CHERRIES striker Lewis Grabban’s stunning second-half goal helped Eddie Howe’s class of 2014 write another chapter in the Dean Court record books this evening.
Grabban’s 15th goal of the season earned Howe’s men a hat-trick of wins and three successive clean sheets in the second flight for only the second time in their history.
The feat was achieved for the first time by Harry Redknapp’s team in 1988 when Cherries finished 12th, the club’s highest finishing position.
Boss Howe made one change to the Cherries starting line-up with fit-again Harry Arter returning in place of Brett Pitman who was named among the substitutes.
Cherries came under some early fire and were forced to defend a couple of mule-like throws from Rovers’ Tommy Spurr but stood firm at the back as the missiles were hurled into their six-yard box.
Skipper Tommy Elphick stuck out a boot to block a long-range effort from Jason Lowe before Steve Cook nicked the ball off the right foot of Jordan Rhodes as Rovers’ leading marksman prepared to take aim.
However, and for all their early pressure, the hosts were thankful to goalkeeper Paul Robinson for making the first save of the game after five minutes.
The former England stopper parried from Grabban after the Cherries striker had raced into the 18-yard box and shot from a tight angle following Ian Harte’s measured pass.
Cherries goalkeeper Lee Camp scurried across his box to clutch a header from Rudy Gestede before Robinson had to get down smartly to his left to push Matt Ritchie’s low drive around the post.
Camp saved comfortably after Rhodes’s tame effort had failed to seriously trouble him, while Simon Francis skied a speculative strike high into the stand behind Robinson’s goal.
Harte’s free kick went straight down the throat of Robinson, his former Leeds team-mate, before Ritchie seized on the loose ball 20 yards from goal, only to drag his effort wide of the target.
Feeble claims for a free kick fell on deaf ears after Luke Varney had gone to ground under a Francis challenge as he prepared to go through on goal with referee David Webb unimpressed. Ritchie’s thunderous drive from 25 yards took a deflection off Lowe before flashing past the post – with Cherries twice going close to breaking the deadlock from successive corners.
Firstly, defender Cook arrived at the far post to meet Harte’s delivery with a powerful header, only to see his effort come crashing back off the base of the upright with Robinson beaten.
And from a well-worked flag kick, again taken by Harte, Francis let fly from around 25 yards with an alert Robinson tipping his rasping drive over the crossbar.
A chorus of boos from home supporters greeted the half-time whistle after Rovers’ early promise had petered out and Cherries had enjoyed the better of the opening period.
Cherries continued to probe at the start of the second half and a neat move involving Grabban and Francis ended with Ryan Fraser being stopped in his tracks as he prepared to pull the trigger.
Francis needed treatment after being caught by Varney’s strong challenge before Howe made his first change with Marc Pugh replacing Fraser nine minutes after the break.
Rovers’ Manchester United loan defender Michael Keane headed over from a Conway corner before Cherries had a penalty appeal waved away after Ritchie had been sent sprawling by Spurr.
Grabban drew first blood for Cherries with a superb effort midway through the second half, the striker squeezing a venomous right-foot shot inside Robinson’s near post from around 25 yards.
And, just minutes later, Cook went close to doubling their lead when his piledriver from close range was turned around the post by Robinson, who perhaps should have done better for the goal.
Cherries continued to defend stoically as Rovers forced a flurry of corners with captain Elphick, a rock during the win at Blackpool, again leading the troops with distinction.
Cherries: Camp, Francis, Cook, Elphick, Harte, O’Kane, Ritchie (Coulibaly, 82), Arter (MacDonald, 86), Surman, Fraser (Pugh, 54), Grabban.
Unused subs: Pitman, Smith, Rantie, Allsop (g/k).
Rovers: Robinson, Kane, Hanley (Williamson, 75), Keane, Spurr, Varney (Feeney, 62), Evans, Lowe, Conway, Gestede (Dunn, 62), Rhodes.
Unused subs: Taylor, Dabo, Henley, Eastwood (g/k).
Referee: David Webb (County Durham).
Attendance: 13,081 (including 213 away supporters).