The Thursday Preview: Bournemouth Vs Chesterfield
Forgive me for suggesting this, but this bottom of the table match seems a lot less special an occasion than the last time these two met. That game marked the passage into the history books of one of the few remaining `proper’ English football grounds, Saltergate, rendering the 2-1 win for the home side frankly irrelevant. But for that day’s visitors, the game was the culmination of a bookie-defying promotion season, and confirmed Eddie Howe and his young side as ones of whom to take note.
Just over a year later, though, Bournemouth fans could be forgiven for wondering where all that promise went. Looking at the Cherries’ starting XI and subs on 8 May 2010, it’s unrecognizable from the one which will contest this weekend’s fixture. I won’t use the `week in politics’ aphorism, but just one season later the squad has been denuded of most of its young talent. Following the departure of winger Liam Feeney to Millwall last week, I counted nine players that have been sold or have run down their contract in the intervening period, including six who were part of the Saltergate matchday squad: Marvin Bartley, Jason Pearce, Brett Pitman, Anton Robinson, Danny Hollands, Feeney. Rhoys Wiggins, Josh McQuoid and Danny Ings have also left, while one of May 2010’s subs, Ryan Garry, recently retired through injury. And, although my personal guilt over Millwall snatching another of #afcb‘s key men is tempered by my impressions of Feeney from a game I attended at Dean Court last term, I can’t help but worry what the turnover of staff will do to Bournemouth’s prospects this season.
Trawling some of the local comment pages and forums for views on the Lions’ new signing, it seemed that I was not the only one. The anger at chairman Eddie Mitchell and his apparent eagerness to sell at the first time of asking leapt off the screen. In a sympathetic interview with The Independent this week, Mitchell was quoted as saying that `we have to take a step back sometimes to take two steps forward.’ Not a controversial statement, and certainly fans aren’t clamouring for a return to the instability that preceded Mitchell and sons’ tenure. However, while Mitchell pleads poverty on the part of the club as the reason for the sales, suspicion lingers that something else is rotten in Bournemouth and Boscombe. The perpetual sales have been mirrored by an exodus behind the scenes: the club’s lauded youth director Joe Roach (who fattened McQuoid and Ings, among others, for market) has gone, along with the chief scout. There is a fine line between selling a few players to balance the accounts and tearing up the best team the club has had in years. Once the impression of an organization in decline takes hold, a step back can turn into a tumble.
At the moment, this is precisely how the Cherries’ season looks like going. A poor opening day result at the Valley is perhaps no disgrace against one of the most dynamic sides in League 1 thus far, but this was followed by home defeats against Stevenage and Walsall. Moreover, Lee Bradbury‘s men have lost three times away from home since rolling over at Charlton. In our League 1 preview Chris Lines took an optimistic view of the immediate future under Bradbury, so it would interesting to hear whether this abject start has prompted a reassessment. A few signings (that of Shaun MacDonald from Swansea particularly catching the eye) have only slightly bolstered a light squad and, an outsider though I am, the boss looks a little out of his depth.
Chesterfield were quietly fancied to follow the path trodden by Bournemouth last year and trouble the play-off places. It hasn’t quite looked that way so far: the Spireites’ form has been every bit as poor as Bournemouth’s and an abject 6-2 reverse at McStadium won’t have improved morale any further.
While fellow promotees Stevenage, Bury and Wycombe have held their own a level up, last year’s League 2 champions Chesterfield have been lacking an edge. The absence of 23-goal striker Craig Davies, now of Barnsley, is keenly felt, while talisman Jack Lester will be out of action for a while, having broken an arm. Though the signing of Paolo Di Canio’s erstwhile nemesis Leon Clarke on loan will be greeted by fans with trepidation rather than excitement, that slap from the loathsome Italian might just make Clarke keen to prove a point and the goals have to come from somewhere.
Form suggests that this won’t be a classic. With both sides evenly matched, I’ll stick my neck out and call a draw. 1-1.