I wondered how our 'wee jinky' would have fared in the 1960's and decided it was a good job he was born in the 90's!.
Thoughts of vertically challenged people were continued before the match by the sight of the diminutive bartender in the 'Corner Pin' and his stepladder to reach the beer pumps. It was heart-warming to see diversity in the workplace in action.
The even number of Exiles present was perfect for a civilised taxi ride to the Keepmoat and to our great surprise we found the Mudeford beach pitch of last season was now as lush as the Lower Pleasure Gardens in spring. A good omen maybe for the Cherries style of play as was team news of the return of Daniels at left back with Elliott Ward in place of Elphick. The only other change from the Div One promotion team was Fraser replacing the injured Ritchie on the right side. So Cherries were 4-4-2 with two wide players and the Arter/Macdonald axis in centre midfield.
From the outset Cherries seemed more balanced and comfortable and had the better of the early exchanges with the majority of possession. Donny had signed three/four new players with Championship experience but looked second best as Cherries passing game left them chasing shadows. Indeed after early misses by Ward and Arter it was 13 mins before Donny mounted an attack on goal.
Daniels looked very trim and speedy with Macdonald staying back at set pieces and breakaways to allow Ward to push forward and bring his height and presence to both midfield and attack. With Fraser a bit more subdued this only allowed Pugh more of the limelight as Cherries attacked down both flanks in style with Arter pulling the strings, Cook rock solid at the back alongside the ever reliable Francis.
Perhaps memories of the 0-1 defeat last season were seeping into Donny minds and with home frustration growing the game became a feisty affair. This began with the home crowd's anger at perceived time wasting by Rocky with the ref awarding a free kick and administering a warning to our goalie who was not exactly rushing to release the ball.
A Pitman missed chance was then followed by a first yellow to Donny for clattering (yes) Ryan Fraser. The resulting free kick by Daniels caused havoc in the box and Pitman scored with a right foot finish at the far post in the 31st min. 1-0 to the Cherries and a deserved lead.
Not surprisingly a flashpoint followed on 38 mins with a late tackle by David Cotterill on Arter by the touchline in front of both managers leading to a 'tete a tete' between Howe and Dickov - quite a match up. Arter did not help matters by doing a few rollovers holding his leg in agony before resuming the game minutes later after a miraclious recovery, which was not well received by the home support!
The ref obviously needed to even things up so he booked Rocky shortly afterwards for more time wasting and gave Pitman a yellow for a poorly timed late tackle from behind. The half ended on 48mins with a good fingertip save by Rocky Allsop from a Cotterill shot. 1-0 half time lead.
The second half was a calmer and more subdued affair with much huffing, puffing and pressure by Donny with no end result and Cherries mounting a strong rearguard action that restricted The home side to a sequence of high and wide long range shots.
Donny made two subs around the hour and another with 15 mins to go with no real affect on the pattern of the game. Another crazy foul by Husband on Fraser on 67 mins led to Ryan departing three minutes later to be replaced by Mohammed Coulibaly who was immediately in the action, looking skilled and speedy on the right wing.
Cherries were now very dangerous on the break as Donny pressed forward, which led to a great chance for a second goal on 81 mins when a curling left foot Pitman cross found the head of Grabban at the back stick but ex Chelsea keeper Ross Turnbull pulled off a great reaction save. Two further late Cherries subs (Thomas for Grabban and Elphick for Pugh) used up the three mins stoppage time and we celebrated a hugely welcome classic 1-0 away performance.
What can we make of the result?. Not a lot to be honest for this was a game not unlike the previous season in Div One that only served to highlight the huge gulf between the two divisions. That said this was a six pointer in terms of survival in the Championship and will do no harm at all to the teams confidence away from home.
However any firm conclusions about Cherries away form should be put on ice until Boro, Leeds, Forest and Leicester are out of the way in a months time. With three of the next four games at home there is every chance we might hold on to 6th place or better, which would be a fabulous start despite the dodgy goal difference.
Cookie was superb as was Daniels but my man of the match goes to new dad Elliott Ward for his versatile impact on the game in both defence and attack and threat at set pieces.
I fear for Donny as the attendance 6,769 (inc 290 away fans) was frankly hopeless for a game at this level in a ground that holds 16,000. The atmosphere in the stadium was non existant and poor home form (again) could result in Cherries not having to worry about one of the three relegation places.
AFCB: Allsop, Francis, Cook, Ward, Daniels, Fraser, Arter, MacDonald, Pugh, Grabban, Pitman
Subs: Flahavan, Harte, Surman, McDermott, Coulibaly (for Fraser, 71 mins), Thomas (for Grabban, 89 mins), Elphick (for Pugh, 90 mins)
Jack Parker, Didsbury