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Cherries: Pressure mounting on boss Groves after yet another defeat
BELEAGUERED boss Paul Groves tonight had yet more pressure piled on his shoulders after Cherries suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Crawley.
The under-fire manager once again came in for stick from the travelling Cherries support as his men failed to make the most of a bright start before falling to a dispiriting 3-1 loss at Broadfield Stadium.
Fans again called for Groves’s head, while the Crawley contingent chanted ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ as the hosts capitalised on some poor Cherries defending to seal victory.
Groves watched as his men made a decent opening in awful conditions but was left facing further questions about his Dean Court future when the Reds went through the gears and punished Cherries’ inability to shut up shop.
Hope Akpan’s 31st-minute opener came against run of play before the lead was doubled when Joe Walsh made the most of a worrying lack of marking to head home Crawley’s second.
Cherries briefly rallied after the break and Lee Barnard looked to have provided the ideal springboard for a comeback when he netted seven minutes into the second half.
But Nicky Adams struck to put Crawley firmly in charge and it took some fine goalkeeping from ex-England star David James to deny Richie Barker’s outfit more goals in the closing stages.
This latest defeat came after manager Groves had received a much-needed boost ahead of kick-off with the return to fitness Richard Hughes.
One of three changes from the 2-1 defeat against Walsall last time out, Hughes was restored to the starting line-up at the expense of Joe Partington.
Defender Tommy Elphick replaced Steve Cook and youngster Josh Carmichael came in for fellow homegrown star Josh McQuoid, who did not feature in the matchday squad.
And although a surprise inclusion in the Cherries XI, Carmichael immediately caught the eye with his composed play and sensible distribution.
The Poole-born teenager, who played for Groves in the club’s youth set-up, was utilised on the right of a midfield diamond and featured prominently in a bright enough opening for the visitors.
Cherries’ progress was hit when striker Frank Demouge, who had made a promising start with his aerial presence, was stretchered off after appearing to suffer a heavy knock to the nose in a clash of heads.
Former Crawley star Matt Tubbs was his replacement and he was given a rapturous reception back on familiar territory and promptly went close with a curling free-kick.
The lively Eunan O’Kane went one better than Tubbs when his deflected 21st-minute cross-shot found the target and forced Reds keeper Paul Jones to hurriedly boot clear as the ball zipped off the sodden turf.
But for all their decent play, Cherries were again found badly wanting at the back as the hosts capitalised on some watchful defending to move 2-0 up before the break.
On 31 minutes, Adams broke clear on the right and was afforded far too much space to drill a low ball into the danger zone. Stephane Zubar half-cleared at full stretch but with David James drawn out of position, Akpan made no mistake to open the scoring from 12 yards.
It went from bad to worse for Cherries just before the interval when Walsh was allowed to run completely unopposed from the edge of the area to head home Mat Sadler’s inswinging free-kick.
Cherries were now well and truly on the back foot and only an excellent low save from James denied the now rampant Reds a third from Nicky Ajose.
Half-time gave Cherries valuable time to regroup and whatever was said had a quick – albeit brief – impact as Southampton loan striker Barnard fired home, via a deflection, to hand the Dorset outfit a lifeline.
But the revival was over almost before it had started as Crawley soon restored their two-goal cushion through a fine Adams finish. Gary Alexander raced clear of Elphick on the right and his low cross picked out Ajose, who cleverly teed up the onrushing Adams to hammer home across James for an excellent third.
James had to be at his best to adjust sharply and tip Ajose’s bundled effort over the crossbar as Cherries struggled to escape their own half.
Steve Fletcher was introduced from the bench and Barnard should have done better when he smashed a Tubbs cross high and wide.
But, in truth, Cherries rarely looked like threatening in a second half thoroughly dominated by Crawley.
It took a wonderful fingertip save from James to prevent further damage as Adams came extremely close with a fine free-kick.
To rub salt into Cherries wounds, they were subjected to taunts of ‘can we play you every week?’ as the Reds ensured Cherries’ nightmare start continued.
Crawley: (4-4-2) P Jones; Byrne, Davis (Connolly, h-t), Walsh, Sadler; M Jones (Bulman, 85), Simpson, Akpan, Adams; Ajose (Forte, 76), Alexander. Unused subs: Clarke, Torres, Hunts, Kuipers (g/k).
Cherries: (4-4-2) James 7*; Zubar 5.5, Elphick 5, Addison 5, Daniels 5.5; O’Kane 6 (Fletcher, 76), Hughes 6, Carmichael 7, Davids 5 (Partington, 52); Demouge (Tubbs, 11, 5.5), Barnard 6.5. Unused subs: Cook, Fogden, Grabban, Jalal (g/k).
Booked: Zubar, Daniels, Addison.
Referee: Andy Davies (Hampshire).
Attendance: 2,928 (including 435 away fans)