MARC ILES' BIG MATCH VERDICT: Bournemouth 0-2 Bolton Wanderers
Thirty nine years ago, Muhammad Ali had just beaten George Foreman in the legendary Rumble in the Jungle. In doing so, his tactics became known as rope-a-dope – a method of counter-attacking that basically saw Foreman punch himself to a standstill before Ali exploited the gaps that opened up in his defence.
While you certainly can’t credit Eddie Howe’s side for having the same kind of punching power Foreman did back then, there were certainly comparisons to be drawn by the way Wanderers bided their time and picked their spot.
Those who were not among the incredible 1,000 travelling contingent at Dean Court may look at the possession statistics (64-36 in Bournemouth’s favour) and suggest the Whites were being unduly negative against a side fresh out of League One.
But nothing could be further from the truth. This was smart football – far smarter than anything Wanderers have come up with this season and, you must hope, a benchmark for what is yet to come.
It wasn’t without its tension, and before David Ngog opened the scoring a few minutes before the break you would have been tempted to give the Cherries a decision on points.
In the second half, however, Freedman’s side went about their business like a wily ring veteran before Jermaine Beckford landed the knockout blow in the last minute.
Not since the 0-0 draw at Blackpool have Wanderers looked quite so defensively astute and though due credit must go to Andy Lonergan and his back four, this really was an afternoon where everyone chipped in.
Yet sadly were Freedman to adopt this kind of approach in front of 15,000 of his own supporters at the Reebok next week, it would most likely draw criticism.
Results versus entertainment has been an issue for Sam Allardyce, Gary Megson and Owen Coyle but Freedman is talking right now like a manager who is focussed only on the former.
And if it gives Wanderers fans more days like this on the road, then it may well be worth a few grumbles and moans every other Saturday.
Freedman elected to name an unchanged side after losing Darren Pratley (back), Craig Davies (hamstring) and Andre Moritz (sickness) in the build up.
They quickly set out their stall to absorb pressure, trusting in a much-improved back four.
Matt Mills stole the show with some body-on-the-line defending, including one crucial block from Tokelo Rantie’s goalbound effort, while Tim Ream cruised through another 90 minutes without seemingly to break a sweat.
Wanderers’ in-form centre halves have grabbed the headlines recently but due credit must also go to the other three men in the defensive equation.
Andy Lonergan’s arrival for the injured Adam Bogdan has lent a sense of calm. He was seriously called upon just once, when Lewis Grabban surged through in the first half, but produced a terrific save to push the Cherries top scorer’s shot over the bar.
On the left, Alex Baptiste’s dutiful displays continue despite being played clearly out of position, while on the right granite-like Kevin McNaughton just gets on with the job with the minimum of fuss.
Skipper Zat Knight was also added to the mix late on, blending seamlessly into the gameplan, but the six-game unbeaten run on which Wanderers currently find themselves has been built on defensive improvement, even if the attacking side has not always matched up.
Baptiste continues to look a threat in the opposition box and after forcing on-loan West Brom keeper Lee Camp into a fine one-handed save, he then saw another effort clip the heels of Shaun MacDonald and drift wide.
Bournemouth were given enough incentive to make things fairly nervous as the half went on – with Tommy Elphick’s header from a long throw providing the biggest scare but there always seemed to be enough white shirts in the way as the Cherries kept passing around the edges.
Then, snap, Wanderers clicked into action to open the scoring.
Jay Spearing should have done it slightly earlier, spooning over a shot from 12 yards, but a few moments later Chung-Yong Lee slipped Ngog through on goal and the Frenchman danced around Camp before dribbling a shot over the line in slow motion past the despairing dive of Elphick and his keeper.
Last week Freedman had questioned whether he needed to change his team’s style after taking the lead but in this instance, there really was no need.
The tempo picked up a little after the break but that only really served to open up wider gaps in the Bournemouth defence.
McNaughton played Ngog in for a good chance, his shot blocked in the end by the tip of Steve Cook’s boot, while Neil Danns, Medo Kamara and Spearing all peppered shots in on Camp’s goal.
Though Brett Pittman whizzed a free kick narrowly over Lonergan’s bar there were few moments of genuine concern at the Wanderers end, particularly after the added insurance of Knight was introduced at the back.
So confident of his gameplan was Freedman, in fact, that he was happy for Sanmi Odelusi to replace Ngog and add some youthful energy to the last half hour.
It needed a grand finale, however, and after running thanklessly for 90 minutes Beckford finally got the pass his labour had deserved.
It came from Odelusi and there was still plenty to be done when faced with three Bournemouth defenders but a shimmy on the edge of the box gave him just enough space to crash home his fourth goal of the season.
The 500-mile round trip had been worth it and all of a sudden a six-game unbeaten run is not being described with the caveat of dropped points and drawn games.
There is momentum for Freedman to build on but crucially he has one more millstone to remove from around his neck, and that’s to register a win at home.
How he chooses to go about that business against Millwall – Liam Feeney and all – next weekend, really will be the discussion point this week.