Reading are in something of a precarious position as they return from the international break. Although the impressive start to the season established a big lead at the top of the Championship, the gap’s been cut to just one point after a run of three straight losses.
The team looking to make that four out of four, and leapfrog Reading into first, is Bournemouth. Jason Tindall’s side have enjoyed a bright start to the campaign of their own, in their case after relegation from the Premier League, and have high hopes of getting back into the top flight at the first time of asking.
To find out more about the threats Bournemouth will pose on Saturday lunchtime, we spoke to a man who not only knows all about them, but is also no stranger to Reading Football Club either. Tom Crocker covers the Cherries for the Bournemouth Echo, having previously covered Reading for The Wokingham Paper - including plenty of pre-match preview TTE podcasts.
How would you sum up Bournemouth’s season so far?
All in all I think it has to be considered a positive start. There was a lot of intrigue following relegation and Eddie Howe’s departure as to how the club would react.
We’re now three months into Jason Tindall’s reign and he’s only lost one Championship game in charge, which is a feat in itself. There have been a couple of disappointing draws in there which they would’ve liked to have converted into wins, but sitting fourth in the table and just two points off the top at this stage, with a new manager at the helm, it’s been a good start.
How do Bournemouth set up tactically?
Up until the final game before the international break, Tindall had always started with a back three. There have been a couple of variations, switching between a 3-5-2 and more of a 3-4-3, but the defensive shape had always been the same.
That was until the trip to Birmingham, where his response to losing for the first time this season was to switch to a back four and it certainly paid off, with Bournemouth’s best performance for about a month, winning 3-1. It’s going to be very interesting to see whether or not he sticks with that on Saturday, or if it was more of a one-off because of Steve Cook being suspended.
What are the main strengths of this side?
The attacking talent is right up there with any side in the Championship and on their day they can be really hard to stop, especially with pace on the counter.
David Brooks, Arnaut Danjuma and Joshua King all undoubtedly have the ability to be Premier League players, but getting all three to click at the same time this season has not quite happened yet.
At the other end as well the team looks fairly solid and have not conceded many in recent weeks, with Asmir Begovic in-form in goal when called upon.
And its weaknesses?
Despite the talent amongst the attackers, creating chances has been the big problem far too often this season.
Cherries have only managed more than one goal in a game on three occasions this season. And it’s not been down to them being particularly wasteful most of the time, it’s more been a lack of creativity around the box, especially against teams who have put a lot of men behind the ball.
Sluggish starts have also been a big problem. More often than not it’s taken until the second half for the team to really get going, which has ultimately cost them a few points.
Are Bournemouth good enough to secure promotion this season?
That is certainly the aim. While they made some significant sales and didn’t bring much in the other way, with the likes of Callum Wilson, Nathan Ake and player of the season Aaron Ramsdale all departing, there is still a really strong squad left behind who should be challenging towards the top end of the Championship. Many were surprised just how many of their key players they did in fact manage to keep hold of over the summer.
Early signs have also been promising in terms of wins over Norwich and Bristol City and draws away at Watford and Middlesbrough, all sides who have made good starts too.
As long as they can stay relatively injury free and don’t lose players over January, Bournemouth should definitely be among the top three or four come the end of the season.
What have you made of Reading so far?
I’ve obviously been keeping quite a close eye as always! What went on over the summer was certainly interesting viewing from afar and it wasn’t a huge surprise to eventually see somewhat of an unknown manager appointed again.
I’ve not seen a great deal of the Reading games this season, but you can’t help but be impressed by the results. I’m not sure anyone thought they’d be top of the league at this stage, so even after the recent slump, they deserve big credit. I’ve heard a lot about Reading essentially riding their luck a little bit and taking their chances when they come, which maybe isn’t sustainable longer term, but it’s certainly given them a pretty decent foundation ahead of the next few months.
There has been quite a big turnover of players since I stopped covering the club, but it’s pleasing to see the likes of Rinomhota and Olise still very much in the first-team picture.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
It’s an interesting one to call given Reading are top, but have lost three in a row. I think the game may well hinge on if Reading have any of their key injured players back again. If not, I think Bournemouth should just about have enough say I’ll say a 2-1 home win.