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Wadley's Verdict: Cherries 3 Crawley Town 0
HAPPY New Year. When Cherries fans utter those words on Tuesday, they can really mean them.
It is hard to imagine a time when there has been more reason for optimism around Dean Court.
When supporters reflect on turbulent 2012, October 2 is the date that should carry most resonance.
On a miserable evening in Crawley, that was when a landmark moment arrived for AFC Bournemouth.
It was the end for Paul Groves but, as this latest win perfectly illustrated, it was just the start for Cherries.
In the space of 12 weeks, resurgent Cherries are unrecognisable from that dark, dispiriting night at Broadfield Stadium.
Heavy rain was just about the only common denominator. Aside from the downpours, the differences are profound, as Richie Barker’s men found to their cost on Saturday.
From the tumultuous reign of Lee Bradbury to a press blackout, and off-field controversies to the unsuccessful tenure of Groves, 2012 was a year to forget for Cherries. Well, until October 13 that is.
As Eddie Howe returned, there was suddenly light at the end of a long, gloomy tunnel.
The change in mood was stark but the biggest transformation has been witnessed on the pitch.
Crawley would have known all about the renaissance since their last skirmish with Cherries – but they were powerless to do anything about it.
For as poor as Cherries were on that watershed night in West Sussex, they were outstanding in front of a purring home faithful. It was a complete performance.
Regardless of which players he has selected, Howe’s team has consistently demonstrated everything that was so glaringly lacking for most of 2012 – verve, resolve and vital goodwill from the terraces.
The growing attendance figures speak for themselves, as do the damning statistics. Cherries registered a remarkable 15th match unbeaten on Saturday. In that time, Howe’s men have kept six clean sheets compared with just two in the previous 13 this term. Cherries scored 14 goals in their opening 13 matches of the season but, in 15 outings since Howe’s return, they have racked up 38.
Cherries continued their irresistible march into the play-off zone by delivering arguably their biggest statement of intent so far. As messages go, it was a deafening one.
Brentford will provide a sterner test on New Year's Day but Cherries should have no fear. Crawley arrived in Dorset tipped to challenge the top six but the Red Devils were beaten black and blue as the Dorset outfit again flexed its considerable muscles.
A gulf in resources was one of the major topics of conversation in Barker’s post-match press conference, but with Howe and Jason Tindall steering the ship, the Cherries hierarchy are getting true value for their money – as are the paying public.
Against Crawley, Cherries were a pleasure to watch. Full of purpose, their defence was rock solid, their passing was incisive, their movement was bright and their finishing was potent enough.
Given all the attacking quality on show for Cherries, the only surprise was that their opening goal owed much to defender Steve Cook. Again a composed and accomplished performer at the back, Cook delivered the dangerous cross which led to Gary Alexander’s headed own goal.
Cherries then went through the gears, with full-backs Simon Francis and Charlie Daniels in typically rumbustious form, and Crawley struggled to keep up.
After Lewis Grabban had missed the target with a decent opportunity, they edged further ahead thanks to the brilliance of Brett Pitman. Barker was left questioning the role of referee Lee Probert after he had allowed Pitman to whip a quickly-taken free-kick past scrambling stopper Paul Jones from 20 yards.
Much improved after the interval, Crawley saw far more of the ball. Nicky Adams fired at David James before the ex-England keeper scooped an inswinging corner clear just as it looked as if he had been deceived.
But, for all their possession, Crawley lacked the cutting edge to carve open the hosts.
With Cook again faultless alongside Tommy Elphick, Cherries stood firm. In fact, the Red Devils’ attacking intent left holes at the other end which the hosts eagerly set about exploiting.
Pitman teed up Grabban to force a kicked save from Jones, while Cook should have scored when presented with a free header, before the young centre-half clipped the crossbar with another towering effort.
James was forced to muddy his kit when saving well from a Mike Jones drive before he came to Cherries’ rescue by brilliantly foiling Billy Clarke after Crawley had finally got in behind the home defence.
But any lingering doubts over the outcome were dismissed when Eunan O’Kane sparked jubilant scenes with a majestic third goal. Having produced a beautiful touch to bring down Grabban’s raking pass, the midfielder finished coolly under Jones.
At this stage in the teams’ previous encounter, the Crawley contingent chanted ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’. On Saturday, Cherries’ supporters belted out an old classic of their own ‘we ARE going up’. On recent evidence, that could also prove prophetic. Roll on 2013.
Match facts and Echo merit marks
Cherries: (4-4-2) James 7.5; Francis 7.5, Cook 8, Elphick 8, Daniels 8; McQuoid 7 (Fogden, 67), Arter 8 (Tubbs, 84), O’Kane 8.5*, Pugh 7.5; Pitman 7.5 (Hughes, 80), Grabban 7.5.
Unused subs: McDermott, Partington, Fletcher, Jalal (g/k).
Red Devils: (4-2-3-1) P Jones; Hunt, Connolly, Davis, Sadler; Cooper (Clarke, 68), Bulman; Adams (Smith, 79), Simpson, M Jones (Akinde, 79); Alexander.
Unused subs: Torres, Clifford, Walsh, Kuipers (g/k).
Booked: Davis, Hunt.
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).
Attendance: 7,855 (including 380 away supporters).
Echo star man - Eunan O'Kane
Even before taking into account his magical goal, O’Kane’s performance was one of high class.
Energetic off the ball and composed and creative in possession, the 22-year-old really looked the part in the middle of the park.
His partnership with Harry Arter continued to show signs of promise as the duo dominated the key battleground.
O’Kane, a summer signing from Torquay, had to patiently await his first-team chance and now he is taking it with no small amount of skill.
His quality was never more evident than when he produced a beautifully deft touch to control Lewis Grabban’s pass before scoring Cherries’ third.
In an organised defensive showing, accomplished pairing Steve Cook and Tommy Elphick were once again immense at the heart of Cherries’ back four.