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Perrett's Verdict: Crewe 1 Cherries 2
THE wry smile said it all, the one-liner spoke volumes.
Having played second fiddle to the Railwaymen for much of the contest, particularly during the first half, Cherries looked destined to leave south Cheshire with a share of the spoils.
And for the majority of the locals, aggrieved with referee Richard Clark for awarding Cherries a contentious penalty, a solitary point was more than they would have deserved.
As it was, Brett Pitman showed the natives no mercy when he squeezed home the spot-kick to give Cherries a 59th-minute lead.
However, once Mathias Pogba had restored parity with a thumping close-range header 11 minutes from time, justice appear-ed to have been done.
Step forward Pitman again though.
His stunning volley, which had been worth the entrance fee alone, not only earned Cherries victory but also took them to the League One summit – from 21st to top spot in just four months.
“The best teams always find a way to win,” said Howe, his words apt as Cherries climbed to their highest place under him during his two spells in charge.
Asked to assess his team’s performance, Howe replied: “Dogged, determined and with a lot of heart, fight and spirit. It wasn’t our best technically and it was a really difficult surface. It was a really big result for us and the lads showed real spirit.
“We had to soak up a bit of pressure and didn’t keep the ball well enough. When they equalised, we wondered how we would respond and the players found another burst of energy.
“Brett came up with a special goal. It was a great finish, typical Brett, and it won us the game.
“Away from home, it is easy to find ways to get beaten, even in tight games and it is not always easy to score a late goal. Our supporters were magnificent and gave the players a crucial boost.”
In typical Howe fashion, the achievement of guiding Cherries to pole position was met with a grounded response: “It is nice and I like to see it.
“It has been a long road and the lads have won a lot of games to get to where we are. It hasn’t been easy by any means and they deserve all the credit.
“I don’t want to bring things down a peg or two but now we don’t want to get caught. That is the challenge because there is still a long way to go and a lot of points to fight for. We want to make sure nobody overtakes us.”
Cherries were thankful to goalkeeper Shwan Jalal for saving Luke Murphy’s rasping drive inside the opening 60 seconds.
And after Chuks Aneke had squandered a glorious chance to fire Crewe ahead after 16 minutes, the travelling support must have sensed it was going to be Cherries’ day, the Arsenal loan star scuffing his shot tamely into Jalal’s arms.
Mark Ellis also went close to breaking the deadlock when his low drive from 20 yards flashed past the upright, while Cherries were restricted to half-chances from Harry Arter and Richard Hughes.
Jalal’s smart reaction save prevented A-Jay Leitch-Smith from drawing first blood for Crewe, the goalkeeper pushing his first-time strike around the post at the start of the second half.
Cherries had an escape when Murphy’s free-kick from the edge of the 18-yard came back off the crossbar with Jalal beaten six minutes after the restart.
The visitors took the lead when Pitman coolly converted from the spot after referee Clark had angered the home crowd by pointing to the spot when Pogba tangled with Matt Ritchie, the award looking flimsy.
Crewe goalkeeper Steve Phillips then clawed away Lewis Grabban’s header, which had looked destined for the top, before the hosts deservedly drew level when Pogba rose to meet Kelvin Mellor’s cross.
However, their joy was short-lived as Pitman swept home a sublime volley, fastening on to Steve Cook’s cross from the right and leaving Phillips clutching little more than south Cheshire air.
Crewe boss Steve Davis, who felt his team had been “robbed”, declined to comment when asked for his view of the penalty for fear of earning the wrath of the FA.
Howe said: “My first view was that I didn’t think it was but my players have told me it was so I will have to see it again. It was given and Brett tucked it away well.”
Cherries: Jalal 8.5, Francis 7.5, Cook 8, Seaborne 8, Ritchie 7.5, Arter 7, Hughes 7, O’Kane 7 (MacDonald, 83), McQuoid 6.5 (Fogden, h-t, 7), Pitman 8 (Tubbs, 86), Grabban 7.5.
Unused subs: Fletcher, Partington, Fraser, Allsop (g/k) Booked: Ritchie.
Crewe: Phillips, Mellor, Ellis, Dugdale, Robertson, Pogba, Murphy, Osman, Inman (Clayton, 89), Leitch-Smith (Moore, 74), Aneke (Colclough, 74).
Unused subs: Davis, Turton, Ray, Martin (g/k).
Attendance: 4,055 (including 246 visiting supporters).
Referee: Richard Clark (Northumberland).