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Watford, Bournemouth and the dangers of the step up



For anyone with a passing interest in football it’s hard to forget the events of 12 May 2013. The playoffs-a time of the season that perhaps more than any either distil the ingredients which makes football so engrossing-drama, excitement, unbridled joy and ultimate crushing despair. In the 2013 Championship semi-final between Watford and Leicester City all of these factors were played out over a thrilling last 20 seconds. Leicester were awarded a penalty and Anthony Knockeart stepped up with the opportunity to secure Leicester’s place in the final, something the Frenchman must still have nightmares about. A Manuel Almunia double save and Troy Deeney counter attack goal meant it was Watford who took their place in the final, before eventually losing out to Crystal Palace.

Fast forward to this season and Watford have just booked their place in the Premier League while Leicester are entrenched in the relegation dogfight. The benefits of being one of the 20 clubs involved in this promised land of profit are staggering, each year the figure touted for gaining entry into the Premier league seems to inflate more and more, becoming so large and abstract one can struggle to even view it as real money, like bank bail outs or levels of country debt.

However for many clubs, the temptation to sip from this golden chalice negates any consideration of the potential poison awaiting them.

The road back to the Premier League is by no means smooth. The lower leagues have become littered with examples of those who let a bright future dim their present.  Of the three teams relegated last year, only Norwich seem to have been in any way prepared for life in the Championship – and indeed only as a result of the impressive Alex Neil’s appointment saving them from mid-table obscurity. Cardiff meanwhile have derived more excitement from the colour of their kit than from any football that’s been played in it, while Fulham came far closer to double relegation into League One than they would deem comfortable. Wigan and Blackpool’s relegation into the third tier, so soon after their own stay in the Premier League, highlights that parachute payments are by no means a certain protection against a freefall down the league.

For some clubs, relegation from the top tier of English football is a disappointment, and as shown by the examples above it can be hard to motivate players and fans alike for the fight in a gruelling Championship schedule. For others however, relegation can be a disaster.

At no club is this perhaps more evident than with Portsmouth. Only seven years ago, Portsmouth were FA Cup winners and hosts to the likes of AC Milan in European competition-they now languish in League Two. Pompey’s downfall was so archetypal it reads like a Greek myth, the hamartia of lofty ambition leading to their ultimate downfall. It seemed their propensity for high profile signings (Peter Crouch, Sully Muntari, Jermaine Defoe) overwrought any consideration of whether they could actually afford them-eventually they couldn’t. What followed was a series of late wage payments, administration in 2010 and a succession of relegations. Not so much play up but pay up Pompey.

Alas, Portsmouth did not have to look far to see a warning against the dangers of chasing the Premier League dragon too vigorously. Leeds United, once powerhouses of English football and 2001 Champions League semi-finalists found themselves around £79m in debt in 2003. Peter Risdale’s tenure as chairman saw the Yorkshire club borrow huge money in order to attract players to Elland Road-ironically the exact same players wholesaled in order to stabilise the club’s finances. The club was soon relegated to League One and even now seem a long way off from a return to the top division. Ultimately in a bid to solidify their position as a top Premier League club, they were almost liquidated.

Make no mistake about it, earning a place in the Premier League is huge for fans, players and owners alike. The recent TV deal has rising to an eye watering 1.5bn from next season. One only has to look at the scenes at Dean Court as Bournemouth, a club faced with an exit from the football club in 2008, all but secured their own place in the top tier. Indeed, you can forgive the misty eyed short-sightedness that comes as a result of this accomplishment, the desire to secure your club’s place as a permanent fixture in perhaps the most celebrated league in world football can outweigh even the most sensible of budgets.

Football is not synonymous with looking backwards. The next game, the next signing, the next step forward dominates it’s attention. However for any club looking to shoot up the footballing ladder, it would be wise to keep one eye looking behind them. In football, those who ignore history are not just doomed to repeat it, but to become it.


Leicester City 1-1 Bournemouth: Three talking points from the King Power

Rob Meech



Leicester City
Photo: Getty Images

Riyad Mahrez’s stunning 97th-minute free-kick rescued a point for Leicester City against Bournemouth.

Mahrez, who had been heavily linked with a move to Manchester City in the January transfer window, curled the ball past Asmir Begovic from 30 yards to deny the Cherries victory in a grandstand finish at the King Power Stadium.

Joshua King had given Bournemouth a first-half lead when he stepped up to dispatch a spot-kick after being fouled inside the area.

The Foxes threw everything at their opponents in the second period but had to wait until deep into added-time for a dramatic equaliser.

Here are three talking points…

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Redemption for Mahrez after troubling period

The Algerian’s attempts to engineer a switch to City and subsequent failure to report to training had not been well received by Leicester supporters.

Mahrez had been a key figure in the Foxes’ phenomenal Premier League title triumph two years ago, but his reputation suffered a battering when he made it clear he saw his future away from the club.

After a difficult period for all involved, Mahrez is back in the fold and now back in the fans’ good books.

His last-minute goal against the Cherries certainly was evidence of his redemption.

Thirty yards out, the 27-year-old started the ball outside the wall and watched it bend back past Begovic’s outstretched right hand.

Leicester, who have never beaten Bournemouth in the top-flight, are winless in five Premier League matches, but they remain eighth in the table.

With Mahrez’s reintegration seemingly complete, a fruitful finish to the season could even help them push for a European place.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Howe ‘disgusted’ as Bournemouth concede so late

Bournemouth’s backs had been firmly up against the wall in the second half as they sought to hold on to their tenuous advantage.

It looked to have been a worthwhile effort until Mahrez’s moment of magic.

A share of the spoils was probably fair in the context of the game, but Cherries manager Eddie Howe admitted he felt ‘disgusted’ after watching the visitors concede so late.

Only four minutes of stoppage-time had been scheduled, but an injury to Simon Francis as well as a substitution meant referee Lee Probert played nearly double that amount.

Despite missing out on what would have been a crucial win, Bournemouth are edging towards safety.

They have lost only once since Christmas, a run that has helped them climb out of the relegation zone and amass 33 points.

Two more victories from their remaining nine fixtures should be enough to secure Premier League football for a fourth successive campaign.

(Photo by Roland Harrison/Getty Images)

Summer will be a key time for both clubs

In a league that is dominated by the so-called ‘Big Six’, the primary aim of the other 14 clubs is survival.

As mentioned above, both Leicester and Bournemouth are all but guaranteed to be playing in the top-flight next season.

The question for both in the summer will be, how can they push on?

The first job for the Foxes’ hierarchy and manager Claude Puel will be deciding the future of Mahrez.

Do they cash in on their star player and reinvest the funds into the squad, or do they try to tie him down to a new contract?

Bournemouth’s ambitions are perhaps not as high as Leicester’s, but after finishing ninth last season, another mid-table position will consolidate their status as a bona fide Premier League outfit.

On the field, there may be some significant outgoings as Howe looks to freshen his resources.

The out-of-favour Harry Arter is one player who looks likely to leave the south coast.

Off the field, the club will hope its plans for a new stadium get closer to becoming a reality.

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Bournemouth 2-2 Newcastle United: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Bournemouth fought back to salvage a point against Newcastle United at the Vitality Stadium.

Rob Meech



Photo: Reuters

Dan Gosling scored a late equaliser against his former club as Bournemouth fought back from 2-0 down to salvage a point against Newcastle United.

Two first-half goals from Dwight Gayle had deservedly put the Magpies in complete control on a freezing afternoon on the south coast, as the home side struggled to make an impression.

Newcastle squandered opportunities to extend their advantage before a stunning strike from substitute Adam Smith halved the arrears.

The Cherries suddenly looked a team transformed and they were back on level terms when Gosling pounced in the dying moments, ensuring they remain above Newcastle in the Premier League table.

Here are three talking points…

Smith inspires the comeback kings

Boos echoed around the Vitality Stadium when referee Roger East whistled for half-time, with the hosts two goals adrift following a lethargic performance.

Newcastle were good value for their lead, picking off the Cherries on the counter-attack to great effect.

Bournemouth needed a spark and that came from Smith, who replaced the ineffective Charlie Daniels at the break.

Smith’s boundless energy and marauding runs were just what Eddie Howe’s men needed to engage the crowd.

His first goal of the campaign came right out of the blue, with the purity of the strike leaving Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka rooted to the spot as it went in off the underside of the crossbar.

It was the catalyst for a comeback that has been a regular occurrence at the Vitality.

No Premier League side has collected more points from losing positions than the Cherries this season and this spirit came to the fore once again as Gosling made sure the points were shared.


Gayle rediscovers his goalscoring touch

After a spell of 11 Premier League games without a goal, much like London buses, two came along in quick succession for the Newcastle striker.

Both owed to his positional awareness (as well as unnecessary defensive errors from Bournemouth).

Gayle’s first, a cheeky back-heel after his initial effort had been blocked, rocked the home side.

And the former Crystal Palace frontman found himself well placed to double his account in first-half stoppage time when a cutback from the right inexplicably slipped underneath the hands of Asmir Begovic.

Gayle had a further three attempts as Newcastle searched for the goal that their endeavours merited but to no avail.

Despite being on a hat-trick, he was substituted on 78 minutes with his team on course for victory.

It looked like job done, but there was a late twist and he had to watch on helplessly as Bournemouth mounted a dramatic comeback.

Newcastle are still in a relegation dogfight

Victory for the Magpies would have lifted them four points clear of the drop-zone, with 10 games remaining.

However, their failure to hold on to a two-goal lead means only a couple of points separate them from 18th-placed Swansea City.

Make no mistake, Newcastle dominated the majority of this clash, which must make it all the more frustrating for manager Rafa Benitez and the club’s travelling supporters, who had made the long journey to Dorset and supported their team in great voice throughout.

Jonjo Shelvey was an instrumental figure for Newcastle but he spurned a gilt-edged chance to kill off the game, moments before Smith reduced the deficit.

Benitez should be encouraged with his side’s display, which built on the morale-boosting victory over Manchester United a fortnight ago, but he will rue the late collapse that saw them drop two points.

As the battle for survival increasingly looks like going down to the wire, it could prove costly.

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Huddersfield Town 4-1 Bournemouth: Alex Pritchard steals plaudits after running the show

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Huddersfield Town took a huge leap in the race for survival with a 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Rob Meech



Photo: Reuters

Huddersfield Town produced a four-star performance to brush aside Bournemouth and move out of the Premier League relegation zone.

Junior Stanislas quickly cancelled out Alex Pritchard’s seventh-minute opener, but from that moment it was one-way traffic as the Terriers showed their bite on a freezing afternoon in Yorkshire.

A Steve Cook own goal made it 2-1 at half-time before Steve Mounie and a stoppage-time penalty from Rajiv van la Parra completed the drubbing.

Huddersfield climbed to 17th as a result of this much-needed victory, while Bournemouth’s excellent recent form came to an abrupt halt with their first defeat of 2018.

Here are three talking points…

Huddersfield breathe new life into survival bid

Boss David Wagner had highlighted his side’s upcoming run of fixtures as crucial to their ambitions of avoiding relegation back to the Championship.

On the back of five consecutive defeats, Huddersfield had free-fallen into the drop-zone.

Although the win over Manchester United will take some beating in the eyes of the fans, given their predicament this was arguably their most important three points of the campaign.

It was a crushing triumph and one that the Terriers fully deserved.

Yes, they caught the visitors on a bad day, but much of that was due to the nature of Huddersfield’s display.

They gave Bournemouth no time on the ball to play their natural passing game and took their chances when they came along.

Especially from set-pieces, Wagner’s men looked dangerous and exploited the Cherries’ weakness in the air.

The bottom half of the table remains incredibly congested, but this result gives Huddersfield genuine hope that survival is possible.

Bournemouth’s unbeaten run comes to a crashing end

Entering this match at the top of the form table, this was Bournemouth’s worst result of the season.

From the first whistle they were out-battled by a Huddersfield side that were fighting for their lives.

Perhaps an air of complacency had surfaced following the Cherries’ unbeaten sequence, which had stood at seven games and included victories over Chelsea and Arsenal.

Talk of qualifying for the Europa League can now be parked to one side.

Despite being in 10th position, Bournemouth are not assured of survival just yet.

Boss Eddie Howe will back his troops to get the three wins they need to reach the 40-point mark, but this was a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted in the Premier League.

He will be thoroughly bemused by this showing.

It was a day to forget for the Cherries and their dedicated supporters, who had left in the very early hours to embark on the long journey north for this lunch-time kick-off.

Pritchard brings ingenuity to the Terriers’ ranks

Although Huddersfield’s win was a by-product of a real team effort, one player that deserves special praise is new recruit Pritchard.

Signed from Norwich City in the January window, he ran the show in midfield, making the Terriers tick with crisp passing.

Pritchard opened the scoring in the early exchanges with a well-taken finish for his first ever Premier League goal, at the seventh attempt.

He had previously played in the top-flight with Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion.

There is always a risk attached to any new signing from a lower division, but Pritchard had demonstrated enough class for Norwich to indicate he would be able to make the step-up.

The 24-year-old will face tougher challenges in his midfield role, but he has brought a touch of guile and class to Huddersfield.

Pritchard’s teasing run that induced the foul for a penalty in added-time underlined his capability to make things happen.

Wagner will hope it is a positive sign for the run-in.

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