THIS wasn’t the gluttonous Boxing Day feast Cherries fans were hoping for – it was more of a post-Christmas Day snack.
Nervy at 1-0, yet beyond comfortable at 2-0, Cherries’ 10 shots on target should have seen them do a Chelsea and completely ruin Yeovil’s festivities.
As it was, they had to ‘settle’ for 3-0. But perhaps that is a sentence that sums up this team, their mentality and their will to win.
At the forefront of that ethos, instilled by Eddie Howe’s return in October, are the wide men.
It was the 90th minute at Dean Court yesterday and Cherries were 3-0 in front and coasting. But rather than rely on a merry game of keep-ball, Simon Francis tore down the right flank like it was the early exchanges and whipped in a deadly cross for substitute Josh McQuoid.
Ditto Charlie Daniels on numerous occasions, who was up and down more than the stock market.
But it was Lewis Grabban who truly epitomises the confidence and, at times, contented arrogance of Howe’s team.
No ball is dead in the eyes of Grabban and no defender is too big or too strong. He chased everything all afternoon in between battering Richard Hinds and Byron Webster.
It should be remembered that this was a player utilised as a winger earlier in the season and who, since being restored to his natural position through the middle, has plundered nine of his 10 goals this season since Howe took the reins.
The stats don’t lie and neither do the gates, with 8,016 piling through the turnstiles to make a mockery of the rain and the floods.
Their Boxing Day bravery was rewarded with a second-half |performance that truly rubber-stamped Cherries’ creden-|tials, not just for the play-offs, but for the automatic promotion slots.
It wasn’t all plain sailing in the driving Dorset rain, however.
Even after Grabban had handed Cherries the lead, some nervy moments at the back and missed chances at the other end made sure the home fans weren’t overwhelmed with the compla-|cency 14 unbeaten games can generate.
Grabban started and finished what Howe described as the best move of the first-half (‘first-half’ as there were many more in the second) when he linked well with Eunan O’Kane to set Marc Pugh free down the left.
Pugh’s cut-back was behind Brett Pitman, but Grabban appeared from nowhere to lash the ball home from inside the box.
Other than Paddy Madden’s early half-chance, Yeovil created little in the way of clear-cut opportunities, but did look threatening going forward.
That, coupled with some momentary first-half sloppiness in the Cherries back four, was enough to suggest that victory was far from a done deal.
Dominic Blizzard was unlucky moments into the second half when his shot through a crowd of players trickled wide with David James rooted to the spot in his six-yard box, while the same man headed on to the roof of the net 20 minutes from time when well-placed to attack James Hayter’s cross from the left.
But it was a case of fits and starts for Yeovil, as much as their continued attempts to thwart the solid second-half endeavours of Steve Cook and Tommy Elphick possibly deserved a goal.
Marc Pugh tried his luck with a speculative effort from the edge of the box as the murmurings of |discomfiture continued in the Main Stand, before a divine moment of skill from Harry Arter eased the tension.
Francis’s cross from the right found its way back out to Arter on the edge of the penalty area, who fired a stunning left-foot half-volley into the top corner.
As the Glovers finally wilted, Cherries smelled blood.
Pitman failed to get on the end of McQuoid’s cross just after Arter’s goal, while a poor touch from Grabban cost him when in a one-on-one situation with impressive keeper Marek Stech.
The Czech also beat away Pugh’s effort after the winger had bobbed and weaved his way into the box from the left, while another Arter half-volley this time failed to find its intended target.
Those chances mattered not, however, and Pitman made it 3-0 from the penalty spot five minutes from time after Yeovil defender Luke Ayling had handled inside the box under pressure from Grabban.
Match facts and Echo merit marks
Cherries: (4-4-2) James 7.5; Francis 8, Cook 7.5, Elphick 7.5, Daniels 8; Fogden 8 (McQuoid, 66), Arter 8, O’Kane 7.5, Pugh 7.5; Pitman 7.5 (McDermott, 88), Grabban 8.5* (Hughes, 88).
Unused subs: Tubbs, Fletcher, Partington, Jalal (g/k).
Booked: Arter, Elphick.
Glovers: (4-4-2) Stech; Ayling, Hinds (Marsh-Brown, 66), Webster (Ugwu, 86), Burn; Williams (Reid, 51), Blizzard, Upson, McAllister; Hayter, Madden.
Unused subs: Brundle, Stewart (g/k).
Referee: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).
Attendance: 8,016 (665 away fans).
Star Man - Lewis Grabban
Not only did Grabban take his goal extremely well, contributing to the build-up before putting Cherries in front, he once again ran accomplished defenders ragged with his desire, pace and robust hold-up play.
His partnership with Brett Pitman, himself no slouch in the work rate stakes despite lacking game time, looks like bearing fruit in 2013 – a frightening prospect for Cherries’ promotion rivals.
Grabban could have bagged himself a second hat-trick of the season had he got on the end of two deadly crosses from Charlie Daniels from the left flank.
But the stats won’t worry either Grabban or boss Eddie Howe, such is the confidence ebbing and flowing through this exciting Cherries team.