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AFC Bournemouth 1 Wigan Athletic 0: Match comment
FIRST it rained, then it poured. This game had the lot.
For 40 minutes, there was little sign of what was to develop into an epic, fiery duel.
The weather had been just about the most notable factor in an untidy, hard-fought opening.
But once Lewis Grabban had fired Cherries into the lead, the clash sparked to life with a vengeance.
It was football at its engrossing, controversial, debate-fuelling best. A red card, a missed penalty and a triumph for the underdog – you couldn’t have asked for more.
That was unless you were Wigan boss Owen Coyle. Judging by his furious touchline antics and post-match blast, he would have liked a different referee. And a different outcome. Coyle, his players and staff were enraged by Graham Scott’s decision to award Cherries a penalty and send off Callum McManaman.
Those two flashpoints came in a hectic five-minute spell which lit the fuse and generated the ugly scenes which set the tone for much of the bad blood to follow.
But while opinions will almost always differ on such topics, television replays suggested Scott got his decisions bang on.
The irate reactions did little but mask other frustrations for Wigan. In truth, the FA Cup holders’ problems emanated much closer to home, and they began long before Scott had delved into his pocket. The visitors were vulnerable at the back, bereft of ingenuity going forward and, in and around both penalty areas, clearly second best.
Penalties and red cards will always take centre stage and the only shame for Cherries was that those issues overshadowed, to some extent, a meritorious victory which befitted their status as a Championship club.
Eddie Howe’s men were not at their fluent best and it was never likely to be a spectacle of the highest quality in dire conditions but in an absorbing contest, the hosts carried enough menace to trouble a seasoned Latics side. Cherries’ pressing, commitment and resilience shackled Wigan and their danger men.
The game is all about character and Cherries, under Howe, have always had it in abundance. As ripostes to 6-1 maulings go, it was hugely encouraging.
“If a neutral had watched the game and been told ‘they conceded six last week’, they would have been amazed,” said Howe (pictured below). “That is full credit to the players for their response.”
Counterpart Coyle, still fuming at McManaman’s red card, said: “With all due respect to Bournemouth, without even getting to the heights that we can play, we dominated that game. We shot ourselves in the foot.”
Coyle’s claim of dominance had only the most slender of supporting evidence. Wigan controlled the early possession by utilising the extra man in a cultured midfield five. However, they mustered few clear openings and forced just one save from Ryan Allsop, a fairly routine tip over from James McCarthy’s dipping drive on seven minutes.
And while Cherries’ defence was exceptional in restricting the attacking gifts of Grant Holt, Shaun Maloney, Jean Beausejour and then James McClean, their frontline also carried the game’s greatest threat. Allowed space to get in behind, the pace of the refreshingly bold Ryan Fraser and in-form Grabban stretched the visitors.
Fresh from their Wembley Community Shield appearance against Manchester United, Wigan boasted a team packed with top-flight experience and international quality. But football pays little respect to reputations, and this was a day when Cherries enhanced theirs.
The hosts could and should have been ahead inside the opening minute when Fraser released Grabban, only for the impressive Scott Carson to block.
Wigan dictated possession without ever hurting Cherries and clear-cut openings proved scarce. When the goal did come, it was a gift. James Perch’s casual, ill-advised backpass provided a perfect assist for Grabban as he stormed through, rounded Carson and gratefully slotted home his and Cherries’ fourth of the league season.
Then, in a crazy five-minute spell, the incidents came thick and fast. Firstly, a clumsy Beausejour challenge on Brett Pitman left Scott with little other option than to point to the spot. However, Carson, Wigan’s best performer, won the mind games as he hopped up and down on his line before diving low to his left to keep out the usually unerring Pitman’s spot kick.
With highly-rated duo McClean and McManaman then introduced, Cherries might have expected a Wigan onslaught. It never materialised.
Instead, McManaman headed for an early bath after barely three minutes on the field. His lunge on Pitman in front of the visiting dugout saw Scott immediately produce a red card before chaos ensued.
Coyle vehemently protested as both sets of players and staff clashed in the heat of battle. Animated Coyle appeared particularly enraged by Ian Harte’s involvement as the two went virtually head to head on the touchline. Wigan’s non-playing squad members were also escorted from the directors’ area in the stands as tempers flared on and off the field.
With the match at boiling point, Wigan launched a series of direct balls, but a Cherries defence superbly marshalled by Steve Cook and Elliott Ward proved up to the task.
The Latics’ only serious opportunity of a leveller came when Leon Barnett rose highest to meet a corner, with Marc Pugh well placed to head off the line.
In truth, Cherries should have eased the tension as chances to kill the contest came and went, with Carson further displaying his skills with a tremendous save from Pitman’s wonderfully inventive chipped free-kick.
But that was the last of the breathtaking action as Cherries overcame the FA Cup holders. It was like 1984 all over again.
Howe added: “It is a big scalp. Wigan haven’t really weakened their squad in any way and, if anything, they have strengthened with the signings they have made. For us to beat them, even on home soil, is a real achievement.”
Howe has given the Dean Court faithful many magical moments. Amid all the controversy, this was another for the scrapbook.
STAR MAN - STEVE COOK
All the pre-match talk surrounded the threat posed by Grant Holt. It did not materialise.
The fact that the proven Premier League performer barely had a kick was due in no small part to a commanding display by Cook.
Together with Elliott Ward, the linchpins nullified the former Norwich man to the extent he was substituted after 65 minutes.
Cook was composed in possession and a calming, controlling influence in an excellent defensive effort.
Simon Francis and Ian Harte also successfully dealt with Wigan’s wealth of talent on the flanks.
Impressive Shaun MacDonald was typically altruistic in midfield.
MATCH FACTS AND MERIT MARKS
Cherries: (4-4-2) Allsop 7; Francis 8.5, Cook 9*, Ward 8.5, Harte 8.5; Fraser 7.5 (Thomas, 78), Arter 7, MacDonald 8.5, Pugh 7 (Elphick, 90); Pitman 8, Grabban 8.
Unused subs: O’Kane, Stockley, McDermott, Surman, Flahavan (g/k).
Booked: Harte, Allsop, Pitman, Francis.
Wigan: (4-1-4-1) Carson; Boyce, Barnett, Perch, Crainey; McCarthy; Maloney, Watson, McArthur (McManaman, 56), Beausejour (McClean, 56); Holt (Fortune, 65).
Unused subs: McCann, Gomez, Espinoza, Nicholls (g/k).
Booked: Beausejour, McClean.
Sent off: McManaman.
Referee: Graham Scott (Oxon).
Attendance: 9,097 (689 away fans).
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