Cherries into last 16 of Premier League Cup
Goalkeeper Mark Travers took centre stage as AFC Bournemouth booked a place in the last 16 of the Premier League Cup courtesy of a 1-1 draw against West Brom.
Travers made a string of outstanding saves and was only beaten by Finn Azaz's equaliser, which came six minutes from time at Hednesford Town’s Keys Park.
Jaidon Anthony had fired the visitors into a 23rd-minute lead as the draw guaranteed the Cherries would finish in the top two in Group C.
And they will be hoping to top the group with victory over Liverpool in front of a bumper crowd at Vitality Stadium on Sunday 24th February (1pm).
Anthony opened the scoring when he finished a superb move involving Kyle Taylor and Tom Hanfrey midway through the first half.
But the Cherries were indebted to Travers for preserving their interval lead, the goalkeeper pulling off two excellent saves either side of Anthony’s goal.
And the 19-year-old Irishman continued his heroics as the Cherries were forced to withstand considerable pressure after the break with Jack Simpson seeing red in injury-time having collected two yellow cards in the closing 10 minutes.
Simpson and Sam Surridge, both unused substitutes during the Cherries’ 3-0 defeat at Liverpool on Saturday, were named in Shaun Cooper’s starting line-up.
And with defender Corey Jordan pulling up in the warm-up, a late change saw Luke Nippard step up from the bench to replace him.
A fine save from Travers prevented the Baggies from taking the lead after the Cherries had lost possession on the edge of their own 18-yard box in the seventh minute.
But after Morgan Rogers’s pass had given Sam Wilding a clear sight of goal, Travers got down well to his right to turn the striker’s effort past the upright.
The Cherries’ neat, passing play created two opportunities in quick succession with Surridge’s header from a Nippard cross failing to trouble West Brom goalkeeper Alex Palmer.
However, Palmer had to be on his toes after another centre from Nippard had been met by Anthony, with the Baggies stopper tipping his looping header over the crossbar.
Anthony drew first blood for the Cherries when he finished a sweeping move, started by Taylor near the halfway line, midway through the first half.
Taylor’s driving run from deep took him into the heart of enemy territory before he laid the ball invitingly into the path of roving left-back Hanfrey.
And Hanfrey picked out Anthony with an inch-perfect cut-back, the frontman calmly stroking the ball past the despairing dive of Palmer and into the bottom corner of the net.
Surridge went close to doubling the Cherries’ lead just minutes later when his angled drive from a Dinesh Gillela assist flashed past the post.
Travers pulled off another top-drawer save to preserve the Cherries’ advantage, the teenager beating away Jamie Soule’s effort from point-blank range in the 33rd minute.
As the hosts looked to fashion an equaliser, Rogers’s driven effort was clutched low down by Travers before Palmer smothered a speculative strike from Surridge at the other end.
The Baggies appealed in vain for a penalty at the start of the second half after referee Will Finney deemed Sam Sherring had fouled Soule just outside the box.
Travers continued to thwart the hosts when he blocked a rasping drive from Rogers with his legs before pulling off arguably his best save of the night to deny Soule.
The goalkeeper stood tall after Soule had met a Rogers cross with a bullet header from six yards, Travers acrobatically palming the striker's effort behind for a corner.
Although the Baggies made most of the running in the second period, the Cherries defended resolutely to restrict their goalscoring chances until the closing stages.
The impressive Rogers tried his luck from distance eight minutes from time but could only manage to fire wide.
However, the hosts were rewarded for their perseverance when Azaz finally found a way past the inspired Travers, slotting home the equaliser with a low drive in the 84th minute.
Travers continued his heroics late on, making crucial saves at his near post to deny both Rogers and Stanley Asomugha before kicking away an effort from Soule.
Simpson received his marching orders after picking up two yellow cards in quick succession in the closing stages but the Cherries held on to secure the point they had needed for qualification for the knockout phase of the competition.