Tight at the top of League One

icon league12 March ~ Bournemouth travel to Leyton Orient today in circumstances much changed from the reverse League One fixture in October last year. At that point the Cherries had failed to win at home, were floundering in the relegation zone and newly managerless, with the protracted negotiations to bring Eddie Howe back from Burnley not fully concluded. Howe had a watching brief that day but his presence created a fresh atmosphere at Dean Court and Bournemouth gained their first three points of the season in front of their own fans.

The result sparked an astonishing run of form that saw the team briefly top the table by mid-February. A more expansive and energetic approach on the pitch galvanised the young team and the deep pockets of Russian owner Maxim Demin have funded more eye-catching six-figure-sum recruits – Brett Pitman returned from an unhappy spell at Bristol City, Scotland Under-19 winger Ryan Fraser was snapped up from Aberdeen and long-time target Matt Ritchie was brought in from promotion rivals Swindon for £500,000 just before January's transfer deadline.

Despite these reinforcements the team have recently looked uncertain in defence with goalkeeper David James shuffled out of the side, first-choice defenders Charlie Daniels and Tommy Elphick missing through injury and Steve Cook playing on despite not training due to his involvement in the Brighton footballers' sexual assault case heard at the Old Bailey.

Three losses in a row have now seen Bournemouth slip out of the top six in a very competitive League One lacking a dominant side. With only ten points currently separating first from tenth, the promotion run-in is shaping up to be one of the tightest in years. Despite being 11 points behind Bournemouth, 12th-placed Orient will be one of the teams looking to break into the top six with a decent run through March until the end of the season.

Bournemouth will be desperate to end their recent losing streak today as the heavy investment has been aimed at gaining automatic promotion. Orient haven't won since beating high-flying Tranmere in the first week of February so the most likely result could well be a draw between two misfiring sides. That Bournemouth would be disappointed by that outcome shows the rapid change in fortune and expectations from when they beat the O's in the autumn. Simon Melville


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