AFC Bournemouth carried on their magnificent march up the table with a comfortable victory against promotion rivals MK Dons. Taking their chances when presented to them and defending resolutely, the side rose to 3rd place in the league and are now only four points from both an automatic promotion slot and being top of the division. The game however, is most likely going to be remembered for an ugly challenge by Dons striker, Ryan Lowe, on Cherries captain, Tommy Elphick.
On arrival at Stadium:MK, you are greeted by a fantastic modern stadia, you really cannot grumble about the infrastructure, and with an away following just shy of 1500, the AFCB fans made sure they were in fine voice. It was a good job too, because although the stadium is great, it is still incomplete (the top tier is lacking seats) and the MK supporters are not the most vocal shall we say. They were spread out around the stadium and I must say I was truly amazed when the attendance was announced at 9,000. I honestly would have predicted around 3,000 fewer.
We took our seats to news that new signing Matt Ritchie was only on The Cherries bench. Eddie opted to stick with the same starting XI that defeated Crewe seven days previous: Jalal; Francis, Elphick (c), Cook, Seaborne; McQuoid, O`Kane, Arter, Pugh; Pitman, Grabban. Those in reserve were Allsop, Partington, Hughes, Fogden, Ritchie, Tubbs and Fletcher. It was also good to see Shaun Macdonald joining in during the warm-up, his return to the squad is clearly imminent.
The Cherries flew out the blocks and within a couple of minutes Pitman had steered an effort just wide. His strike partner made up for it with our second opportunity though. McQuoid gave away possession about 25 yards from our own goal, but the team then executed some superb defensive discipline which prevented MK from playing through us and eventually working their way back towards their own goal. By the time Jon Otsemobor turned to play back to his ‘keeper, Bournemouth had started squeezing up the pitch and when GRABBAN gambled he was presented with an underhit backpass, which he seized upon, rounded Martin and slotted home.
Straight from the restart Grabban nearly curled in another before the tone for the next half an hour was set. This involved The Cherries allowing MK Dons plenty of possession of the ball and asking them to try and play through us. They may have struggled but did persist. This began to irk their fans which resulted in one wasteful long-ball forward that went nowhere. If ever you needed to know patience is a virtue as a supporter this was it. Furthermore, when The Cherries did win possession back, the Dons were keen to press us as high up the pitch as possible and this led to the couple of sights they did get of goal, all dragged hopelessly wide. But the warning signs were there, and striker Lowe soon forced Jalal into a smart save down to his right, in what was MK`s best sight of goal in the half.
Mr Lowe then got involved it what was arguably the game`s turning point. After challenging Elphick for a high ball, the pair fell to the ground and a scuffle broke out between the two, which naturally led to others getting involved. Lowe was clearly irked by what happened and now had a vendetta against the Bournemouth captain. Minutes later he challenged for another high ball with no eyes on the ball and his arm leading. He then left his body in on Elphick`s outstretched leg after he had cleared, all within five minutes before the main moment. Elphick cleared an outstretched ball and Lowe, steaming in, jumped in with two feet, straight into Elphick`s leg. It was horrific. Naturally, it led to a full blown row erupting, and credit to the referee who dismissed the disgraced striker within milliseconds of the incident. Unsurprisingly, Elphick was unable to continue and was replaced by new boy Ritchie, with Seaborne moving into centre-back. This surprised me somewhat. Firstly, because when Eddie claimed Ritchie could play left-back, I think few believed it would be the case, and secondly, how must have Partington felt? Clearly on the bench as centre-back cover currently, he must have been disappointed to see a winger chosen ahead of him within this scenario.
The action still wasn`t over though. Within moments of the substitution, Grabban outmuscled and turned the MK backline and from a tight angle fired towards goal in a manner that Martin could only save with his legs. There to gobble up the rebound was PUGH, and the away fans went bonkers, in what was practically a smash-and-grab half, played wholly on the counter-attack.
Half-Time: MK Dons 0 – 2 AFC Bournemouth
Eddie clearly told his players to go out and finish the game early doors as the start of the second half was played solely towards the AFCB away support. Pitman, Grabban and McQuoid all had efforts either expertly saved, blocked, or wastefully placed off-target. With Ritchie flying forward to combine with Pugh at any given opportunity, there were many balls being delivered into the box. McQuoid was also starting to drift more inside, which left us arguably vulnerable to the break down our right-hand side. As the clock ticked past the midway point of the second half, I would be surprised if I was not the only one concerned with the way the game was going. It should have been wrapped up by now, but instead the next goal was still vital. Let us not forget, MK came back from 2-0 down with 10 men at Dean Court to claim a point.
With that, AFCB started to allow the Dons back into it. A well-worked move resulted in Williams bending a shot that looked destined to sneak in, but cannoned off the inside of the post to an onrushing McLeod who somehow managed to side-foot wide from six yards out with the goal gaping. He must have been mightily relieved to see a linesman flag go up. Further balls were pumped into the box, and McLeod scuffed another effort wide as The Cherries defence began to be tested more and more. The introductions of Hughes and Tubbs for McQuoid and Grabban did help slow the game down and allow AFCB to regain the tempo however.
But then the clincher arrived. When awarded a free-kick around 25 yards out, Pitman stood over the ball as if it was his and his alone. Instead he teed it to ARTER who thumped an arrow of an effort into the top-corner with Martin nowhere near it. Game, set and match. Another flowing move led to Pitman striking the bar, when in reality, the ball deserved to find the net once more. Cook then cleared off the line in stoppage time, but in truth, it would have mattered little. By the final whistle, the AFCB fans were already loudly singing every promotion related song they could think of!
Full-Time: MK Dons 0 – 3 AFC Bournemouth
Shwan Jalal – 7
Really had very little to do other than the save in the first-half. Distribution was decent as well.
Simon Francis – 7
Such a dependable member of the team. Even when exposed by McQuoid drifting he coped with any problems, and supported the attacks well.
Tommy Elphick – 7
Towering display once more from the captain, coped with Lowe impeccably, a shame he was so crudely attacked by his marker.
Steve Cook – 8
Had to take on the responsibility in the backline after Elphick`s injury as well as being handed the armband. Another resolute display and his goal-line clearance ensured a clean sheet.
Daniel Seaborne – 7
Tidily went about his business without ever standing out, in essence, exactly what you want from your defenders.
Josh McQuoid – 6
I rated Josh when we played Swindon, but today he didn`t click for me. Arguably because his role encompassed more defensive work and he was infrequently used as an outlet.
Eunan O’Kane – 7
Industrious and always harrying the opponents when we had chances to break. He certainly wants to support his team-mates all over the park.
Harry Arter – 7
I think this is one of the few times I haven`t seen him booked! Had one strop with the referee, but scored a fantastic goal.
Marc Pugh – 8
Linked up well with Ritchie and appeared to be our predominant outlet. In classic Pugh style, he managed to turn their full-back inside-out numerous times.
Brett Pitman – 7
I think he does more for the team now compared to his first spell. Makes some great runs too that at times are unnoticed both by fans and team-mates alike.
Lewis Grabban – 8
The man continues to fire in the goals. This week it was because he anticipated an opportunity and then remained composed. He gave their defence plenty to think about.
Matt Ritchie – 8
A dazzling debut performance out of position. Whipped in numerous crosses of a high-quality and did his defensive work competently.
Richard Hughes – 6
Certainly tightened up the ship and his introduction culled any further MK attacks bar the one at the death.
Always sniffing for a chance or space where he can help link play despite only playing the final five minutes. He has to be commended for doing this on a weekly basis now.
All in all, Bournemouth should leave here very happy. They have disposed of a team in and around them who entered the game on a high having defeated Premier League QPR in the Cup last weekend. Yes, the red card killed the game as a contest but up until that point, the Dons had created minimal clear chances. Lowe`s madness leads Eddie with a massive concern though. If Elphick is ruled out for a substantial period of time, he loses not only his captain but his rock in defence. It also shows the lack in depth we have defensively. With Daniels still absent, along with Addison, Zubar on-loan, and Cook`s court case still to be concluded, the importance of getting Seaborne in is now obvious. It would be a shame if all this good work gets unravelled by having to play a make-shift backline. It was interesting to see us take the few chances we were given in the first half, only to squander more in the second period. I also thought Arter and O`Kane were much quieter this week, though they must have got through a fair amount of work. Even so, it`s nice to see players being effective even if they appear quiet. I guess the major plus point was the performance of Ritchie from full-back. Even out of position he looked class and as if he had always been a part of the squad. His deliveries were excellent and he must definitely be a starter. Personally, I`d have him on the left and move Pugh to the right; the reason being otherwise you`ll have both wingers wanting to cut inside and that will arguably leave the full-backs exposed as the midfield narrows. But I trust Eddie to make the right call. Don`t shout it too loud boys and girls, but this league title is in our sights now…!