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Meldrum's Verdict: Bolton Wanderers 2 AFC Bournemouth 2
CHERRIES have learned to fight. At no stage during this game, which they should have won, did they look like a beaten team. What a trait that could be in this unforgiving league.
Eddie Howe’s side were guilty of only one thing here: A slow start.
It enabled Bolton, battered and bruised and with a manager under considerable fire, to gain an early stranglehold. It was careless and left a mountain to climb.
But Cherries are rather adept at scaling heights these days. Some of their possession football and attacking invention was joyous. They were 2-0 behind inside 32 minutes, but continued to create, largely through Harry Arter and Andrew Surman, who were magnificent.
Those two players, and Eunan O’Kane in the holding midfield role, stopped Bolton captain Jay Spearing dictating play. They also frustrated the home supporters. One in front of the press box felt Cherries had been “taking the Mickey” midway through the second half as they stroked the ball around with ease, slowly building chances.
The patience of Howe’s players is staggering. It frustrates supporters from time to time, that fans’ mentality demanding the ball reach at least the edge of the penalty box quickly and without fuss.
But how frustrating must it be for the opposition? Cherries wear down sides and they are starting to dominate established clubs in this division. They are also starting to eradicate the mistakes that cost them so early in this campaign. They are confident, commanding and brave.
They were at fault for the opener here, though, and against the likes of Burnley, who visit Dean Court on Saturday with the league’s most in-form strike partnership in tow, switching off could prove to be their downfall. It wasn’t here.
Arter went close during the early exchanges, his left-foot strike from distance fizzing past the post. At the other end, Simon Francis blocked Chung-Yong Lee’s effort. Chris Eagles then fired into the side netting.
A wonderful move on 15 minutes ended with Surman missing from close range, while goalkeeper Adam Bogdan saved well from Lewis Grabban after Matt Ritchie had played the striker in.
But despite seeing plenty of the ball, it was Bolton who looked more threatening. Cherries looked sluggish in defence, as if their minds were not keeping up with play.
Lee opened the scoring on 21 minutes. A cross from the right pinballed across goal before eventually being cleared by Grabban, but only as far as Spearing. He passed to Mark Davies who spotted Lee had given Marc Pugh the slip and superbly played in the South Korean. Lee Camp had little chance as he drove high and powerfully into the roof of the net.
Eleven minutes later, it was 2-0. Zat Knight’s long ball from deep saw Lukas Jutkiewicz slide in between Cherries centre-halves Tommy Elphick and Steve Cook, before neatly chesting down to his left foot and firing beyond Camp.
Cherries responded, though. And what a response.
Only seconds after Jutkiewicz’s strike, O’Kane and Surman linked well in midfield, before the loose ball fell to Grabban 30 yards out.
With referee Andrew Madley seemingly poised to stop play with Arter lying motionless having been sandwiched between O’Kane and Liam Trotter, Grabban unleashed a stunning strike that flew into the top corner. It was his best goal for Cherries.
It was also what did for the home side. Their shoulders slumped. They stopped playing, with Dougie Freedman’s post-match assessment that his players seem unable to cope with any kind of setback spot on.
Cherries continued to create openings after the break. Arter fired marginally wide. Cook’s header from an Ian Harte corner clipped the post.
Bolton had no answer to Cherries’ passing game. The more they toiled and hustled, the more they gave the ball away.
And Howe’s men were rewarded on 66 minutes when Francis stooped low at the near post to squeeze a header past Bogdan.
Howe had introduced both Tokelo Rantie and Yann Kermorgant just a minute before Francis’s equaliser and both men gave the manager plenty to think about before the Clarets arrive on the south coast on Saturday.
Kermorgant showed some neat touches, dropped deep to link with Arter and almost handed Cherries the lead with his first touch. His sublime effort was pushed away by Bogdan.
Rantie worked hard, ran the channels and was denied himself by Bogdan when the goalkeeper made himself big to block the South African’s shot.
The final eight minutes saw Bolton find another gear. It was too late, though, and Cherries defended superbly. Elphick headed clear. Arter threw himself in front of Andre Moritz’s shot from the edge of the box.
Howe has decisions to make regarding his team selection for Burnley’s visit. He could potentially have seen enough in Kermorgant’s brief cameo to change his approach against the Clarets.
But his primary concern will be ensuring no repeat of the first 30 minutes at the Reebok. Progress cannot stop.
Star man - Harry Arter
The midfielder was in the wars both before and during this clash. But he was back to somewhere near his best.
He worked hard with Eunan O’Kane and Andrew Surman to nullify Jay Spearing’s impact and virtually all of Cherries’ best attacking moves went through him.
Arter also created openings for himself and his goal threat will be key for Cherries at the business end of the season.
Lewis Grabban also deserves a mention for a wonderful individual goal and, as always, his tireless work rate.
Cherries: Camp 7.5, Francis 7.5, Cook 7.5, Elphick 7.5, Harte 7, O’Kane 7.5, Ritchie 7, Arter 8.5*, Surman 8 (Rantie, 65), Pugh 7 (Kermorgant, 65), Grabban 8 (MacDonald, 90).
Unused subs: Pitman, Smith, Fraser, Allsop (g/k).
Trotters: Bogdan, Baptiste, Mills, Knight, Ream, Spearing, Lee, Davies (Kamara, 58), Trotter (Moritz, 71), Eagles (Danns, 82), Jutkiewicz.
Unused subs: Pratley, White, Hall, Lonergan (g/k).
Referee: Andrew Madley (West Yorkshire).
Attendance: 14,336 (including 472 away supporters).