The Thursday Preview: Bournemouth Vs Peterborough
Before I move on, I should say that this week’s Thursday Preview was scheduled to be Southampton’s trip to Milton Keynes. I had opinions to vent after seeing the Saints play last week (albeit from the comfort of a Canterbury pub), and a grim fascination in how the club were going to move on from the sad death of owner Markus Liebherr. However, along with Exeter, who have postponed their game this weekend as a mark of respect following Adam Stansfield’s passing, Southampton will understandably be taking a week off.
Besides condolence offering, thoughts among the fanbase have inevitably turned to whether the levels of investment will remain at the same considerable levels. “Saints future unclear but secure” was the headline of one of the numerous stories published by the Southern Daily Echo today. While reassuring fans that their club isn’t about to slip back to the dark days of the last few years, the lack of clarity surrounding the way forward will probably stir up anxiety in the short term. Restoring confidence amongst Saints supporters will hardly be at the top of the Liebherr family’s priorities right now, so it seems like they will have to ride the storm in the short term. The players will be told to “do it for Marcus”, but it remains to be seen what sort of effect this unfortunate event will have on a squad on whom there is already a great deal of pressure to succeed.
So, after potentially risking bad taste in talking about such footballing matters, I’ll move swiftly on to the Saints’ near-neighbours Bournemouth and their opening home fixture against semi-fancied Peterborough, which oozes something like sex appeal. The Boscombe boys had an excellent home record at Dean Court last season, which played a significant part in their second place League 2 finish but, judging by their opponent’s fruitful start to the season, the visitors will no doubt come for a win.
In contrast, Bournemouth have begun modestly, drawing a blank in their first two fixtures at Charlton and Southampton (reserves). Cynics might argue that the Cherries, blinded by the lights of those ex-Premiership grounds, have exposed a “happy to be here” mentality, and reports from the Valley of defenders being bamboozled and warnings that they could well go straight back down on their showing correlate with such an insinuation. Those two League 1 behemoths should populate the top eight for the majority of the season, so fans shouldn’t be overly downhearted at this early stage, but a defeat to Gary Johnson’s bright sparks could set pessimists off.
Peterborough blogger John Verrall couldn’t be accussed of demonstrating such glumness, but few would argue with his positive outlook right now. Having disposed of Bristol Rovers and Rotherham with seeming ease, a swagger seems to have returned to the Posh players and the sight of Boyd, Mackail-Smith and McLean on the same scoresheet once again will ignite real hope that the club can return to the Championship after just one season back in League 1. Gary Johnson used the League Cup win over the Millers to bed down his starting XI of choice, making just one change to the side that overcame Rovers, and it seems likely that he’ll revert to that initial line-up given the availability of string-puller Grant McCann after international duty.
A defence comprising Mark Little, Kelvin Langmead, Ryan Bennett and Nana Ofori-Twumasi numbers just 21 in average years of age, and this is perhaps where Posh’s chink lies. Having opted for a containing 4-5-1 formation at St Mary’s, Cherries manager Eddie Howe is now likely to pair Brett Pitman with one of Michael Symes or Lee Bradbury. The latter, who started at Charlton on the opening day, would certainly offer the required physicality, so it would be no surprise if he were let loose with a brief to bulldoze. It’s ridiculously early to make any genuine assessments, but Bournemouth might need to resort to such tactics if they’re to grab this game by the scruff.