Reading welcome Bournemouth to the Madejski Stadium on Friday evening in what is, very possibly, our biggest game of the season so far. The fifth-placed Cherries sit just two points and one spot below the Royals, who’ll be looking for revenge after a second-half collapse led to a 4-2 defeat on the south coast in the reverse fixture.
We’ve got the views of a writer who knows all about Bournemouth - and Reading too for that matter - in the build-up to the game. Tom Crocker covers the Royals’ promotion rivals for the Bournemouth Echo, and previously did the same for Reading with The Wokingham Paper.
Last time we spoke you said Bournemouth had had a positive start to the season but chance creation was a problem. Has the campaign continued in that vein?
That’s interesting because perhaps that should’ve been a sign of the struggles to come! Chance creation and a lack of goals has been a real problem in recent weeks. Since the middle of December, Cherries have scored just four goals in seven Championship games, with no real sign of that changing and they’re now dropping more points because of it. That said, with the players they do have in the final third, you do feel it might just take one game for it to click back into gear as despite that run, they’re still the second-highest-scoring side in the division at the time of writing.
How’s former Royal Jack Stacey got on at Bournemouth so far?
He’s proving to be a brilliant signing. He had to wait initially for his chance last season after jumping up two divisions, but after a spot opened up in the side he got thrust in and has just grown from there. He’s a real modern-day full-back or wing-back – is a real threat going forwards and has the energy to get back too.
He was in probably his best run of form since joining the club when injury struck earlier this season. He suffered a pretty nasty knee problem during the reverse game against Reading. Adrenaline got him through the 90 minutes, but he then missed seven weeks before returning earlier this month.
David Brooks has been linked with a Premier League switch this month. How important is he to this side?
Had you asked me about a month ago, I would’ve said he’s vital. After a slow start to the season due to injury and illness, we started to see the real best of Brooks that got everybody so excited a couple of seasons ago.
However, in recent weeks his influence on games has noticeably dipped. I feel like he’s being targeted by quite a lot of teams and being pounced upon as soon as he gets the ball, so he needs to find a way to try and navigate that to get back to the form he showed earlier on in the season.
He’s been linked with a move away every window since he joined really so that’s nothing new and I think one day he will get a big move to a top club. Strangely, he’s probably a player better suited to the Premier League than the Championship.
Bournemouth were tipped by many as promotion favourites at the start of the season - has the Championship proven to be more difficult than expected?
It has been a largely positive season so far, all things considered. But some questions have started to be raised for the first time in the past few weeks as goals and results have dried up.
Cherries seem to be able to raise themselves for games against the leading sides, but have been struggling to break down bottom-half teams. Just as an example, looking at the table as I write this, the only side in the top 10 they have lost to is Brentford, beating the likes of Norwich and of course Reading. But they head to the Mad Stad on Friday on the back of losses to Luton and Derby. Those sort of results are really holding them back and they are a probably a fraction off where I thought they would be at this stage.
What did you make of Reading in the reverse fixture?
I was really impressed. They arrived at Vitality Stadium in a weird situation of being top of the league but still receiving plenty of doubters after a recent run of losses. But they did not look like a side who had struggled for results in recent weeks, obviously taking that two-goal lead.
Lucas Joao is a game-changer up front and they looked really lively throughout, until a wonder-goal from Lewis Cook knocked the wind out of their sails a little bit in the second half.
I’m not surprised to see them still up there and challenging and I think it has the makings of an exciting game on Friday, as I think Reading will back themselves to come out and take the game to Cherries.
How will the rest of the season pan out for Bournemouth, and will it end in promotion?
I’ll be an optimist and say yes! The addition of Jack Wilshere has certainly grabbed some attention and if they can manage him right and keep him fit, he really could make a huge difference at this level. There are still a few days left in the window so if they can keep hold of everyone they want to and maybe add another player into the mix as well, the squad is certainly strong enough on paper to get promoted. But they will definitely have to improve their record against bottom-half teams as you can’t rely on beating the in-form sides every time.
I thought Brentford would go up at the start of the season and have seen nothing to change my mind there and obviously Norwich are building up a bit of a lead, so it might come down to the play-offs for Cherries.
How do you see the game going and what will the score be?
I’ve got a feeling Bournemouth will raise their game and put in a better than recent weeks, but I’m going to sit on the fence and say 2-2.