A defeat, a win and a draw from our opening three games is the most solid of starts. There’s not much to get overly excited about nor there’s not much to be overly concerned about. We’re still finding our feet in the Championship but, importantly, we have points on the board.
While we have already played the team that is top of the table, this upcoming game against Bournemouth theoretically provides us with one of our biggest test of the season. Last year, there were two divisions between these two sides, Bournemouth had spent in excess of £30 million on transfers, while the reported £750,000 we spent on Matt Godden was one of our most expensive transfers in a decade. Now in the same division, there remains a clear gulf in terms of financial and playing resources, but for 90 minutes, we will be equals and each have a chance of winning.
Last week’s team against Barnsley provided a further indication of just where Mark Robins’ thinking at this stage of the season is at. The 3-4-2-1 shape has remained and the starting XI has started to settle down, with partnerships and relationships forming across the pitch.
The one area of the team yet to be resolved is just who partners Gustavo Hamer in central midfield. The Dutch midfielder has started alongside a different player in each of the first three games, with Liam Kelly picking up an injury on the opening day, while Jordan Shipley and Ben Sheaf have had their moments but haven’t seemed overly convinced in what they can offer the side. If Liam Kelly is fit enough to start this game, it seems like he will, if not, Ben Sheaf is likely to keep his place in the side, but will have to be more careful in possession than he was in the opening stages against Barnsley last week.
Elsewhere, it looks to be Ryan Giles’ shirt to lose at left wing-back for the time being. The Wolves loanee’s blistering pace has been a key element of our attacking threat over these opening few games, which could be useful in this game against an opponent looking to dominate the ball. However, he hasn’t looked particularly confident as a defender, particularly when it comes to preventing crosses down his side of the pitch, which could tempt Mark Robins into starting Sam McCallum here for extra defensive security.
Last Time We Met
The 2012/13 season was the first time since 1963/64 that Coventry City and Bournemouth were in the same division, and the only occasion since Bournemouth changed their name from Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic. Against a Bournemouth side gearing up for their second breath of wind under Eddie Howe, the Sky Blues had the rub of the green on the two occasions we faced them that season.
The first meeting, which came at the Ricoh Arena, around a week before Eddie Howe’s return to Bournemouth, with the Sky Blues edging a tight, low quality affair thanks to a David McGoldrick effort. The second meeting came not too soon after Robins’ departure, with both teams sitting just outside of the League One play-offs. On that occasion, a goal from Leon Clarke just before half-time was followed up by a late Carl Baker penalty to put Bournemouth’s promotion bid in jeopardy and enhance our own prospects under the caretaker management of Lee Carsley.
The Manager – Jason Tindall
A long-time assistant to the man who is synonymous with Bournemouth, Eddie Howe, Jason Tindall represents continuity at the club, who are hoping that last year’s relegation from the Premier League was a bump in the road rather than a more fundamental breaking of what had carried them from the verge of non-league into the top-flight. A lack of incoming transfer activity has added to this sense of continuity at Bournemouth, providing little indication as to whether Tindall is any different to Howe and how things might change under his leadership.
The only major change that Tindall has made has been to switch Bournemouth to a back three, having previously been so successful playing a 4-4-2 system. An unbeaten start involving two wins and a draw has suggested that Tindall’s tweak has been an effective one. Performances haven’t been entirely convincing, but getting wins on the board feels vital in reinvigorating a talented squad that has lost a lot of confidence over the past year.
Who To Look Out For
Bournemouth look to be relying on being fairly solid at the back so that their attacking players can devastate teams at the other end of the pitch. In winger Arnaut Danjuma and striker Dominic Solanke, Bournemouth have two forwards who could each contribute around 20 goals at this level. Both players appear to have found their feet after slow starts to life at the club, with Danjuma in good form lately. The Dutch international has pace, skill, directness and an eye for the spectacular. Solanke, meanwhile, has just about everything in his locker technically and physically to be a great goalscorer, having scored for fun at youth-level at Chelsea.
Bournemouth’s success in the Premier League had been founded on a core of reliable pros, such as Charlie Daniels, Harry Arter, Steve Cook and Simon Francis, who have gradually been phased out of the side. While their replacements not being quite ready contributed to Bournemouth’s relegation, the squad is packed full of players such as Jack Stacey, Chris Mepham, Lloyd Kelly, Lewis Cook, Philip Billing and David Brooks who have already proven themselves as very strong performers at Championship level and should be able to rediscover momentum with a full season at this level.
The creative unit in midfield of Lewis Cook and Philip Billing is supported by the forcefulness of Colombian international Jefferson Lerma. At wing-back, Jack Stacey and Diego Rico can storm forward and supply quality with their final ball, while the experience of Steve Cook in central defence provides the platform for the younger Chris Mepham and Lloyd Kelly to show what they can do.
In goal, some early mistakes from the young Mark Travers has made Bournemouth realise that they still have the vastly-experienced Asmir Begovic on their books. The Bosnian international has had a few tough years but is one of those keepers that can completely shut up shop when on top form
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
If there is a time to play Bournemouth, it’s now. While the Cherries are yet to lose in the league this season, things are still to click into place for them after the change in manager and the sale of several key players over the summer. That said, in Arnaut Danjuma and Dominic Solanke – along with possible involvements for David Brooks and Josh King – Bournemouth have the attacking talent to make up for disjointed performances.
Nothing would unsettle Bournemouth more here than if we showed some confidence and composure on the ball early on. As a recent Premier League side taking on a recent League One side, they are, quite justifiably, expecting a straightforward win here and some practice breaking down a set defence. It is going to be hugely frustrating for them if we deny them time on the ball and show that we have some quality of our own in possession, which could lead them into forcing things as they look to avoid being outplayed by a team they’re expecting to dominate.
The area of this Bournemouth side to target would be the left side of their defence, where the absence of Lloyd Kelly has seen Jason Tindall deploy Diego Rico – an attacking left-back – in a central defensive position. With Steve Cook at the heart of Bournemouth’s defence not known for his pace, there is a good chance we’ll be able to get behind their backline if we can exploit any positional uncertainties Diego Rico has in his new central defensive role.