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Wadley's Verdict: AFC Bournemouth 1 Ipswich Town 1
EFFERVESCENT, energetic and entertaining, Cherries provided a fitting finale to 2013 at Dean Court.
Those who regularly make the pilgrimage to this footballing venue are used to years of epic proportions.
But even the most hardened members of Cherries’ fan-base, raised on a diet of both the sublime and ridiculous, would have struggled to dream this tale.
With promotion to the Championship, a visit from the Galacticos of Real Madrid and a series of show-stopping performances, it has been a remarkable 12 months.
Even for a club which has had more than its fair share of ups and downs during a tumultuous recent history, this will surely be hailed as a truly vintage year.
At the helm stands Eddie Howe. Prior to his return in October 2012, he had already done enough to create a lasting legacy during a successful first stint in charge.
And after a year which saw him lead Cherries back to the promised land, he indelibly etched his name into the history books as the club’s most successful manager.
From the momentous Greatest Escape to his first promotion as boss in the face of a transfer embargo and minimal funds, the then inexperienced Howe scaled rarefied heights.
But by delivering a brave, bold, footballing team in one of the world’s tightest and most physically demanding leagues, he has now taken Cherries to new levels. They have probably never had it so good.
If further evidence were required as to precisely how far Cherries had come during the past year, it was provided during another accomplished display today.
As with any team adapting to a new division, they are not yet the complete package. After such a rapid rise, it would be unfair to expect otherwise.
But finishing aside, it was as impressive a performance as Cherries have given in the Championship. Against in-form Ipswich, the hosts were a force.
Howe has always developed attacking teams who play with verve. After finding their feet during the early weeks of the season, this Cherries side is no different.
And with a starting line-up boasting an average age of just 25 and no players older than 30, Cherries should only be heading in one direction.
While Cherries comfortably thumped a limited Yeovil outfit on Boxing Day, Ipswich represented a major test of the Dorset club’s credentials.
Arriving unbeaten in six, on the back of one defeat in their past 10 matches and managed by seasoned campaigner Mick McCarthy, it looked a daunting task.
However, Cherries defied the odds to dominate for long spells. For all their pleasing play, though, one problem so far this term has been a lack of ruthlessness at both ends. And it again proved an issue here.
The Tractor Boys began brightly. Forcing a number of corners and delivering dangerous crosses, Ipswich gave Cherries’ defence a stern early examination.
Marshalled well throughout by Tommy Elphick and Elliott Ward, Cherries restricted the visitors to long-range shots from David McGoldrick and Frank Nouble. And once settled, the hosts began to lay siege to the Ipswich goal.
Likely lads Lewis Grabban, Ryan Fraser and Matt Ritchie were heavily involved, while Andrew Surman also emerged as a driving force from midfield, as Cherries tore into Ipswich with gusto.
Good work from fit-again Josh McQuoid released Grabban on the right. Fraser met his cross firmly, only for Ipswich captain Luke Chambers to superbly block.
Teenage winger Fraser continued to cause problems and he should have done better when he sliced wide after latching on to a wayward Aaron Cresswell clearance.
Impressive Ipswich keeper Dean Gerken was to prove a regular thorn in Cherries’ side.
He recovered well to tip wide after Eunan O’Kane’s floated cross-shot had threatened to creep inside the far post.
From the corner, Gerken was sharp enough to gather a low Simon Francis shot. It was a sign of things to come. Gerken produced an exceptional save to deny Grabban on 35 minutes. The opening owed much to a delicious Surman backheel which released Grabban, but Gerken stormed off his line, narrowed the angle and stood firm to bravely block the shot with his chest.
It was beginning to look like a frustrating day for Grabban. He met Fraser’s deep cross well enough but centre-half Tommy Smith was perfectly placed to produce a last-gasp intervention.
The concern for the vast majority of a season’s best home crowd was the scoreline. For all their efforts, Cherries had nothing to show for it.
And, on 59 minutes, those fears were realised when their profligacy was punished as Daryl Murphy provided a clinical finish to Nouble’s cross as Ipswich struck.
However, Brett Pitman and Marc Pugh were introduced from the bench and the substitutions worked the oracle.
Pugh’s deep left-wing cross found Ritchie and his header eventually reached the onrushing Surman. The loan star unleashed a fierce drive which Gerken could only parry and poacher Pitman was on hand to rifle home.
Cherries saw an effort ruled out moments later when referee Phil Gibbs spotted a foul by Tommy Elphick on Gerken, who spilled the ball into his own net.
The busy Ipswich keeper then saved solidly from a dipping Surman volley and an Elphick effort as the visitors defended resolutely late on.
At the end, the reaction of Ipswich boss McCarthy said it all. As he punched the air on the final whistle, his delight at claiming a point at Dean Court was evident.
Ipswich Town celebrating a hard-fought draw against Cherries tells you all you need to know about 2013.
And Cherries’ performance gave all the insight required to suggest 2014 could be just as memorable.
STAR MAN – Andrew Surman
The Norwich City loan man was terrific against the Canaries’ arch rivals. It was not only Surman’s garish yellow boots that stood out in this excellent display.
Composed in possession, hard-working off the ball and inventive going forward, it was a complete performance. Surman also played a crucial role in Cherries’ equaliser as his fierce shot was parried into Brett Pitman’s path.
On recent evidence and form, the 27-year-old will surely be one of Cherries’ main midfield performers in the second half of the season. Alongside him, Eunan O’Kane again further enhanced his flourishing reputation.
MATCH FACTS AND ECHO MERIT MARKS
Cherries: (4-1-4-1) Camp 7; Francis 7, Elphick 7.5, Ward 7.5, Daniels 7; O’Kane 8; Ritchie 7.5, McQuoid 7 (Pitman, 60), Surman 8, Fraser 7.5 (Pugh, 73); Grabban 7.5.
Unused subs: Addison, Harte, Hughes, Thomas, Allsop (g/k).
Ipswich: (4-3-3) Gerken; Chambers, Berra, Smith, Cresswell; Hyam, Skuse, Tunnicliffe; Nouble (Taylor, 76), McGoldrick (Mings, 87), Murphy.
Unused subs: Tabb, Edwards, Anderson, Graham, Loach (g/k).
Referee: Phil Gibbs (West Midlands)
Attendance: 11,096 (including 1,412 away supporters)
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