Eddie Howe's reshaped team take on Villa
8 August ~ Bournemouth fans are very positive about the new season as the team prepare for their first ever game in the top flight, against Aston Villa. It’s more than just the novelty for a club more used to scrabbling around the lower reaches of the Football League – there is a sense that Eddie Howe’s young team could outperform widespread media expectations of relegation.
Not that pre-season results have been especially positive – due to undersoil heating installed to meet Premier League standards the team have only had one opportunity to play at home, losing 3-2 to Cardiff. Two uneventful 0-0 draws against continental opposition would also do little to persuade the unconvinced that the Cherries were ready for the highest level – the friendly against Nantes was most notable for being staged 40 miles away from their usual Stade de la Beaujoire ground, catching out a few of the away support who had travelled for a first look at the new team.
And it is the new arrivals who have captured the imagination. Tyrone Mings, Joshua King and Lee Tomlin look like typically shrewd Howe signings of players who all impressed for Championship opposition last season and perform in more than one position. The £8m reported fee for Mings surprised some but with his abundant promise and ability to play at centre-back as well, it is not stretching credibility to think he could eventually get international recognition.
Bargain of the season could well be Max Gradel from St-Etienne for £7m – a favourite from his spell on loan from Leicester back in 2007, Cherries fans have seen the Ivorian international winger’s career blossom at Leeds and then in France. His excellent form in Ligue 1 and the Europa League had him linked to the biggest teams in Europe so for him to pen a permanent deal shows the club’s ambition.
That ambition may not be apparent off the pitch with no stadium expansion possible before next season – Dean Court’s cosy 12,000 capacity should be fully used for every game. Gripes about tickets and allocation for away games have usurped even the new arrivals as the most common topic of fans' conversation, while rumours of a new stadium being built have remained just that. The club have simply said they will keep an eye on how attendances hold up as the season progresses before making any decision to expand or relocate.
An expectant full house will welcome Villa – the visitors are one of last season’s strugglers that the Cherries will look to overtake while showing that they don’t just belong in the top flight but can stay there and excel. Simon Melville