After losing at Dean Court to two disputed penalty decisions it seemed likely the Railwaymen would seek swift revenge on home territory and it very nearly turned out that way in a tough (but not dirty) hardfought examination of the Cherries promotion credentials with no quarter given in a riveting contest.
The Cherries arrived on the back of 4 straight wins with the same team as home v Portsmouth with the exception of a missing Marc Pugh who was not even on the bench, his place taken by new signing Ryan Fraser. Pugh presumably picked up an injury v Pompey or was being rested to unleash on Preston in the next game.
Rumours before the game suggested Charlie Daniels might be out for the rest of the season, which meant another chance to see the pacy Matt Ritchie at left back. As it turned out Ritchie would be involved in a number of key moments in the game.
Straight from the kick off Crewe made their intentions clear with the first of many attacks down the right side to put the Cherries makeshift left back under pressure with Mathias Pogba, Crewe's dangerous No 9 positioning himself against Ritchie's shoulder waiting for the ball over the top. This tactic eventually proved the Cherries undoing as Ritchie was left exposed or simply absent from defensive duties after a typical forage upfield.
With the game only a minute old a Crewe cross from the right produced a driven shot heading for the top corner. Jalal leapt like a salmon heading upstream, turning and twisting to gain extra leverage and with his fingertips just turned the ball round the post. A 'top drawer' save as they say on Sky Sports and had this happened in a major cup tie or even later on in the game it would have been talked about for years to come, which is why I'm giving Shwan's stunning save due recognition in this report.
This opening set the pattern for the first half hour with Cherries closed down and struggling to make an impression against pacy and spirited opponents. A succesion and defending of free kicks and corners had Cherries defening resolutely with Jalal called upon to make two more smart saves and safely handle a number of crosses. With Pitman playing deeper in front of Ritchie on the left, the only outlet was long balls up to Grabban who ran his socks off for the cause with no little skill. It seemed a long time before Cherries first real chance with Pitman heading over close in from a Francis cross. The four Exiles present all agreed a half-time Eddie team talk was sorely needed. With Ritchie booked for a pull back the Cherries survived to the break and a chance to shuffle the squad. Half -Time 0-0.
Cherries emerged with pocket battleship Fogden replacing McQuoid and this injection of pace and no doubt some harsh words from the manager about moving the ball more quickly and playing at a greater tempo. The change was immediate with O'Kane starting to pull the midfield strings, Arter, doing a passable impresion of Frank Lampard, arriving late in the area to fire testing shots at the Crewe goal and Hughes calmly organising things behind the lines like a quarter-master Sergeant major. Ironically the improvement in Cherries play provoked a purple patch for the home team in what was becoming an absorbing encounter. Crewe attacked with speed and gusto down both flanks and Jalal was called on again to keep the score at 0-0 with the help of crossbar, post and lineman's flag as Crewe built up a head of steam. Shwan made another superb save turning a goal bound shot round the post low down to his right hand side. It was therefore somewhat against the run of play when Rithcie was fouled (or maybe handball?) in the box and the Cherries were awarded yet another penalty against Crewe. Once again Pitman stepped up and scored with a hard shot to the keepers right. 1-0 after 59 mins.
Crewe looked stunned and Cherries became even more dominant with Grabban, Ritchie and Fogden charging down the pitch like non stop Pendolino's roaring through nearby Crewe station. Pitman's pace was more Pullman class but as they say there is no substitute for class and Brett's moment of genius was not far away, which was just as well as Crewe finally found a big gap in Cherries left side defence and an unchallenged cross was met by a bullet header from Pogba on 79 mins. 1-1 and game on.
With news that Donny were drawing with Franchise FC it seemed the Cherries had lost the chance to go top or potentially even worse with 20 mins still to go and the home team re-invigourated. We shouldn't have worried as another swift incisive attack saw Cook drive the ball across the box at speed towards Pitman who hit the ball first time back in the direction in came from but with his trademark right foot curl to bend the ball round the keeper into the bottom corner. Sheer class and justified celebration with the away fans gathered along the side stand. 2-1 on 84 mins. Time then for substitutions with Pitman giving way to Tubbs three minutes later and MacDonald replacing eager beaver O'Kane. We awaited the stoppage time board with interest but strangely there was no additional time and the referee blew for the end of the game and gave this correspondent the happiest task of reporting 'We are AFC Bournemouth we are TOP OF THE LEAGUE!'
So the Cherries come of age in the 21st game of the post Groves era. 15 wins and 5 draws and a thumping 50 points from 63 to underpin the remarkable rise from 21st to 1st in just over 4 months. Heady days indeed and if we keep our feet on the ground who knows what might be achieved in the final 14 games. In a game we could so easily have lost the final result encapsulated everything about the Cherries under Eddie and Jason. At the end of the season it will be the Tuesday nights at Crewe and Hartlepool that make the difference rather than our home form. The MOTM award should really go to the whole team for their never say die attitude. There was a moment in the first half when Seaborne made an airborne interception with a last ditch header that prevented a certain Crewe goal. There were many such moments in a heroic team performance so hats off to the champion Cherry boys.
I suppose Pitman's two goals make him the obvious candidate for MOTM but I'm going to give it to Shwan Jalal for 4 superb saves, save handling and shot stopping of the highest order.
So a Shrove Tuesday to remember and safe home to pancakes with honey and CHERRIES ON THE TOP.
AFCB: Jalal, Francis, Cook, Seabourne, Ritchie, McQuoid, Arter, Hughes, O'Kane, Grabban, Pitman
Subs: Allsopp, Partington, Fraser, Fletcher, Fogden (for McQuoid, HT), MacDonald (for O'Kane, 84 mins), Tubbs (for Pitman, 87 mins)
Jack Parker, Didsbury