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Cherries: Boss Groves earns the plaudits for first victory
SO, Cherries had Harry, Harry, Harry, Harry Redknapp on the coach, on the coach.
Even for a club like AFC Bournemouth, with enough recent drama to rival Eastenders, Redknapp stepping off the team bus on Saturday was proof, if proof were needed, that football is indeed a funny old game.
Even poker-faced Paul Groves let slip an uncharacteristic chuckle following a post-match question from the Echo about his greying hair – surely the laugh of a man simply relieved to have secured the first victory of this season of great expectation.
The Cherries boss, of course, was in a no-win situation at Huish Park.
Three points and it would be ‘Harry the hero’. Lose the match and the Groves dissenters would rear their heads once again.
But despite Redknapp’s shock return getting the headline writers into a lather, Groves is the man who should bathe in this landmark triumph.
His team. His selection. His preparation.
The fact that the Cherries boss fielded the same 11 that started at Portsmouth on Tues-day showed that, finally, he appears to have found a system that suits his players.
Chopping and changing seemed to come with the territory under Groves as he battled to manage Cherries’ enormous squad.
But the recent introductions of Wes Fogden and Richard Hughes have been masterstrokes. Fogden ran himself into the ground again at Huish Park, while Hughes’s performances over the past two weeks have surely made those who questioned his signing eat their words.
Not only did Hughes drill a wonderful, fearsome 35th-minute free kick past Glovers keeper Marek Stech on Saturday, the only goal of the game, but his composure, vision and priceless experience put those around him at ease.
The creative sparks that are Harry Arter and Shaun MacDonald have so much trust in Hughes behind them that they can go about their business without fear.
Indeed, Arter flourished against both Portsmouth on Tuesday and Yeovil on Saturday and much of that has to be down to Hughes’s calming presence.
Groves felt Cherries’ did not get the rewards their domination at Fratton Park warranted, but their supremacy was even greater here and, this time, they got exactly what they deserved.
With all eyes fixed on Redknapp taking his seat in the directors’ box, the 5,238 inside the ground should have missed Fogden handing Cherries the lead inside a minute.
The scheming midfielder, playing in behind strikers Josh McQuoid and Lewis Grabban, blazed over when well placed, before the home side’s Sam Foley missed the target from close range at the other end following good work with James Hayter.
That, in truth, was pretty much as close as the hosts would come to a goal.
MacDonald’s rasping drive from 25 yards failed to trouble Stech, while the former Cherries loan keeper beat away Fogden’s effort on 19 minutes as Groves’s men settled into a pattern of short, simple passing and possession football. It was patience personified.
Thus, for all their eye-catching inter-play, it was ironic that the only goal of the game would come from a free kick.
But after McQuoid had been felled on the edge of the box by Byron Webster, Hughes stepped up and blasted an unstoppable drive into the top left-hand corner.
It was fully deserved and first-half parity never looked likely for Gary Johnson’s off-colour side.
Although Edward Upson’s dipping volley momentarily looked like forcing Shwan Jalal into making a save at the end of the opening period, Cherries really made their presence felt after the break.
Stech was equal to MacDonald’s poorly executed shot on 52 minutes, before denying Fogden with a stunning point-blank save three minutes later.
Grabban, far more effective after the restart, then fired into the side netting before shooting straight at Stech 15 minutes from time as Groves’s men seemingly lined up to take pot shots at the Glovers keeper.
Sub Wes Thomas impressed with his work-rate and positional play having replaced McQuoid on 69 minutes, but the striker’s finishing prowess remained under the spotlight after a series of poor attempts on goal during the final 20 minutes.
Although Groves and his players have responded to the doom mongers by instilling fresh cause for optimism in recent weeks, Cherries’ inability to convert more opportunities into goals is still something of a worry.
Neither Thomas nor Grabban have done enough to suggest they should be in front of Matt Tubbs in the pecking order, but still the club’s record signing remains either in the stands or on the bench.
But while the unanswered questions over aspects of Groves’s judgement remain and the ‘Harry factor’ is likely to put a few extra bums on seats in light of worrying crowds at Goldsands Stadium, that fact is there is no substitute for good performances in the eyes of the supporters.
More impressive displays like this one at Huish Park and Redknapp will be able to remain nicely in the background and allow the manager to take the plaudits as well as the criticism. As it should be.
Glovers: (4-4-2) Stech; Ayling, Hinds, Webster, Ralph; Marsh-Brown (Young, 63), Blizzard (Ince, 43), Upson, Foley; Reid (Ugwu, 43), Hayter. Unused subs: Nkumu, Stewart (g/k).
Booked: Webster, Ugwu.
Cherries: (4-1-2-1-2) Jalal 7; Francis 6.5, Addison 7, Elphick 7.5, Cook 7.5; Hughes 8.5* (Partington, 61); Arter 8, MacDonald 7.5; Fogden 8 (Pugh, 74); Grabban 7, McQuoid 7 (Thomas, 69). Unused subs: Tubbs, Zubar, Daniels, Flahavan (g/k).
Referee: Iain Williamson (Berkshire).
Attendance: 5,238 (1,450 away fans).