MANAGER Eddie Howe felt a first-half shutout had been pivotal as Cherries stood firm to claim a hard-earned 3-1 victory over League One rivals Crewe yesterday.

Striker Brett Pitman took most of the plaudits as his hat-trick – including two penalties – lifted Cherries into fifth place and saw them close the gap on the leaders to seven points.

Together with Pitman’s goalscoring exploits, Howe said a solid defensive display in the first half had been key as Crewe took the game to the hosts for long periods.

Howe said: “I was really pleased because it was a difficult game for us. It was always going to be hard because we have had a lot of games and done a lot of travelling recently and Crewe had had a long time to prepare for us.

“The pitch was heavy and, physically, I thought we looked a bit leggy in the first half and didn’t have our usual spring in the step. To come in leading 1-0 was really pleasing because it would have been easy to come in 1-0 or 2-0 down on the back of that.

“Crewe played very well in the first half and caused us problems. We couldn’t read what system they were going to play as they have chopped and changed so that is always a strength. They played with their wide men very narrow and overloaded us in the middle of the pitch.

“Although we couldn’t get to grips with it in the first half, the good news was that we came in leading 1-0 and didn’t concede. I thought that was the deciding factor in the game.”

Pitman opened the scoring from the spot after Marc Pugh had been felled in the eighth minute and added a second following good work by Josh McQuoid midway through the second half.

And although substitute Ryan Colclough halved the arrears in the 75th minute, Pitman’s second penalty, following a foul on Wes Fogden, saw Cherries maintain their excellent home record.

Howe added: “The lads ground out a really good win. We were excellent in the second half and had our flow back. We were missing Charlie Daniels who is a pivotal player for us so to come out on top was hugely satisfying.

“The players found their rhythm in the second half. We were more progressive with our passing. In the first half, we were too slow, too laboured and we were taking too long on the ball. We were being negative and going back to our goalkeeper too often. That isn’t what has brought us our success here so we reminded them of a few things at half-time. The players were dead on their feet at the end and again they gave everything.”