WHICHEVER way you look at it, two-time European champions Nottingham Forest paid Cherries a huge compliment yesterday.
Many who watched the relentless one-way traffic during the first half at Dean Court would have been convinced that visiting boss Gary Brazil had instructed his boys to park the bus.
The statistics didn’t lie. With 38 minutes on the clock, Forest hadn’t mustered a single effort on target, while Cherries had enjoyed a mammoth 73 per cent of the possession.
Whether the intention was to frustrate the hosts and hope for a smash-and-grab in a match the Reds had to win to stay in play-off contention, only Brazil knows.
Having refuted suggestions the visitors had set out to stifle, Forest’s caretaker manager explained: “The game plan was to not stretch ourselves or let Bournemouth play through us.
“They could have the ball in certain areas of the pitch but we didn’t want to go rushing all over the place and allow them to pick us off, which we knew they had the ability to do.
“We had seen from DVDs of recent games that they had the quality to do that so it was important to keep it tight.
“In fairness, we did that for the first 40-odd minutes without being particularly good on the ball.
“In terms of the opportunities Bournemouth created in the first half, I wasn’t overly concerned. Possession doesn’t mean you win a game of football.
“I wanted to make sure they didn’t get into our final third too much and that wasn’t happening. Up until we conceded the first goal, they could have the ball in other areas as much as they liked, it wasn’t a problem for me.”
Deliberate or not, the ploy didn’t work, owing much to the home side’s professional and patient approach. Cherries either took full advantage of the visitors' defensive tactics or were just too good for them.
Despite the disappointment of their own play-off dream ending, the hosts were never flustered in the face of Forest’s bruising blockades, which Yann Kermorgant bore the brunt of more than most as he tried to drop into space behind partner-in-crime Lewis Grabban.
Cherries started well as Matt Ritchie twice went close, while Grabban forced a point-blank save from Marc Pugh’s cushioned ball back into the danger zone within the first 10 minutes.
Following the initial flurry, Cherries found it difficult to break down a well-drilled unit with Grabban, Andrew Surman and Pugh forced to chance their arm from distance.
But such was the dominance, right-back Simon Francis was afforded the opportunity to push towards the final third and the attacking interludes that he forced proved the downfall of the visitors’ stoic resistance.
Having bombed forward to support Grabban’s strong hold-up play, Francis galloped with ease round Stephen McLaughlin to swing in a teasing centre which simply cried out to be converted.
Kermorgant, who had been floored more than once as well as having his face inadvertently struck by Greg Halford’s knee, duly obliged.
‘The beast from Brittany’ summoned the required power when he needed it most, thumping home a close-range header which left both goalkeeper Dorus De Vries and defender Jamaal Lascelles flailing in the net.
Having arrived just before the interval, the Frenchman’s strike kick-started what was to prove another dominant Dean Court show and within two minutes of the restart, Grabban linked well with Eunan O’Kane to plant an fierce shot beyond De Vries’s reach.
Kermorgant almost caught out the shaky custodian with a long-distance lob but the Dutch stopper just scrambled back in time to prevent an embarrassing third.
It looked like the game was up but Forest grabbed a lifeline on 56 minutes when Francis slipped and handled, with Ben Osborn, the visitors’ only consistent threat on the day, whipping in a delicious free kick which Halford nodded past Lee Camp.
It might have proved a game changer had Halford not fluffed his far-post finish after Lee Peltier had flicked on Osborn’s driven corner on 68 minutes, but moments later, Cherries rightfully reclaimed their commanding two-goal cushion on the break.
Forest full-back Gonzalo Jara had been on the pitch only five minutes when he clumsily brought down Pugh in the box and Grabban needed no second invitation to rattle home his 22nd goal of a productive campaign from 12 yards.
It was party time in the stands as the match petered out, but the coup de grâce arrived in stoppage time as O’Kane and Ryan Fraser combined to find Tokelo Rantie on the edge of the penalty area.
A roar of ‘shoot’ belted out but the South Africa international, despite his slender return in front of goal, selflessly slid the ball to Kermorgant who slammed home with aplomb.
It summed up the afternoon perfectly. Perseverance and passing won the day as Cherries proved their prowess in prising open Forest.
Both teams got exactly what they deserved.
STAR MAN - YANN KERMORGANT
The Frenchman’s unerring ability to deliver a typical centre-for-ward’s performance by covering so much of the pitch has afforded that extra bit of space for the likes of Lewis Grabban to exploit.
Kermorgant took his fair share of knocks in areas where Forest felt they could try to ruffle his feathers.
But up stepped the big man to scupper their plans with a powerful opener which paved the way for this emphatic result.
With nine goals from seven home games, Kermorgant’s capture is quickly looking like Eddie Howe’s most astute piece of business in the January transfer window.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
Cherries: Camp 7.5, Francis 8, Cook 7, Elphick 7, Harte 7.5, Ritchie 7 (Coulibaly, 90), Surman 7.5, O’Kane 8, Pugh 7 (Fraser, 81), Grabban 8.5 (Rantie, 88), Kermorgant 9.
Unused subs: Daniels, Smith, Arter, Allsop (g/k).
Nottingham Forest: De Vries, Halford, Collins, Lascelles (Jara, 65), Harding, Osborn, Vaughan (Cox, 69), Peltier, McLaughlin (Henderson, 73), Mackie, Derbyshire.
Unused subs: Greening, Tudgay, Majewski, Evtimov (g/k).
Booked: Lascelles, Harding.
Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).
Attendance: 11,021 (including 1,422 away supporters).