MANAGER Eddie Howe admitted Cherries’ match-winning performers had failed to fire as Sheffield United moved into pole position in the promotion race.

Howe said he felt Cherries had lacked their usual attacking spark after watching the Blades claim a 1-0 victory at Dean Court yesterday.

Danny Wilson’s men climbed to the League One summit – and Cherries dropped to sixth – following the result in a game which never lived up to its big billing.

Barry Robson rattled the crossbar for the resilient visitors in the third minute before Lewis Grabban and Harry Arter came close during a fast and furious opening.

But after Jamie Murphy had capitalised on a Marcos Painter slip to put the Blades in front, the Bramall Lane outfit successfully thwarted Cherries’ attacking threats without any major scares.

Howe, who suffered a home league defeat for the first time since returning to the club in October, said: “I thought we were the better team, we had a lot of possession and full credit to Sheffield United for how they defended.

“I have said a million times before, teams will do that to us and give us full respect.

“We huffed and puffed and kept the ball really well but we never hurt them enough and never asked enough questions.

“Our big flair players, our match winners, didn’t perform. We need our flair players and match winners to dig us out of a hole sometimes.

“It was a poor goal we conceded. I think whenever you do that against a team with Sheffield United’s experience and their game management, which was very good, it is always going to be a tall order to get back into it.

“I think we needed to be a little bit braver in terms of one-v-ones and attacking people.

“Our strikers needed to get involved in the game more but you have to give credit to the opposition. That would have been part of their game-plan – to nullify our threats.

“In terms of effort and commitment from the players, it was very good. In terms of quality, I felt we were missing our usual spark.”

Blades boss Wilson said: “We had to have the physicality, we had to defend properly but what pleased me more than anything was how we thought out our game-plan.

“Between the ears, there was some intelligent passing and intelligent pressing all the way through. They didn’t get through us virtually all afternoon.

“Yes, we had to defend and, yes, they had some possession. But it was all around the halfway line and they didn’t seem to be able to get through the lines that we produced, which was great.

“The players were clever enough to understand what would cause Bournemouth problems, both in and out of possession. The team played terrifically well.”