just outside the area – well clear of the crossbar.
Play became fractured in the final quarter and Cherries were a threat on the counter.
In amongst a sea of stoppages, Ritchie tested Gilks and substitute Marc Pugh could only muster a weak shot when teed up by Pitman.
The Tangerines redoubled their efforts in the last 10 minutes and Camp was pleased to see Dobbie’s shot from range deflect kindly into his gloves.
But for all their pressure, the only other opening the hosts carved out was in stoppage time, when skipper Gary Mackenzie nodded Dobbie’s centre clear of the bar.
ECHO STAR MAN - TOMMY ELPHICK
The skipper has always had the stomach for a battle and he showed that once again at Bloomfield Road.
Not many would have relished defending Blackpool’s direct approach in the final 20 minutes but when the pressure was on, Elphick seemed to revel in it.
In fact, all game the 26-year-old won countless headers and put in numerous strong challenges, while his general reading of the play was excellent.
His leadership allowed the back four to work together as a unit and deservedly secure their second clean sheet on successive weekends.
Cherries: Camp 7; Francis 7.5, Elphick 8, Cook 7.5, Harte 7; Ritchie 7, O'Kane 6.5, Surman 6.5, Fraser (Pugh, 58) 6.5; Pitman 6, Grabban 7.
Unused subs: Allsop, Smith, Hughes, MacDonald, Coulibaly, Rantie.
Blackpool: Gilks; Foley (Cathcart, 79), MacKenzie, Broadfoot, Halliday; Osbourne; Basham (Haroun, 73), Perkins, Dobbie; Fuller, Keogh (Davies, 64).
Unused subs: Bishop, Goodwillie, Martinez, Grandin.
Booked: Perkins, Gilks, Broadfoot.
Referee: Gavin Ward (Surrey)
Attendance: 13,043 (612 away)
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