IT was anything but the ideal preparation for the final throes of a promotion assault.

As the curtain came down on Cherries’ League One campaign, a packed audience at Dean Court was hardly calling for an encore.

Home supporters among a bumper crowd of 9,005 were again left to count the cost of the two shortcomings that have slightly disfigured what has been an otherwise impressive 46-match marathon.

This latest repeat performance saw Cherries concede the points due to a lack of killer instinct followed by a late defensive lapse.

However, as boss Lee Bradbury was quick to point out during his post-match press conference, the “bigger picture” was now all that mattered.

With a play-off place already assured, Cherries could have been forgiven for allowing their thoughts to drift towards a win-or-bust two-legged semi-final and the prospect of a trip to Old Trafford.

But while the identity of their opponents had still to be determined, Bradbury had called on his troops to finish with a flourish.

As it transpired, victory would have been academic – if confidence-boosting – as rivals MK Dons secured fifth place courtesy of their win at Oldham.

In finishing sixth, their highest league placing since they were relegated from the second flight in 1990, Cherries earned a shoot-out with third-placed Huddersfield.

And while the record books will show they squeezed in by a solitary point, the statistics are somewhat misleading.

Despite a few anxious moments, Cherries have occupied a place in the top six for most of the season and deservedly earned their ticket to the play-off lottery with a game to spare.

If lessons can be learned then Cherries could do a lot worse than take a leaf out of Rochdale’s book, particularly when they head to Huddersfield’s Galpharm Stadium a week on Wednesday.

In similar fashion to Colchester, Hartlepool and Tranmere, Dale pulled off the classic smash-and-grab away win to become only the fifth team to lower Cherries’ colours at Dean Court this season.

Firstly, however, Bradbury’s men will need to sharpen up their act in front of goal and also rid themselves of the defensive demons that have haunted several displays this season.

With Huddersfield, beaten by eventual winners Millwall in last season’s play-off semi-finals, arriving at Dean Court for the first leg in five days, time will be of the essence for Bradbury and his squad.

Football League champions for three successive years in the 1920s, the Terriers will probably be slightly aggrieved to be facing Cherries, especially as they finished 16 points clear of the Dorset club.

Any suggestions Rochdale had headed to the south coast to sam ple the beaches and nightlife were quickly put to bed as Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro went close to opening the scoring inside three minutes.

Dale, the only team to do the double over Southampton this season and unbeaten against champions Brighton, proved to be ideal opponents for Cherries in this dress rehearsal.

It seemed a foregone conclusion once newly-crowned supporters’ player of the year Jason Pearce had headed Cherries into a 27th minute lead, with the help of a Josh Thompson deflection.

Pearce had earlier twice gone close with headed efforts before both Stevie Lovell and Marc Pugh added their names to the list of close calls as Dale’s early promise faded.

However, against the run of play and out of the blue, parity was restored when Matt Done’s crisp strike from 20 yards arrowed into the bottom corner.

Boss Keith Hill, who piloted Dale up alongside Cherries last season, said: “Bournemouth created a lot of pressure. They have power and pace in the right areas and are good from set-plays. It was always a possible option for them to score and they did, even if it may have been a little fortuitous.

“From that point on, I thought they might have pressed us a little harder for the second goal. Once we got the equaliser, there was a balancing out period before they came at us strongly in the second half and put us under a lot more pressure.”

With Dale goalkeeper Owain fon Williams twice saving Anton Robinson ripsnorters and a Lovell effort ruled out for offside, it was evident Cherries’ luck was out.

And as they continued to go in search of a winner, keeping it tight at the back was always going to be vital if they were to make the breakthrough.

As the clock ticked towards Cherries’ nemesis hour, their defensive ineptitude was again highlighted when Dale’s diminutive teenage substitute Reece Gray was afforded a free header to register his first career goal.

Victory assured the visitors of their highest league finish since 1970, while defeat saw Cherries end their regulation season on a low.

However, their exploits over the previous 45 games, coupled with expectations at the start of the campaign, mean there is still everything to play for and nothing to lose.

Cherries: Jalal 6, Smith 6 (Fletcher, 80), Pearce 7, Cooper 6, Wiggins 8, Feeney 7, Hollands 6.5, Robinson 6.5, Pugh 7, McDermott 7 (Williamson, 44), Lovell 7 (Purches, 80).

Unused subs: Arter, Molesley, Cummings, Thomas (g/k).

Rochdale: fon Williams, Wiseman, Holness, Josh Thompson, Widdowson, Done, Barry-Murphy, Jones, Atkinson (Adams, 61), Akpa Akpro (Joe Thompson, h-t), O’Grady (Gray, 74).

Unused subs: Flynn, Williams, Edwards (g/k).

Booked: Barry-Murphy, Gray.

Referee: Gavin Ward (Surrey).

Attendance: 9,005.