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Wadley's Verdict: Stevenage 0 Cherries 1
BRETT Pitman converted a first-half penalty as Cherries got their promotion push back on track tonight amid angry late scenes at Broadhall Way.
The Cherries frontman struck the winner on 38 minutes after Stevenage keeper Steve Arnold had controversially been deemed to have felled Eunan O’Kane.
Cherries looked comfortable against a poor Boro outfit despite twice being forced into reshuffles as they lost both Matt Ritchie and his replacement Ryan Fraser to injury.
Stevenage never really looked like seriously testing Cherries stopper Ryan Allsop as Eddie Howe’s men successfully ended their five-match losing streak.
In a dramatic finale out of character with the uneventful clash, Boro defender Darius Charles was sent off after receiving a second yellow following a challenge on midfielder Harry Arter.
The clash sparked furious confrontations on the pitch and touchline and resulted in Arter becoming the third Cherries player forced off with injury.
Cherries’ victory appeared to have come at a heavy cost as the midfielder departed on a stretcher but boss Howe later confirmed that Arter’s leg injury was not as bad as first feared, while Fraser had sustained a knock and Ritchie a gashed head.
Howe, bidding to end Cherries’ run of losses, had recalled Arter following his two-match ban and he also drafted in Wes Fogden, with Shaun MacDonald and Josh McQuoid named on the bench.
Stevenage, on the back of 12 defeats in their past 15 matches, started well enough and Lucas Akins almost caught Cherries cold on a bitter evening as he lashed a long-range strike narrowly wide.
But as the match wore on, Boro looked devoid of confidence for long periods as Cherries, particularly in the opening 45 minutes, displayed a calmness which belied their recent record.
The Dorset outfit should have found themselves in front in the 16th minute. When O’Kane flicked a Ritchie ball into Pitman’s path, Cherries’ mercurial frontman showed excellent vision to send Lewis Grabban clear. But after taking time to compose himself, the club’s leading scorer shot too close to Arnold who blocked with his outstretched left leg.
While Stevenage offered little going forward, Cherries dictated possession without carving out a host of clear-cut opportunities.
Ritchie tested Arnold from range as he unleashed a powerful 20-yarder following Pitman’s quick free-kick.
However, that proved to be the former Swindon star’s last act as he was substituted after a nasty clash of heads with Miguel Comminges.
Already without first-choice left-back Charlie Daniels, Cherries had to reshuffle with Fogden deputising and teenage winger Fraser introduced on the right wing.
Despite the change, the visitors took a deserved lead on 38 min utes, albeit in controversial circumstances. Referee Lee Collins felt the wrath of the home faithful when he opted to point to the spot after the charging O’Kane had been felled by Arnold after chipping a shot over the onrushing keeper.
After lengthy protests, cool customer Pitman calmly slotted home as Arnold committed himself far too early.
Greg Tansey, doing his best Jonny Wilkinson impression as he lined up a free-kick, fired straight at Allsop as out-of-form Stevenage struggled before the interval.
Boro began the second half at a higher tempo and immediately attempted to force Cherries on to the back foot.
And Cherries were grateful to Steve Cook for keeping them in front as the stand-in skipper produced a fine clearance off the line after Akins had headed a Tansey free-kick towards goal.
Tansey and Luke Freeman failed to find the target from range as Boro continued to press for a leveller.
Cherries boss Howe was again required to juggle his resources when Fraser limped off 20 minutes into the second half. Richard Hughes was tasked with utilising his vast experience by shielding the back four, with Grabban moving to the right and Pitman leading the line on his own.
While also providing some welcome touches of class, Pitman set the tone from the front with his work-rate and hold-up play.
Happy to soak up pressure with Stevenage offering very little, Cherries were rock-solid in defence with Fogden particularly impressive in his unfamiliar role.
Grabban fired wide from 20 yards before Charles was dismissed for his part in the late flashpoint. Pitman was booked for his reaction to the incident as Arter was carried off.
However, Cherries managed to coolly play out time without any major scares to end their winless run and enhance their promotion prospects.
Tonight’s other League One results: Brentford 2 Swindon 1, Coventry 2 Colchester 2, Orient 1 Portsmouth 0, MK Dons 2 Shrewsbury 3, Notts County 0 Preston 1, Walsall 2 Tranmere 0, Yeovil 2 Crawley 2.
Boro: (4-4-2) Arnold; Comminges, Roberts, Charles, Hills; Akins (Jeffery, 81), Grant, Tansey, Freeman; Haber, Hoskins (Shroot, 65). Unused subs: Iro, Allen, Joseph, Beleck, Day (g/k).
Booked: Charles, Jeffery
Sent off: Charles
Cherries: (4-4-2) Allsop 6.5; Francis 7, Cook 8, Seaborne 8, Ritchie (Fraser, 33, Hughes, 65); Fogden 8*, Arter 7.5 (MacDonald, 90), O’Kane 7.5, Pugh 7; Grabban 7, Pitman 8. Unused subs: McQuoid, Tubbs, Hughes, Fletcher, Jalal (g/k).
Referee: Lee Collins (Surrey)