A WAVE of excitement greeted Eddie Howe’s Cherries return and, on this evidence, with good reason.
Thoroughly dominant – that was the most fitting description of this latest Cherries performance.
Attacking with pace, invention and flair, the only disappointment was their failure to score more.
Cherries created chances at will, particularly in the first half, and it took an inspired display from Shrews stopper Chris Weale to deny them a landslide victory.
Although Howe might have been left scratching his head at Cherries’ failure to be out of sight by the interval, there would have been few complaints among the purring home faithful come full-time.
Early strikes from Charlie Daniels and Josh McQuoid proved enough to make it six matches unbeaten since Howe arrived back in Dorset.
It may be too early to put Cherries in the League One promotion picture and there is still room for improvement defensively.
But it is becoming increasingly evident that only a fine team will halt their stylish charge.
Starved of goals under former manager Paul Groves, Cherries fans have been drunk on entertainment since Howe walked back through the Dean Court doors.
With no fewer than 14 goals under his guidance ahead of tonight’s clash, spoiled supporters have probably struggled to keep count.
The home faithful were again reaching for an abacus within three minutes of this humdinger.
Daniels was the first to add to Cherries’ tally when his low left-footed free-kick, which was struck firmly enough, was somehow allowed to fly straight through the visitors’ wall and beyond the helpless Weale.
And fans could have been forgiven for replacing the abacus with a calculator just two minutes later when McQuoid boosted the burgeoning goals-for column.
The impressive Pugh was already proving a serious handful against his former club and Cherries’ second owed much to the Lancastrian’s guile.
Having been released by Harry Arter, Pugh teed up Lee Barnard to fire against the woodwork. But the Saints loan man retained possession and found Pugh perfectly placed to pick out McQuoid with a superb cross which begged to be headed home. McQuoid gladly obliged.
With Cherries operating at the tempo demanded by Howe since his return, Shrewsbury looked vulnerable virtually every time the hosts poured forward.
But without a league win on the road all season, Graham Turner’s men got a much-needed break in the 14th minute. Cherries captain Miles Addison, restored to the starting line-up alongside David James and Barnard, led the protests after he had been deemed to have felled Marvin Morgan in the penalty area. Referee Trevor Kettle had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Shrews captain Matt Richards coolly converted.
However, Cherries responded by playing arguably some of their best attacking football of the season.
Although the Shrews threatened on the break, they were troubled by a rampant Cherries team that should have extended their advantage on numerous occasions before the break.
Simon Francis’s 25-yarder brought a good stop from keeper Weale before Weale produced an excellent save from Pugh’s downward header.
Weale was again the hero as he blocked bravely at the feet of Lewis Grabban before fending away Arter’s vicious volley after the playmaker had showed perfect technique to meet Grabban’s cross.
Francis, again trying his luck from range, lashed into the side netting as Cherries continued to lay siege to the Shrewsbury goal.
Jon Taylor’s pace was keeping the Cherries backline on their toes and from a rare Shrews foray forward, Arter produced a sliding block to repel Aaron Wildig’s goalbound shot.
Playing at pace and utilising Pugh at every opportunity, Cherries were still finding holes in the Shrews defence and Grabban should have converted when clean through, only for the inspired Weale to save again.
Pugh found the side netting from 20 yards at the end of an impressive opening period for Cherries, the only frustration being their failure to convert numerous opportunities.
After the interval, the match initially continued in a familiar vein as Grabban headed over from close range before the outstanding Weale leapt to his left to tip over a ferocious Arter 25-yarder.
Barnard had a header routinely saved during a dip in the proceedings as Shrewsbury enjoyed a spell of possession without carving out any clear chances.
With the lead still at just one goal, Cherries survived a scare following a defensive mix-up. Dealing with an Addison backpass, James saw his hurried clearance charged down by Morgan and the hosts were relieved to see the ball fly narrowly wide of the unguarded net.
That proved to be the last worrying moment for Cherries as they closed out the match comfortably, despite not hitting the heights of the opening 45 minutes.
Arter fired straight at Weale following fine work from McQuoid on the right flank.
Addison then headed wide in the closing stages as Cherries again failed to add to their tally.
But that mattered little in the bigger picture as the Howe momentum showed no signs of stopping any time soon.
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