BRETT Pitman’s clinical hat-trick spearheaded Cherries to a thumping victory over League Two promotion-chasers Rochdale.

And Liam Feeney also chalked up a memorable maiden strike in the Football League as Eddie Howe’s men claimed three potentially-priceless points.

A convincing victory ended a run of two successive defeats and kept Cherries four points above the drop zone with just five games remaining.

Pitman calmed Cherries’ nerves when he opened the scoring in the 12th minute before Feeney doubled their lead midway through the first half.

Restored to his favoured striker’s role, Pitman stamped his class on the second half with a finely-taken third goal on 67 minutes and completed the rout with an opportunist strike on the stroke of full-time.

Feeney and Rhoys Wiggins were both drafted in as boss Howe made two changes to the Cherries starting line-up.

Wiggins replaced Cummings in the left-back berth, while Feeney came in on the right-hand side of midfield. Pitman moved back up front to partner Steve Fletcher.

Cherries took the lead following a frantic opening spell when Pitman’s deflected strike broke the deadlock after 12 minutes.

The striker’s crisp shot struck luckless Dale defender Simon Ramsden and looped over helpless visiting goalkeeper Frank Fielding.

Pitman’s ice-breaker owed much to the persistence of Feeney who provided the assist with a cross following a searing burst of pace down the flank.

Shwan Jalal and Shaun Cooper combined to clear Tom Kennedy’s probing centre as Lee Thorpe looked to pounce in the 19th minute.

But the hosts doubled their lead through Feeney after 25 minutes – the 21-year-old opening his Cherries account with a stunning effort.

After again showing Kennedy a clean pair of heels, Feeney turned inside before lifting a sumptuous left-foot shot over the despairing dive of Fielding.

But as Dale again threatened, Mark Molesley was forced to nip in front of Joe Thompson at the far post to clear Adam Rundle’s dangerous cross.

Fletcher outjumped the Dale defence to meet Wiggins’s cross, only to see his glancing header drift inches past the upright.

Fielding got behind Wiggins’s swerving effort to save comfortably before Jalal’s first save of note came three minutes before half-time.

The Cherries goalkeeper dived to his left to save, somewhat theatrically, after Adam Le Fondre had let fly from just outside the 18-yard box.

Despite a tardy start to the second half, Howe’s men extended their lead when Pitman bagged his second and Cherries’ third after 67 minutes.

The Jersey-born hitman finished with an arrow-like left-foot shot into the bottom left-hand corner of Fielding’s net after latching on to Fletcher’s flick.

And with Dale at sixes and sevens at the back, Pitman pounced to complete the scoring with another cool finish on the stroke of full-time.

Cherries (4-4-2): Jalal; Cooper, Garry, Pearce, Wiggins; Feeney (Igoe, 79), Hollands, Robinson, Molesley (Bradbury, 89); Fletcher (Goulding, 86), Pitman.

Unused subs: Guyett, Partington.

Rochdale (4-4-2): Fielding; Wiseman, Ramsden, McArdle, Kennedy; Thompson (Dagnell, 59), Toner, M Jones (Newey, h-t), Rundle (Buckley, h-t); Thorpe, Le Fondre.

Unused subs: Madine, Danson.

Referee: Russell Booth (Nottinghamshire).

Attendance: 5,092.