Cherries flying high in Championship
17 April ~ A run of just one loss in 11 games has seen Bournemouth just two points from a play-off place in the Championship. Despite Neil Warnock suggesting on the Football League Show that the Cherries had run out of steam after their disappointing 1-1 draw away at Yeovil last Saturday, fans are still hopeful that the team will prove him wrong. A bottom-half finish clear of relegation was the target at the season's start but the fantastic form since beating fellow Championship new boys Doncaster 5-0 on March 1 has seen Bournemouth rocket up the table.
The division features just one stand-out side in the shape of Leicester and this has allowed Bournemouth, with their goal difference barely in positive territory, to harbour genuine hopes of a top-six finish. The competitive nature of the league means that dropping points at home to 15th-place Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow wouldn't necessarily end chances – play-off rivals Ipswich (two points and one place ahead in eighth) are next up on Easter Monday and a good result there would keep the bandwagon rolling.
Canny transfer business has built this squad into the one performing so well now. The club are bankrolled by Russian billionaires but so far no showy signings have been made. Typical of the policy was the signing of 32-year-old striker Yann Kermorgant from Charlton. The Cherries have desperately missed a target man since the retirement of Steve Fletcher and the muscular Kermogant has allowed a more direct alternative to the slower, short-passing style that manager Eddie Howe has installed.
There is competition for each of the starting places as well – the signing of Lee Camp to end the rotating cast of keepers in the last few seasons has been vital, Ian Harte has been rolling back the years at left-back recently and Eunan O'Kane is fulfilling his potential as a skilled distributor in front of the defence.
The biggest surprise has been Lewis Grabban's scoring record – in fact most Cherries fans think he should have bagged more. His 20 league goals have come out of the blue for a player who had never been a free scorer lower down the pyramid. A further sign of the financial clout the club now wield is that an offer from Brighton that triggered his release clause was rejected by the player in favour of a new contract with Bournemouth.
Two losses over Easter would see the unlikely play-off chances evaporate but for now Cherries fans harbour hopes of still being in the hunt by the time of the last league match at Millwall. And for next season, aspirations are higher still. Simon Melville