Face second-place Middlesbrough on Saturday
7 November ~ An unexpected Championship first-versus-second takes place on Saturday afternoon, when table-topping Bournemouth make the long trip north-east to face Middlesbrough. Neither side were rated pre-season by the bookies to be in the first rank of promotion contenders – while Boro were generally priced to finish in the play-off positions, their visitors were seen as mid-table fodder at best despite having finished two places above their opponents in May.
A stuttering start to the campaign for Bournemouth has been transformed on the back of a seven-match winning streak that includes victory over Premier League West Brom in the League Cup and the well-reported eight-goal humping of Birmingham City at St Andrew’s.
Understandably Cherries fans are delighted as well as slightly disbelieving at finding themselves in their highest ever league position, but there had been earlier disquiet that home attendances have dipped below 10,000 a few times already. Older fans are recalling the 1986-87 season when Bournemouth also travelled to Middlesbrough in early November for a first-versus-second clash (then in the old Division Three). That day Bournemouth lost 4-0 but went up as champions with Boro second.
The side haven't been hugely transformed since last season – although the problem position of goalkeeper has had to be solved again with Artur Boruc loaned from Southampton. With 22-goal Lewis Grabban now flogged to Norwich, there has been a promising start for his replacement – Callum Wilson, purchased from Coventry, is already ahead of Grabban in the Championship goalscoring charts. With the team performing well enough, manager Eddie Howe can leave out former Premier League players Junior Stanislas and Dan Gosling who both arrived in the summer.
The change in Bournemouth's fortunes is also illustrated by the board's pronouncements on the Football League's Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, being of the opinion they need increasing from the current limit of £8 million a year. It looks like their wishes have been granted after the current Championship teams voted at this week's meeting for an increase in the types of investment allowed.
The man bankrolling these losses is club owner Maxim Demin, a Russian petrochemicals trader. His profile is now slightly higher due to Howe’s reported comments about Demin's non-attendance at games being due to him genuinely considering himself "a curse”, as he never sees the team win. Like much else about Demin's involvement with the club it isn't known if he will be attending the Riverside. Superstitious fans will be hoping he stays away a while longer. Simon Melville