Review by Phil Sawyer (Twitter: @sawyer_phil)
AFC Bournemouth hammered Middlesbrough 4-0 at a sun- drenched Dean Court, all but securing their top flight status for another season. Eddie Howe’s men rose to the big occasion in typical style – ruthlessly punishing a limited ‘Boro side, who look increasingly likely to be sliding towards an immediate return to the Championship.
Following consecutive defeats to the division’s top two sides, this game had suddenly taken on increased significance for a Bournemouth side seeking a return to form ahead of the final matches of the campaign. Defeat would have left the team anxiously looking over their shoulders at the chasing pack, but if there were any pre-match nerves, these were vanquished almost as soon as the game kicked off.
As is so often the case in their home fixtures, AFCB got off to a flying start. A training ground move of geometric precision on the left wing created the opening, and when Joshua King steered the ball home, Bournemouth had the lead after 90 seconds. King has been in red-hot form since the turn of the year and his 14th goal of the season was a crushing blow to ‘Boro, who have lacked goals all season. The Teesiders were visibly stunned with their game plan in tatters, as they faced having to find a way back into the match. Instead, they fell further behind less than 15 minutes later.
The Cherries were playing with a fluidity and intensity reminiscent of when these sides last met on this ground in the Championship, and ‘Boro were struggling to cope. When Harry Arter pounced on some uncertain defending on the edge of the area, the ball fell to Benick Afobe, who made no mistake and calmly slotted home to double the advantage. The game was up for Middlesbrough just 4 minutes later when Ramirez picked up a second yellow for a rash, needless challenge on Pugh deep in the Cherries’ half – and was given his marching orders. That the lightweight winger had picked up his first caution for an embarrassing dive did not make him a popular figure amongst a vocal travelling support.
From this point, it was a case of how many Bournemouth could add in a season where they have now notched an impressive 31 home goals. With the pressure off, the Reds began to turn a possession carousel – the only negative being an unfortunate reoccurrence of a calf injury to Dan Gosling shortly before half time. His replacement, Lewis Cook – who has seen his first team opportunities limited this season – impressed when introduced and combined superbly with Marc Pugh to make it 3-0.
With Middlesbrough over-committing players forward in a bid to salvage anything from the game, the England under 20’s star slid a brilliantly weighted pass out to Pugh, who cut inside his marker with ease, before curling home a beautifully shaped finish into the top corner in front of the North Stand. Pugh was superb throughout, and his goal capped a virtuoso performance well appreciated by the home fans. AFCB’s number 7, who has risen to legendary status for the part he’s played in many of the landmark moments in the clubs recent history, was fully deserving of his man of the match award.
When Charlie Daniels, another fans favourite, danced through a static defence to thump home the forth and final goal, the stadium erupted. Bournemouth fans knew the importance of this result and with their 4 remaining fixtures all against teams around or below them in the table, they can look forward to their team chasing down a points and position record in the coming weeks.