CHERRIES boss Eddie Howe insisted referee Mark Heywood had made the wrong call over the controversial free kick which handed Derby County victory this afternoon.

With four minutes to play, the Cheshire official ruled that Cherries skipper Tommy Elphick had brought down Will Hughes on the edge of the penalty area despite vehement protestations from the visitors.

However, County's top scorer Chris Martin took full advantage, rifling home a sublime, swerving match-winner direct from the free kick to give the Rams a slender 1-0 success at Pride Park.

It cruelly denied Cherries a first clean sheet on the road since August and a share of the spoils against high-flying Derby at the end of an even encounter.

And Howe, who was also left frustrated by a host of missed chances in the first half, was adamant Elphick had won the ball cleanly.

Howe said: “We felt hard done by over the goal and how it came about but that was life for us today.

“My immediate reaction was that it wasn’t (a free kick). I thought Tommy took the ball and his reaction spoke volumes for me.

“The referee has had to make a quick decision, it has gone against us and the lad has stuck in the top corner.

“I had a good view, it was on my side and I thought Tommy took the ball.”

But despite being disappointed by his side’s profligacy, the Cherries manager was heartened by a battling display against another of the second tier’s big guns.

He added: “We should have been ahead at half-time and had our backs to the wall a little bit in the second half but we defended really well and I couldn’t see Derby scoring from open play.

“I thought we defended very well from the front and the work rate of the front two was matched by the rest of the team in a really good rearguard display.

“We created good chances and also had really good situations we didn’t make the most of.

“There were counter-attacking opportunities, two against ones, three against twos, where we ultimately made bad decisions and didn’t end up with the outcome we wanted.

“But the pleasing thing was the never-say-die attitude of the players. They never gave up and even late in the game they were trying to get a point. If we keep performing like that we’ll be okay.

“You look at our recent games against Leicester, Burnley and Derby in quick succession and we haven’t been a million miles away from any of those sides.

“We narrowly lost two of those games which could have gone either way so I think we should take a lot of confidence from that going into our remaining games.”