This was not what fans of bottom-of-the-table Hartlepool United wanted to hear prior to tonight’s encounter with the Cherries given that only a spot of divine intervention might save them from relegation this season. On a chilly wintry evening in front of Hartlepool’s lowest crowd of the season, AFCB were keen to bounce back after losing their unbeaten run at Walsall on Saturday. With Shwan Jalal in for David James and debutant Dan Seaborne replacing an otherwise engaged Steve Cook, Bournemouth started brightly with Harry Arter and Eunan O’Kane pulling the strings in midfield.
After 4 minutes, shortly after Antony Sweeney hobbled off with an ankle injury, Lewis Grabban almost added to Hartlepool’s woes when the ball ran invitingly to him after a well-worked corner but AFCB’s leading scorer blazed over the bar. However, as time went on, Hartlepool began to get a foothold in the game and had an excellent chance to score after 18 minutes when substitute Jack Baldwin sent Jonathan Franks through on goal with only Jalal to beat. Thankfully, his shot lacked precision and Jalal parried to safety. Bournemouth continued to press forwards and were rewarded after 28 minutes when Josh McQuoid made no mistake with his accuracy having climbed between a couple of Pools defenders to head O’Kane’s cross past Scott Flinders into the bottom corner of the net.
However, there was no time for complacency as Pools legend Richie Humphreys headed agonisingly wide of Jalal’s left hand post after a decent run and cross by Franks.
Bournemouth soon got back into their stride and began to dominate possession with their brand of neat passing football denying Hartlepool a sniff anywhere remotely near Jalal’s goal. Bournemouth were very easy on the eye as they kept hold of the ball and weaved pretty patterns in midfield but needed more focus on getting bodies forward and finding the net as Flinders was rarely troubled. 0-1 at half time with the Cherries fans sensing their first win at Victoria Park since 1993.
Six minutes after the restart, however, the scores were level. Evan Horwood’s high and looping free kick got the better of Shwan Jalal, who under pressure from Steve Howard, managed to palm the ball onto the crossbar only for Jack Baldwin to bundle home from close range and briefly knock himself out in the process. ‘Blue Army’ reverberated around the Town End with all of the Cherries early dominance in vain. Hartlepool’s celebrations, however, were short-lived as Bournemouth kept their cool and went ahead after 63 minutes.
Harry Arter’s delightful midfield pass found Grabban down the right wing. The man with the goatee cut the ball back to Eunan O’Kane who jinked towards goal before being tripped in the area by Sam Collins. The referee from Hertfordshire pointed to the spot. Lewis Grabban stepped up to face Scott Flinders (an older version of David de Gea but without the quiff) and duly converted the penalty into the bottom corner as Flinders floundered. Within a few minutes of taking the lead, AFCB were back in control with Harry Arter shooting into the side netting and Marc Pugh almost latching onto a Grabban cross.
After 76 minutes, Flinders parried a long range shot from Arter to safety before Steve Howard forced a similar save from Shwan Jalal at the other end a minute or so later. Matt Tubbs replaced Grabban with a few minutes to go and had a couple of decent efforts towards goal. 4 minutes of added time ensured a jittery end to the match with a solid defensive performance keeping Hartlepool at bay. The final whistle was eventually blown – much to the delight of the 68 Cherries diehards pleased to see us ‘get the monkey off our back’ (pardon the pun) after 20 winless years on the Teesside Riviera and move back into
the play-off places after an impressive team performance from everybody concerned. Well done to the team and all those supporters who travelled a lot further than I did.
Harry Arter – energetic and creative performance despite the ball whacking him in the face early on. Honourable mentions to O’Kane and Pugh, too.
AFCB: Jalal, Francis, Elphick, Seabourne, Daniels, McQuoid, Arter, O'Kane, Hughes, Pugh, Grabban
Subs: Allsopp, Partington, McDermott, Fletcher, Pitman, Tubbs (for Grabban, 86 mins), Fogden (for Daniels, 90 mins)
Jon Blake, South Shields