PLAY-OFF SEMI May 13 AFC Bournemouth 3-1 Bury (agg 3-1) Att: 7952

Last updated : 16 May 2003 By Ellis Griffin
After the nil-nil at Gigg Lane (with its less than immaculate turf), this would be a one-off game with everything to play for. And what a night it turned out to be!

Understandably both teams started nervously with the ball being hoofed aimlessly around, but the Cherries gradually took command and the first chance of the night fell to Steve Fletcher who shot just over after good work by Hayter and Purches. At the other end, Moss did well to tip a Woodthorpe drive over the bar, but that proved to be the visitors' most dangerous moment of the half as they were increasingly forced onto the back foot.

First a Neil Young cross caused havoc in the Bury box, but they survived that scare. Then, in a delightful flowing move, Hayter and Supa exchanged passes on the right before the big man put James in with an inch-perfect through ball. The striker shot low and hard, but the ball cannoned back off the foot of the right-hand post. Oh dear, was it going to be one of those nights, we wondered.

Bury were defending desperately now as we continued to attack with purpose. At last the pressure was rewarded in the 21st minute when the lively Cummings crossed from the left, Fletch headed the ball down and O'Connor reacted first to slam it into the bottom left-hand corner from 15 yards.

Jubilation naturally ensued, and nearly broke out again a few minutes later when the Irishman cut in from the left, ran at the retreating Shakers' defence before unleashing a wicked drive, only to be denied by the post. Then Garner had to be at his agile best to tip a deflected Gulliver header over the bar.

This was great stuff to watch, but still only one goal to show for it. It's been a feature of our season that we've failed to take full advantage when on top in games. Would we come to regret it again tonight?

That question was answered unequivocally by Elliott and Hayter in the 38th minute! A misjudged pass across the back of the Bury defence, Wade chased, rounded Swailes, hared down the right flank, crossed on the run, trademark diving header at the near post by Hayter, 2-0! And thoroughly deserved. The home crowd were ecstatic, as they were witnessing what was surely the Cherries' best attacking performance of the season.

HT: 2-0

Preece brought himself on in the second half and also replaced Forrest with Nugent to bolster the visitors' attack. And the changes seemed to be working as Bury started to come more into the game, and Moss was being kept a little more busy now. However, we still looked the more likely to score with Big Fletch's silky skills creating a chance for himself, but his shot being deflected for a corner.

Another goal for us would surely be enough, and it came on the hour mark when Purches played Hayter in on the left side of the box and the striker's shot was too much for Garner. No. 14 for No. 14 Hayter who is hitting goalscoring form at just the right time!

"We want four!" was the chant and certainly it looked on the cards as we continued to attack. However, just 7 minutes later, a long clearance out of defence by the Shakers caught us out and Preece just beat the offside trap to slot the ball past Moss who had - perhaps injudiciously - come a long way out of his goal. The ball rolled agonisingly slowly into the net with Cherries' defenders in hot pursuit.

With 23 minutes still remaining, Bury now sensed the glimmer of an opportunity and began to string some attacking moves together. Soon it was the home team who found themselves defending desperately. The home crowd too were becoming anxious as the ball bounced around in our penalty area. The anxiety lasted for a good quarter of an hour, but we weathered the storm and even came close to scoring ourselves when Purches attacked down the left, cut inside and curled a beautiful shot against he crossbar.

In injury time, Stock came on for Elliott who appeared to be set upon by Bury players as he left the field (probably some residual rancour over Stuart's sending-off in the first leg). At the final whistle hundreds of fans swarmed onto the pitch and there appeared to be punches thrown in the vicinity of the dugouts. An unseemly end to a pulsating match, but what a good night we had. Cardiff here we come!

Has to be Hayter for the goals, but the barely fit Browning deserves a special mention for being such an influential presence in midfield and there were other excellent performances throughout the team.

AFCB: Moss, Young, Cummings, Gulliver, C Fletcher, Browning, Purches, O'Connor, Elliott (Stock 90), Hayter, S Fletcher.
Subs not used: Stewart, McDonald, Thomas, Holmes
Ellis Griffin, Chertsey