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Meldrum's verdict: AFC Bournemouth 2 Sheffield Wednesday 4
IT was a piping hot day at the Deva Stadium in Chester five years ago to the day. You might remember it.
The 2-0 win on the road went quite a long way to Cherries securing Football League survival in the face of a 17-point deduction that year.
This defeat could go quite a long way towards Cherries missing out on the Championship play-offs. But they are there and there is hope. Cherries fans would have taken ‘hope’ five years ago.
The scoreline here did not tell the story of a game that Cherries were more than in. They were forced to come from behind twice, but it was a match that, on reflection, Eddie Howe will feel his side should have won.
They certainly had chances to win it. The gods of fortune were also shining when Wednesday’s Sam Hutchinson was harshly sent off in the second half.
If Cherries were guilty of one thing, it was trying to win this game. Howe urged numbers forward following Hutchinson’s dismissal and after Leon Best had been introduced by Stuart Gray, Cherries’ commitment to trying to claim all three points cost them.
The opening was measured by Cherries’ recent standards. No early goal this time.
Yann Kermorgant and Lewis Grabban linked well early on. Eunan O’Kane ran hard, hustling.
It was Kieran Lee who carved the first meaningful chance, though. Cherries failed to adequately to clear their lines, Simon Francis’s header looped into the path of Lee whose shot from around 20 yards flashed past the post.
At the other end, Matt Ritchie curled a shot directly at Chris Kirkland. Moments later, The Wednesday keeper saved wonderfully from Grabban, pushing the Cherries striker’s angled right-foot shot around the post. Kermorgant had played in Grabban with precision. It is a partnership blossoming at pace.
Just after a quarter-of-an-hour, though, the Owls were in front.
Steve Cook dawdled on the ball out on the left and, under pressure, sprayed a stray pass back across goal which was picked up by Atdhe Nuhiu who drilled with class past Lee Camp from around 20 yards. It was a wonderful finish, but Cook would have been mortified by his part in the goal.
Wednesday piled on the pressure, but Cherries defended resolutely. Cook, though, almost blotted his copybook for a second time when his weak pass back to Camp was nearly picked up by Lee.
Having weathered the storm, Cherries were level just after the half-hour mark. Kermorgant played in Grabban down the right and his cross was met inside the six-yard box by Pugh who headed into the roof of the net. It was his first goal for almost six months.
It did not last long. Less than three minutes later, Wednesday were back in front when Michail Antonio’s long throw received a glancing flick-on from Andrew Surman and Hutchinson nodded in at the far post.
The Wednesday supporters who had braved the M1 on a Bank Holiday weekend had been rewarded, as they have been for most of Stuart Gray’s embryonic reign.
The game sprung into life. Kirkland saved well from Grabban on 35 minutes, while Lee fired wide from 30 yards having dispos-sessed Kermorgant in midfield.
As half-time loomed closer, Grabban missed the target from a tight angle having met Ian Harte’s free kick at the far post.
Kermorgant was again at the centre of the action when he flicked on beautifully to send Sur-man bombing towards the penalty area. The Norwich loanee took a touch and shot, but Kirkland saved. It was a great chance.
Cherries gained an element of control after the break and levelled for a second time just before the hour.
Harte’s corner from the left was thumped past Kirkland by the head of Kermorgant. 2-2. Game on. Play-offs on.
Moments later, Ritchie skewed a shot narrowly wide. The crowd were roused. Reading were losing at Wigan. Brighton were behind at Huddersfield.
Wednesday goalscorer Hutchinson was then sent off on 63 minutes for a second yellow card. His foul on Kermorgant that drew the second caution was clumsy at worst. It was a harsh call from referee Tim Robinson but everything was going Cherries’ way.
The sending-off gave Howe further incentive to push his men on, as if they needed it.
Substitute Ryan Fraser added real bite to Cherries going forward. His appeals for a penalty on 70 minutes, though, were waved away.
It was complete dominance from the home side, making the extra man count. Grabban again went close but his shot across Kirkland flew wide.
A stunning 25-yard free kick from Kermorgant had Kirkland scrambling, but the post saved the visitors. Pugh then sliced his 78th-minute shot wide after being teed up by Kermorgant.
Late on at the John Smiths Stadium in Yorkshire, Brighton levelled, leaving Cherries two points behind the final play-off spot as they were when the day begun.
It became three points on 86 minutes. Antonio burst clear and somehow managed to hit the bar from inside the penalty area when it was easier to score. Substitute Best, though, did not make the same mistake and drilled home the loose ball low and hard to Camp’s left.
In the sixth minute of stoppage time, Chris Maguire added a fourth for Wednesday. Best, who made a huge difference for the visitors, broke with Cherries advanced as they sought a third equaliser.
The former Southampton player crossed superbly, leaving Maguire with the simple task of slotting in from close range.
Dream alive, yes, but only just.
Cherries: Camp 7; Francis 7, Elphick 8, Cook 6, Harte 7 (Smith, 70); Ritchie 7.5 (Fraser, 62), O'Kane 7.5, Surman 7, Pugh 7.5 (Pitman, 79); Grabban 8, Kermorgant 9*.
Unused subs: Rantie, Ward, MacDonald, Allsop (g/k).
Booked: Surman, Elphick.
Owls: Kirkland; Buxton (Palmer, 52), Llera, Onyewu, Mattock; Maguire, Hutchinson, Lee, Helan (Coke, 66); Nuhiu (Best, 73), Antonio.
Unused subs: Afobe, Lavery, Taylor, Martinez (g/k).
Booked: Hutchinson, Maguire.
Sent off: Hutchinson
Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).
Attendance: 10,864 (1,379 away supporters).
STAR MAN: YANN KERMORGANT
WHAT a difference Kermorgant has made to this Cherries side.
Even if, ultimately, Cherries’ dreams of the Championship play-offs is over, the fact Eddie Howe’s side even has that dream to dream is down to the Frenchman in many respects.
He has scored goals, another here yesterday, and his partnership with Lewis Grabban looks like one that will only get better.
Unlucky not to find the net with a stunning free kick, Kermorgant made himself a nuisance and was almost flawless in the air.
His role will be a key one next season – whatever league Cherries find themselves in.
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