CHERRIES so nearly stole a point during a dramatic finale at Ewood Park this afternoon.
Having found themselves 3-0 down inside the opening 25 minutes in East Lancashire, thanks to goals from Jordan Rhodes, Grant Hanley and Rudy Gestede, Eddie Howe’s side left it late to go so close to grabbing an unlikely share of the points.
After a poor display in the first half, Cherries were gifted a penalty on 81 minutes which Brett Pitman slotted home. Then, in stoppage time, Steve Cook’s header made it 3-2.
But Cherries ran out of time and Howe was left to rue a second successive league defeat.
Howe named an unchanged line-up from Tuesday’s ill-deserved reverse at home to Nottingham Forest, although there was surprisingly no place in the manager’s 18-man squad for winger Marc Pugh.
Rhodes, meanwhile, subject of a £10million bid from Premier League outfit Hull City, lined up for the hosts.
Junior Stanislas forced Rovers keeper Paul Robinson into a save early on, although the former England stopper was never really troubled by Stanislas’ slightly scuffed effort. At the other end on 10 minutes, Lee Camp failed to hold on to Markus Olsson’s cross from the left but Rhodes was unable to collect the loose ball.
Cherries looked in little danger and were moving the ball about with confidence and flair, but were made to pay when Rhodes capitalised on some defensive dawdling from Cook before cutting inside on to his left foot and slotting underneath Camp.
And things got even worse for Howe’s men seven minutes later when Rovers captain Hanley leapt highest to meet Tom Cairney’s corner from the left and head majestically into the roof of the net.
It was 3-0 on 24 minutes as the hosts threatened to run riot. Under pressure, Howe’s back four failed to effectively clear the ball, which was picked up by Craig Conway 25 yards out. His shot took a wicked deflection off team-mate Gestede and flew beyond Camp.
To the delight of the home fans moments later, Matt Ritchie blazed woefully over when well placed.
It should have been 4-0 just before the half-hour, but Rhodes’s exquisite left-foot shot on the turn bounced back off the post after great work from Olsson down the left.
Camp was tested again five minutes before the break when he saved from Ben Marshall’s shot, but Cherries were still under real pressure and uncharacteristically all at sea in defence.
Howe’s team talk would almost certainly have not been for the faint-hearted, while the Cherries boss replaced Ritchie by bringing on Ryan Fraser for the second half.
Robinson denied Yann Kermorgant as Cherries searched for a way back into the game, the Rovers keeper at full stretch to his right when palming away the Frenchman’s snapshot from around 20 yards.
Substitute Fraser blazed into the side netting moments later. There was a feeling already that Howe’s side were going to get nothing from this game, no matter how hard they tried.
That thought was epitomised when Robinson turned Callum Wilson’s low drive around the post on 54 minutes before again denying the Cherries striker before the hour mark.
Howe’s side were clearly reacting positively to the manager’s thoughts at half-time. There was more thought and invention in their attacking exploits. More solidity to their defending.
Rovers, though, although seemingly content to defend what they had already earned, were always a threat, substitute Josh King’s goal-bound shot being blocked by Tommy Elphick on 66 minutes. Alex Baptiste’s header from the corner flew narrowly over Camp’s crossbar.
Cherries finally got a break on nine minutes from time when referee Geoff Eltringham pointed to the spot after Adam Smith had been felled by Baptiste. Substitute Pitman dispatched the spot kick to at least spark some interest in the final stages of the game.
King, impressive during the second period, should have capped his performance with a goal on 86 minutes but fired over the crossbar after fine work from Conway. Harry Arter did the same moments later at the other end.
Cook, though, atoned for his earlier mistake and set up a frantic finale when he headed Charlie Daniels’s corner past Robinson early in second half stoppage time, while during a dramatic scramble moments before the final whistle, Elphick’s shot was blocked on the line.
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