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AFC Bournemouth - The Greatest Escape?

Simon WilliamsSenior Analyst IMay 1, 2008

English League One's AFC Bournemouth have had a torrid season, deducted 10 points for going into administration, they have found themselves playing catch up since January.

Now, with their final game of the season just two days away, Bournemouth are on the verge of pulling off possibly the greatest relegation escape of all time.

After losing to Gillingham on the 22nd March, Bournemouth sat a massive 14 points away from safety, with just seven games to go. A couple more defeats and they would be relegated in double quick time.

But then, out of the blue, something amazing happened. Bournemouth, perhaps with the pressure off and relegation imminent, started winning, and winning, and winning again.

Bournemouth have won six successive games. First up was Tranmere Rovers at home, and after a dream start with a goal in the first minute, they ran out 2-1 winners.

Next was Millwall at home, 2-0 this time, with both goals coming in the final 15 minutes. Surely just a delaying of the inevitable most thought.

Even after those home wins, Bournemouth still sat nine points adrift of safety with only five games to play, and next up were run away leaders Swansea away from home. This would surely be the final nail in the coffin, as defeat could lead to relegation on Saturday April 5th.

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Bournemouth were determined to not go out with a whimper, but when Swansea took the lead after 50 minutes, Cherries fans must have been fearing the worst. Then, amazingly, an equalizer in the 90th minute through 18 year old Joe Partington. He had only turned 18 four days earlier, on the 1st April, but this was no April fools joke.

A draw would have been an astonishing enough result, but Bournemouth weren't finished yet. After 92 minutes, Jo Kuffour struck a dramatic winner to send the travelling fans wild. Bournemouth had pulled off something incredible, an away win at Championship bound Swansea City, three league wins on the bounce for the first time all season.

So, four games to go, but still six points to make up. Still a mountain to climb, and surely this form could not last?

Next up were Bristol Rovers at home, and it was an old head who helped them to victory number four. Darren Anderton, 36 years old, and a scorer in the World Cup finals for England 10 years ago, struck the opening goal in another 2-1 win, with Kuffour netting the decisive second in front of a near 7000 crowd, some 2800 higher than the Tranmere game from just a few weeks earlier.

Cherries fans were starting to believe in the impossible.

But, some bad news, relegation contenders Crewe had also won, so Bournemouth were still six points adrift of safety on April 12th, with just three games left to play. Failure to win at Walsall in their next game, and the dream would be over.

Walsall would be a tough game, they were comfortably in the top half, but they had won more away than at home, so a chance for Bournemouth perhaps. 10 minutes played, and Bournemouth struck first through Hollands, but on 33 minutes it was 1-1. Bournemouth did not let their heads drop for long. Two minutes later, and Jo Kuffour netted his 5th goal in six games to make it 2-1, then, after withstanding some Walsall pressure, the points were made safe in the 63rd minute when Pitman stroked home a penalty.

A fifth straight win, this was real Roy of the Rovers stuff, why we all love watching football. Bournemouth were now just four points from safety, a gain of 10 points in less than a month.

It appears the footballing gods had planned the fixture list to perfection. The next game for Bournemouth, last Saturday the 26th April, saw them at home to fellow relegation strugglers Crewe. 

The Alex had won two games on the bounce themselves to ease their relegation worries, but they were just six ahead of Bournemouth, and knew that defeat would leave them needing something in their final game to be sure of safety. They didn't bet on Newcastle and Aston Villa target Sam Vokes though.

The striker, another 18 year-old, scored his 12th goal of the season for a one nil win. Six straight wins for the Cherries, incredible, beautiful and mesmerising.

Vokes had gone 18 games without scoring from the start of the season, but had been on fire since the new year and it was only right that he netted the winner in such a crucial game.

So there we have it, Bournemouth have just one game to go to save themselves, they are one point behind Cheltenham Town, and three points behind Crewe, heading in to this Saturdays matches.

Bournemouth face a trip to Carlisle, a team who desperately need the points themselves as they chase automatic promotion, and who have lost only three home games all season, winning 17 out of 22 matches.

Crewe are at home to mid table Oldham, who have nothing to play for. Cheltenham are at home to Doncaster, Carlisle's rivals for automatic promotion. Can Bournemouth win a seventh straight game, and complete the greatest of escapes?

I have no ill-feelings for Cheltenham, Crewe, or Carlisle, but I will certainly be rooting for the Cherries on Saturday afternoon. A win at Carlisle will be the seventh wonder of the Cherries world.

It will equal a club record for league wins stretching back to 1970. 

Isn't football brilliant!?

*Some of you may be wondering why Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp is the photo attached to this article, well Harry was Bournemouth manager for nine years from 1983-1992, famously knocking Manchester United out of the FA Cup in 1984.

He is a legend at the club, and earlier this year promised to do all he could to ensure that the Cherries would not go out of business. He is also a famous great escape artist himself, pulling Portsmouth from the depths two seasons ago to complete a dramatic final day escape.

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