The latest blow to the hopes of Harry Redknapp leading Queens Park Rangers to automatic promotion could not have come from much closer to home. Redknapp could have walked to work yesterday from his Sandbanks mansion to the ground where he cut his teeth in management to see his team of ex-Premier League big names outfought by a hard-working Bournemouth side with play-off aspirations of their own.
He might have reflected that this was a fine way for the Cherries to show their gratitude for his 100 games as a player, between 1972 and 1976, and nine years in the dugout from 1983 to 1992 – not to mention the loan of players including Rio Ferdinand and Jermain Defoe.
But the Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe, who played briefly for Redknapp at Portsmouth, has his own agenda. The club are aiming for their highest-ever finish, beating their 12th place under Redknapp in 1989, and hope for better still, namely sixth. “It’s still on,” Howe said.
Redknapp made a low-key entrance, with no fanfare and only three or four spectators requiring autographs. The game opened predictably, QPR outpassing the enthusiastic but limited home side and forcing two excellent saves from Lee Camp with shots from distance. And just as predictably, they failed to make what should have been superior skill count, and fell behind to central defender Tommy Elphick’s header from a corner in first-half injury time.
Rangers levelled within seconds of the restart, Armand Traoré controlling Tom Carroll’s pass and volleying in but, just short of the hour, Bournemouth’s top scorer, Lewis Grabban, pounced after QPR failed to clear Yann Kermorgant’s cross-shot from the left.
Redknapp threw on top scorer, Charlie Austin, fit again after missing 12 games with a shoulder injury, and saw his side handed an advantage when Harry Arter was sent off for a foul on Junior Hoilett. But they were frustrated and denied in the last second of the match when Brett Pitman nodded Richard Dunne’s header off the line. “We lacked imagination.” Redknapp said. “It [automatic promotion] looks impossible now.”
AFC Bournemouth (4-4-2): Camp; Francis, Elphick, Cook, Harte; Ritchie (Fraser, 75), Surman, Arter, Pugh (Pitman, 90); Kermorgant (O’Kane, 70), Grabban.
Queens Park Rangers (4-4-1-1): Green; Simpson, Dunne, Hill, Assou-Ekotto; Hoilett, Carroll, Jenas (Benayoun, 72), Traoré (Zamora, 80); Morrison; Maiga (Austin, 64).
Referee: Jon Moss