Bournemouth build on local rivals' south-coast success story

AFC Bournemouth 5 Lincoln City 2
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The Independent Football

Few would have marked the south coast as a hotbed of any sport other than croquet or deck quoits, but Bournemouth's crushing victory in the Third Division play-off final sealed what has been a dramatic season by the seaside.

With Portsmouth in the Premiership, Southampton reaching the FA Cup final and now Bournemouth scoring more goals in a play-off final than any team in league history, the game on the south coast has risen from its deckchair.

As it had this time last year, Bournemouth's season came to an emotional full stop in Wales. Last year Sean O'Driscoll's young side had been relegated at Wrexham; now, one year older, they had embraced promotion in the far more dramatic surroundings of Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

For O'Driscoll this was something of a personal triumph. He has been involved at Bournemouth as a player, youth-team coach, physiotherapist, manager and even occasional bus driver since 1984, the year they overcame Manchester United in the FA Cup. Last autumn, his chairman warned him that unless results improved, his association with the club would be severed; a threat which now appears petulant and premature.

On Saturday, faced by a Lincoln side which boasted the best defensive record in the division, O'Driscoll's boys rose manfully to an occasion that seemed at first to have overawed them. The trouble with Third Division play-off finals is that they are like putting the Leigh-on-Sea Amateur Dramatic Society on at La Scala; all too often the stage swallows them, and for 28 minutes Bournemouth forgot their lines.

However, once Steve Fletcher hooked in a long punt upfield, nodded on by Marcus Browning, the match leapt into life. Lincoln's players, many of whom had been trawled from non-League football by Keith Alexander, responded with a thumping header from Ben Futcher but the game turned moments before the half-time whistle when the Bournemouth captain, Carl Fletcher, sneaked beyond some lax Lincoln defenders to head home Gareth O'Connor's floated cross.

By the time the hour mark was reached, Bournemouth, facing a side visibly losing their self-belief, had scored twice more to settle the issue. No sooner did Mark Bailey's header give a flicker of hope to the fans from the cathedral city, who have seen their club through some very bleak times, than Fletcher popped up again to ensure that on the final whistle Alan Marriott, beaten more often than any keeper in a play-off final, lay slumped with tears streaming across his face.

"That was our worst defensive display of the season. We gave away sloppy goals against a team that scored every time they had a shot," said Alexander, whose side might have had four themselves had they not had missed an open net and struck the crossbar. The Lincoln manager's chief task will be to lift a collection of underpaid, overachieving players next season. Teams that lose play-off finals, especially after the season Lincoln have had, are often vulnerable. "There's no chance of that happening," Alexander insisted. "There will be no teams in the Third Division who'll want to play us next season."

Bournemouth's 23-year-old captain was naturally enveloped by entirely different emotions, more inclined to savour the moment than to think about what was to come. "It's what dreams are made of, it's a performance I will remember for the rest of my life," Fletcher said. "All week I was trying to stop myself thinking about lifting the trophy but for it to come true is something else."

Goals: S Fletcher (28) 1-0; Futcher (35) 1-1; C Fletcher (45) 2-1; Purches (56) 3-1; O'Connor (60) 4-1; Bailey (75) 4-2; C Fletcher (77) 5-2.

AFC Bournemouth (4-4-2): Moss; Young, C Fletcher, Gulliver, Cummings; Elliott (Thomas, 90), Purches, Browning, O'Connor (Stock, 80); S Fletcher (Holmes, 85), Hayter. Substitutes not used: McDonald, Stewart (gk).

Lincoln City (3-4-3): Marriott; Weaver (Cornelly, 57), Morgan, Futcher; Bailey, Butcher, Gain, Bimson; Mayo, Cropper (Willis, 72), Smith (Yeo, 50). Substitutes not used: Sedgemore, Bloomer.

Referee: A Kaye (West Yorkshire).

Bookings: Lincoln: Weaver, Morgan.

Man of the match: C Fletcher.

Attendance: 32,148.