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Wadley's Verdict: Doncaster Rovers 0 Cherries 1
EVEN the usually poker-faced Eddie Howe allowed himself a little chuckle.
When reminded of Harry Arter’s price tag, his reaction should have hardly come as a surprise.
If the cultured playmaker continues his form, Cherries will be laughing all the way to the bank – or the Championship.
Quite frankly, the midfielder’s recent performances have made a mockery of the £4,000 fee that now looks nothing short of daylight robbery.
If you were to add a couple of noughts, it might come close to an accurate valuation of Arter’s worth these days.
His stock rose yet again on Saturday as his winner showed that small gambles can pay rich dividends. Howe was not the only one smiling.
Back in October 2010, Cherries vice-chairman Jeff Mostyn had described as “a great bit of business” the deal for Arter. Having fronted negotiations on behalf of the club at a Football Association transfer tribunal, Mostyn had pleaded Cherries’ case.
“Harry has tremendous potential and is going to be a real asset to the club,” said mystic Mostyn at the time.
His Dean Court tenure has, at times, been heavily criticised by the Cherries faithful, but Mostyn was spot on in this instance.
When the beaming Cherries chief skipped down the touchline after Saturday’s Keepmoat clash, he hugged every member of the visiting media before affording the same embrace to a rather bewildered local hack. Mostyn looked like a man who knew he had got a bargain. So, too, did boss Howe.
“I didn’t quite know how good it was going to be,” he joked, when recollecting that meagre four-figure sum Cherries were told to pay Arter’s former club Woking.
“He has got all the attributes to be a really good player at a higher level than this because of his technical ability and his eye for a goal and also his work-rate.
“You saw on Saturday how much ground he covered, even in the last five or 10 minutes, so full credit to him.”
Of course, much of the reason that £4,000 now looks such good value is because Arter has blossomed hugely during his time with Cherries, particularly under Howe’s guidance.
For all his passing ability and creative ingenuity, to suggest Arter is the finished article at the age of 22 would be foolish.
Indeed, many Cherries fans have often singled him out for criticism, not least because of his collection of yellow cards.
Arter is the first to admit he needs to curb his enthusiasm – and temper – and lose his penchant for voicing disapproval at referees.
But, in Howe, he has a manager who showed faith in him and clearly knows how to maximise his potential.
Arguably the most naturally talented player Cherries have had since Brett Pitman, Arter has divided opinion just like the former Dean Court goal-machine. However, if he continues to perform as he has in recent weeks, the flak should cease, as it rightly did with Pitman.
His third goal of the season on Saturday ensured Cherries continued their impeccable run since Howe’s return.
But while Arter’s effort was the difference, it was Cherries’ sheer graft and organisation that pleased Howe most.
As the Cherries manager pointed out, Arter’s displays owe much to the altruism of Shaun MacDonald. Rovers boss Dean Saunders praised MacDonald when he said: “Great touch, great vision, good footballer.”
But while that dependable duo soaked up the plaudits, there was more to this story. Cherries’ resilient defensive stars rightly took top billing .
From the front to the back, it was a triumph for the work ethic that Howe has always insisted on.
Following a bright Cherries start, Doncaster dictated posses sion, particularly after the break. But Cherries refused to wilt under pressure as they showed Howe’s time on the training ground had been well spent.
With David James a reassuring presence, the rock solid central defensive pairing of Tommy Elphick and Miles Addison nullified the aerial threat of Rovers’ Chris Brown and Billy Paynter.
Iain Hume was lively on Doncaster’s left but Steve Cook, completing a full set of defensive positions by slotting in at right-back, was up to the task.
In a game of few chances, Arter fired Cherries into the lead on 38 minutes. His rather quiet celebration spoke volumes after his left-footed daisy-cutter had somehow beaten Gary Woods before rolling in off the far post.
After the interval, Doncaster posed plenty of questions but Cherries had all the answers.
Doncaster had vociferous penalty appeals waved away after David Syers had taken a tumble under a challenge from Charlie Daniels. Rovers boss Saunders was furious, while Howe backed referee Darren Bond.
In truth, there were few other talking points as Cherries produced the sort of all-round performance which can separate genuine challengers from also-rans.
Having gone seven matches without defeat since Howe’s appointment and now being handily placed just five points adrift of the play-off places, Cherries are a team transformed.
Key to the revival has been Arter, undoubtedly a snip at £4,000, but as captain Addison accurately evaluated: “The big thing is we are playing more as a team.” That could prove priceless.
Match facts and Echo merit marks
Rovers: (4-4-2) G Woods; Griffin, Quinn, Spurr, Husband; Cotterill (Syers, 69), Harper, Clingan, Hume; Paynter (Blake, 79), Brown.
Unused subs: Martin Woods, Michael Woods, Wakefield, Keegan, Sullivan (g/k).
Cherries: (4-4-2) James 7; Cook 8, Addison 8, Elphick 8.5, Daniels 8.5*; McQuoid 7 (Thomas, 71), Arter 8, MacDonald 7, Pugh 7; Grabban 7.5 (Fletcher, 90), Barnard 7 (Fogden, 79).
Unused subs: Tubbs, McDermott, O’Kane, Jalal (g/k).
Referee: Darren Bond (Lancashire).
Attendance: 5,951 (including 343 away supporters).
Daily Echo Star Man
It is probably harsh to single out any individual in the Cherries back four following arguably the team’s finest defensive display of the season.
But Daniels edged the battle for top honours because of the bonus provided by his efforts on the offensive.
The former Orient left-back played his part as Cherries registered a welcome clean sheet and he was also an energetic outlet down the flank, particularly in the first half.
Linking well with Marc Pugh on the overlap, he gave Rovers a tough time and came close to scoring with a curling free-kick.
Centre-half Tommy Elphick was immense and captain Miles Addison led by example, while the versatile Steve Cook produced a confident display at right-back.