Phil receives star Billing in Lancashire hotpot
- Robert Jones
Phil Billing took centre stage as AFC Bournemouth maintained their promotion challenge with a resounding 3-0 win over Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park on Saturday.
Billing provided the assist for Dom Solanke’s first-half opener before netting twice in the second half to put the finishing touches to an outstanding individual display.
His excellent cushioned header set up Solanke to bag his 30th goal of the season in the 21st minute, the Denmark international scoring with two finely-executed strikes after the break.
Victory saw Scott Parker’s team maintain a three-point lead in the second automatic promotion place with closest pursuers Nottingham Forest also winning, the Reds heading to Vitality Stadium on Tuesday.
Billing and Jordan Zemura were restored to the Cherries starting line-up as head coach Parker made two changes following the 3-3 draw with Swansea in midweek.
Zemura returned having missed the past four games with a hamstring injury, while Billing came in for Jamal Lowe who was named among the Cherries substitutes.
Adam Smith’s inclusion saw him join Marc Pugh in 14th place on the list of the club’s all-time leading appearance-makers in the league, the defender playing his 274th game.
Cherries defender Nat Phillips picked up a booking after just two minutes for a foul on Rovers striker Sam Gallagher.
The visitors had an early shout for a penalty waved away by referee Rob Jones after Zemura had gone to ground under a challenge from Lewis Travis.
And Rovers also appealed in vain for a spot kick after Gallagher had taken a tumble following a clash with Lloyd Kelly.
Billing, teed up by Ryan Christie, had the first shooting chance of the game after 12 minutes but his effort was blocked by a defender.
Scott Wharton’s handball earned the Cherries a free kick on the edge of the box with Billing’s shot charged down by Blackburn's defensive wall.
Solanke showed tremendous composure to draw first blood for the Cherries with a coolly-converted 30th goal of the season in the 21st minute.
The striker calmly stroked the ball out of the reach of Thomas Kaminski after Billing’s precise cushioned header from a Phillips pass had put him through.
As the hosts went in search of a quick response, Mark Travers parried a header from Gallagher before an effort from Ben Brereton Diaz struck the base of the post.
Billing fashioned another opening for Solanke midway through the first half, the striker’s shot looping off a defender and into the grateful hands of Kaminski.
And as chances continued to come for the Cherries, Jaidon Anthony saw his venomous strike hit the crossbar following good work by Zemura and Solanke.
Travers raced off his line to beat Gallagher to a teasing ball over the top by Travis before Joe Rothwell fired well wide on the stroke of half-time.
Brereton Diaz drew a fine save from Travers at the start of the second half, the Cherries goalkeeper beating away the frontman’s shot after he had jinked into a dangerous area.
Zemura created an opening following a darting run and, after his shot had been saved by Kaminski, Jefferson Lerma seized on the loose ball, only to see his effort blocked by a defender.
And as play quickly switched to the opposite end, Brereton Diaz saw his piledriver superbly beaten away by Travers.
Solanke did the hard work to get past van Hecke and Wharton, only to see his shot saved by Kaminski midway through the second period.
But Solanke had a hand as the Cherries doubled their lead just seconds later, referee Jones playing a great advantage after Siriki Dembele had been fouled by van Hecke.
And after Solanke had gathered the loose ball, he rolled it into the path of Billing who finished emphatically into the roof of the net to make it 2-0 in the 70th minute.
Billing added his second and the Cherries’ third, delicately placing the ball past Kaminski at his near post after Dembele had nutmegged van Hecke before providing the assist 11 minutes from time.
AFC Bournemouth: Travers, Smith, Phillips, Kelly, Zemura, Cook, Lerma, Anthony (Dembele, 62), Billing, Solanke (Lowe, 83), Christie (Mepham, 74).
Unused subs: Pearson, Moore, Brady, Woodman (g/k).
Blackburn Rovers: Kaminski, Lenihan, van Hecke, Wharton, Pickering, Travis, Rothwell (Dolan, 59), Hedges (Poveda, 59), Buckley, Brereton Diaz, Gallagher (Dack, 68).
Unused subs: Ayala, Edun, Zeefuik, Pears (g/k).
Booked: Wharton, Hedges, Buckley, van Hecke.
Referee: Rob Jones.
Attendance: 21,396 (including 1,944 away supporters).