Bournemouth have lost five top-flight games for the first time in their history after a one-sided 3-0 reverse to runaway leaders Liverpool on Saturday. It’s the Cherries’ worst run of results since playing League One football in 2013 with Eddie Howe’s outfit also failing to land a single shot on-target for the first time this season at the Vitality Stadium.
Now sitting just one point above the relegation zone, and with a trip to Chelsea to come next on the cards, concern is understandably creeping in around the Dorset club. To make matters worse, Bournemouth are in the midst of a major injury crisis with key players Nathan Ake and Callum Wilson the latest players to join the treatment table.
Nine players are now out of action with Howe admitting, “The squad is stretched. We’re going to need players to win games, you don’t win matches and get points in the Premier League without good players. We’ve got such a long injury list. It’s obviously a huge concern for the future for us, because we have got a lot of games coming up thick and fast.”
The Liverpool showdown came hot on the heels of a dreadfully disappointing 1-0 loss at 10-man Crystal Palace, an evening Howe described as his “lowest point” as Bournemouth manager. But for 30 minutes on Saturday, the Cherries supremo will have been pleased with what he saw as his team acquitted themselves well with a couple of moments of promise.
However, as soon as Ake’s hamstring gave out, the hosts disintegrated. The injury knocked the side for six, the atmosphere dropped and the players lost their way. Within 60 seconds of Ake’s replacement Jack Simpson taking to the field, Bournemouth were behind and the game as a contest was as good as over with confidence completely drained.
Considering Ake’s importance to the team, it is no surprise his injury had such a profound effect on his team-mates. The Dutchman is an integral part of Howe’s side, arguably their most important operator; tidy in possession, quick on the turn and imposing in the air. He’s missed just one league match since arriving from Chelsea permanently in August 2017.
But his loss was all the more devastating in light of a burgeoning injury list, one that already includes Steve Cook, Adam Smith, Charlie Daniels, David Brooks, Josh King, Lloyd Kelly and Junior Stanislas. With Wilson – 38 goals involvement in 74 Premier League appearances since 2017/18 – also now crocked, the Cherries are firmly in the midst of a relegation battle.
Bournemouth rank inside the bottom-three for Expected Goals (xG) from open play ratio and are seeing their chance creation numbers drop at an alarming rate. Only Newcastle and Crystal Palace are generating fewer goalscoring opportunities, meaning even more pressure will be put upon a threadbare defence that’s proven anything but solid since promotion.
19/5 (Sport Nation) is available on the Cherries to slide out of the Premier League this season.
Scunthorpe were as big as 12/1 when suffering relegation from League One last season and many anticipated an immediate bounce back to the third-tier following the canny appointment of well-respected Paul Hurst in the summer. But by mid-September, the Iron had collected a solitary point from their first seven fixtures in the basement EFL division.
Many home truths were told in the aftermath of many of those six defeats and the Scunthorpe board deserve credit for keeping faith with Hurst despite heavy criticism from the stands. And now Scunny are starting to reap the rewards with an inspirational upturn in performance levels and results; the Iron have W6-D5-L2 in their past 13 league fixtures.
That’s despite boasting an unbalanced squad lacking in key areas. Defensive deficiencies, including a lack of pace at the back, has often caught Scunthorpe cold, whilst the team still lack fit and competent personnel in central midfield, as well as an experienced goalkeeper. Nevertheless, progress has been made against the odds with Hurst’s outfit often impressing.
With Matty Lund suspended, the Iron were up against it at high-flying Forest Green on Saturday yet the bottom-half dwellers continued their upsurge with a fine 2-0 triumph in Gloucestershire. Victory moved Scunny to within seven points of the play-off places with United indebted to Jake Eastwood who saved a penalty when the game was still goalless.
It was nowhere near Scunthorpe’s best performance under Hurst, although Alex Gilliead and Abo Eisa both scored superb goals, and with Jamie Ward, Junior Brown, Jordan Hallam, Levi Sutton and Yann Songo’o all returning to full fitness in the coming weeks, the Iron boss is welcoming a much-needed boost in available numbers ahead of the hectic festive period.
Automatic promotion (40/1 Unibet) could prove a step too far for Scunny at this stage but quotes of 13/2 (10BET) for a top-seven finish look a little too large for an upwardly-mobile side with promises of evolution rather than revolution during an expectedly busy January transfer window. It’s taken time but finally Hurst’s troops are showing their iron-side.