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Meldrum's Verdict: AFC Bournemouth 3 Yeovil Town 0
CHERRIES had been threatening this for a while. But there was something extra in this execution of Yeovil – a ruthlessness to their finishing and a polished feel to some, at times, breathtaking Boxing Day football.
The game against Birmingham here two weeks ago had promised much, but had ultimately ended more in frustration and bewilderment than appreciation for what was a great performance in defeat.
This boasted the right result to go along with a stunning display. It was the complete performance.
The stats backed up Cherries’ dominance against the Blues, but the milestones came today.
Eunan O’Kane scored his first goal in the Championship. Cherries ended a barren Dean Court run that had seen them yield just one point in four games on their own turf prior to this victory. It was the first time they had registered back-to-back wins since returning to the second tier.
O’Kane is turning into quite a player. The Irishman is the cog that drives Cherries forward and enables them to play the kind of inspiring, passing football demanded by Eddie Howe.
He also commands the ground in front of the back four with cold-hearted maturity and a brutishness that defies his build. Behind him, Elliott Ward and Tommy Elphick dealt superbly with rare threats from Ishmael Miller and Joel Grant. They were immense.
Howe now appears to have largely settled on the spine of his team and it has shown in wins against Sheffield Wednesday and now Yeovil.
On paper at least, this fixture would have been viewed as something of a welcome respite following a tough run of games since Millwall were demolished 5-2 here in October – Cherries’ last victory on home soil before today.
Like the Lions, Yeovil have found life far from easy this season and, having gone down 1-0 to Blackburn on Saturday, it has been a Christmas to forget for Gary Johnson.
Cherries started brilliantly. After seven minutes, O’Kane fed Harry Arter at the start of a wonderful break. Charlie Daniels crossed for Lewis Grabban but the striker just failed to get on the end of the left-back’s delivery.
Moments later, Marek Stech saved from Andrew Surman at point-blank range. The sold-out crowd lifted.
Arter saw his shot blocked by Shane Duffy on nine minutes, before Lee Camp saved well at the near post from Grant at the other end.
Stech clawed Matt Ritchie’s header away after the winger had met Ryan Fraser’s cross on 17 minutes. Grabban’s follow-up shot sailed over the crossbar.
As Cherries picked up the pace, Ritchie took advantage of a slip from James McAllister to feed Grabban.
The striker, though, hesitated and was crowded out as he tried to round Stech.
It was a golden opportunity and the ghosts of Birmingham past were lingering in the crisp Boxing Day air.
As the half wore on, Arter’s free kick was easily saved by Stech, while another set-piece, this time from Daniels six minutes before half-time, was pushed around the post by the Glovers goalkeeper.
A minute later, Ward found himself in an advanced position and cut inside from the left. His right-foot curling shot was narrowly wide. Stech then beat away another Grabban effort.
It was chance after chance for Howe’s men. They should have gone in at half-time comfortably in front and many would have been sensing a festive bout of déjà-vu as opportunities continued to go begging.
To compel those concerns, Ward put the ball in the net on the stroke of half-time only to see his celebration in front of the main stand drowned out by a chorus of boos as referee Craig Pawson chalked off the effort for a foul by Elphick in the build-up.
The opening goal came five minutes after the restart, though.
Fraser’s initial shot was blocked, but Ritchie, loitering on the edge of the box, was able to gather the loose ball and blast past Stech.
He could have had a second just two minutes later, but was inches from getting on the end of Grabban’s cross from the left.
On 57 minutes, though, it was 2-0. And it was Ritchie again.
The winger’s curling shot, which looked to be on target, was helped past Stech by the head of Duffy. Two-nil and game over, although Johnson, perhaps, thought not after a treble substitution just after the hour. It was a last throw of the dice.
The imposing Ward was on his toes to slide in and deny Miller inside the six-yard box during a rare Glovers attack, before looking on with awe as O’Kane scored the third, and best, goal of the game.
Picking up the ball just inside the Yeovil half, O’Kane, as he had done on more than one occasion in the first half, set about charging directly at Johnson’s back four. He ran all of 30 yards and beat three men before slotting a left-foot shot past Stech. It was a stunning strike.
Efforts from Surman, who chipped a 70th-minute shot over the bar, and Ritchie, whose drive took a deflection past the post seven minutes from time, followed.
But Johnson’s men were spent, although there was time for Ed Upson’s shot from inside the box to come back off the post.
But today was all about Cherries banishing their home demons and, at a time of year when reflection is frowned upon in favour of looking forward, 2014 promises much.
STAR MAN – Eunan O’Kane
There is little that hasn’t already been said about midfield playmaker O’Kane.
He is fast becoming arguably the most important player in this blossoming Championship team.
O’Kane’s role in front of the back four is key and the Irishman has taken to it like a duck to water.
He adds protection to the defence and is the go-to man when breaking away from deep. His skill with the ball at his feet today was, at times, simply beautiful to watch and his goal was a festive dream.
Mentions should also go to centre-halves Tommy Elphick and Elliott Ward who were dictatorial at the heart of Eddie Howe’s defence.
MATCH FACTS AND ECHO MERIT MARKS
Cherries: (4-1-4-1) Camp 7.5; Francis 8, Ward 8.5, Elphick 8.5, Daniels 8; O’Kane 9*; Ritchie 8.5, Arter 8 (MacDonald, 60), Surman 8, Fraser 8 (Pugh, 81); Grabban 8 (Rantie, 74).
Unused subs: Addison, Pitman, Allsop (g/k).
Glovers: (4-4-1-1) Stech; Edwards (Hayter, 62), Fontaine, Duffy, McAllister (Davis, 62); Dawson, Lundstram (Foley, 62), Ralls, Grant; Upson; Miller.
Unused subs: Moore, Nana, Hoskins, Dunn (g/k).
Booked: Dawson, Lundstram, Upson, Ralls.
Referee: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire).
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