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Meldrum's Verdict: AFC Bournemouth 5 Millwall 2
A GLANCE at the Millwall bench is like a who’s who of football’s battle-hardened fighters.
Mick Harford, Neil Harris and Kevin Pressman all boast the scars of dogged professional careers, borne out in Harris’s case by an unrivalled love for Millwall. He is the club’s favourite son.
Then there is Steve Lomas, the manager.
He sat, head bowed, in the dug-out as his team capitulated in a very un-Millwall way here.
It some respects, it was business as usual. Alan Dunne became the most sent-off man in Millwall’s history when he was dismissed following a second yellow card for deliberate handball in the second half. He had scythed down Marc Pugh for his first booking.
Steve Cook was struck by a coin thrown, apparently, from the visiting supporters following Lewis Grabban’s penalty and ill-advised yet somewhat understandable goal celebration in front of the Lions’ makeshift den.
But this was not Millwall. It was a role reversal. The men from the sleepy seaside and the boys from South London’s concrete jungle.
Cherries were given an injection of life by the youngest of those men, Ryan Fraser.
And as the Scot’s strike nestled in the net, the life in Lomas ebbed away.
Just as they had done against Blackburn a week ago, Cherries had given themselves something of a mountain to climb.
They had started the brighter, boosting an already crackling atmosphere with some neat interplay and swift movement during the opening five minutes.
Then, on six minutes, Martyn Waghorn was played through beautifully by the aptly-named Liam Trotter and the stocky striker slipped the ball neatly under Cherries debutant Stephen Henderson.
And they were dancing in the precinct of Nelson Mandela House just four minutes later when Waghorn returned the favour and Trotter chipped over Henderson.
The goal owed much to Cherries’ returning midfielder Harry Arter, who carelessly gave away the ball on halfway and left his team-mates chasing their tails. Arter was to later make amends in style.
But at that point it looked like three defeats on the spin for Eddie Howe and some awkward post-match questions.
The temporary den rocked to the sounds of ‘No one likes us, we don’t care’.
Cherries huffed and puffed. Fraser’s shot was blocked following a neat training ground corner routine on 12 minutes. Arter blazed over on the volley two minutes later, while a Waghorn effort missed the target at the other end.
Lee Martin could have made it 3-0 after 26 minutes but, having done the hard work when giving his man the slip cutting in from the left hand side, he fired wide.
Cherries’ opening half-hour was summed up by Simon Francis’s cross when well positioned down the right. There were no red and black shirts to be seen inside the penalty area.
Grabban and Tokelo Rantie, preferred again to Brett Pitman, both struggled to make an impression. Grabban’s shot from distance was fumbled by David Forde and gathered at the second attempt. Rantie blasted wide four minutes before the break. Then up stepped Fraser.
It was a wonderful goal from the Scot.
He picked up the ball just outside the box and cleverly opened up enough space to pull the trigger before curling a sublime right-foot shot past Forde. An injection of life it proved to be as Cherries were magnificent from that moment on.
Jack Collison’s thunderous effort flew with venom over the crossbar. Grabban’s shot missed the target after superb work between Arter and Collison in midfield.
Half-time was something of an inconvenience but came and went quickly enough. Cherries were back in their stride from the first touch of the second period.
Collison looks to be an astute loan signing. He played in Pugh three minutes after the restart and the Lancastrian fired over from a tight angle.
Two minutes later, though, Cherries were deservedly level.
Ian Harte’s corner was thumped home by the head of Steve Cook, continuing a breathless period of play that would see Cherries score four times in just 16 minutes.
Harte’s 54th-minute free kick crashed back off the crossbar, before Arter’s volley on the turn handed Cherries the lead.
The home supporters were still sitting down following Harte’s free kick, but they may as well have remained standing as 3-2 became 4-2 just four minutes later.
Cook, who was a colossus in defence and a nuisance going forward, sent over a long throw deep into the Millwall box. Dunne handled and was sent off by referee Lee Collins, while Grabban, booed mercilessly throughout by supporters who did the same even when he played for their club, stepped up and planted an inch-perfect penalty past Forde.
As if a wonderful game needed more, Grabban ran in celebration past the away section of the East Stand.
It was years of pent-up frustration coming out, but the sight of 1,300 Millwall charging towards the advertising hoardings added an unnecessary and ugly outer layer to a brilliant performance. Even the impenetrable police looked scared.
In the aftermath of Grabban’s delirium, Cook was struck by a missile thrown from the crowd, later confirmed as a £1 coin.
Amidst the chaos, Lomas remained firmly in his seat.
Scott Malone, as much maligned by the Dean Court faithful as Grabban is by those at the Den, blasted a free kick just over the bar shortly after the hour mark, while Pugh failed to connect at the far post following an incisive free kick from the impressive Harte.
As Cherries’ midfield steamrollered on, Lomas rose from his seat to introduce Nicky Bailey in an effort to stem the tide. It was far too late and made little difference.
As heart rates finally began to slow, substitute Andrew Surman fired wide and another effort from Collison was charged down. Surman tried his luck unsuccessfully again as the game entered stoppage time.
And it was Fraser who, fittingly, having given Cherries that first-half lifeline, had the final say when he was chopped down by Lions sub Paul Connolly inside the Millwall box. Mr Collins pointed to the spot for a second time, but on this occasion it was Pitman, on for Arter, who slotted past Forde to make it 5-2.
No wild celebrations. No money on the pitch. It was almost boring compared with what had gone before, but Howe was still standing.
Lomas, presumably, could not wait to take his seat on the coach.
Star man - Steve Cook
Cook is fast-tracking himself quickly towards the Dean Court centre-half hall of fame.
Alongside Elliott Ward, he was rock solid having overcome the disappointment of falling 2-0 behind early on.
A ball-playing centre-half, Cook was inventive and industrious when playing out from the back and delivered several penetrative balls forward for both Lewis Grabban and Tokelo Rantie.
His long throw caused Bedlam in the Millwall box to win the first penalty and his header for the second goal was truly towering. A stunning display.
Cherries: (4-4-2) Henderson 7.5; Francis 7.5, Ward 8, Cook 9*, Harte 8; Fraser 8, Arter 7.5 (Pitman, 86), Collison 8, Pugh 8 (O'Kane, 83); Grabban 8, Rantie 7.5 (Surman, 77).
Unused subs: Hughes, Elphick, Thomas, Jalal (g/k).
Lions: (4-2-3-1) Forde; Dunne, Robinson, Osborne, Malone; Abdou, Trotter (Morison, 58); Derry (Bailey, 58, Martin, Woolford; Waghorn (Connolly, 61).
Unused subs: Lowry, Keogh, Easter, Bywater (g/k).Booked: Dunne, Malone, Derry.
Sent off: Dunne.
Attendance: 9,624 (1,378 away fans).
Referee: Lee Collins (Surrey).
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