Is anybody else already hating these playoffs or is it just me? Rumours are that there is an unprecedented amount of demand for tickets at London Road today – with a 4 hour queue for tickets forming. One member of LondonRoad.net has stated that he has heard the club may sell 2,000 tickets for the away leg by the end of the day. It seems playoff fever has well and truly hit.
Yet, two teams face the lottery of the playoffs even sooner than us. Bournemouth v Huddersfield takes place a day before our game against MK Dons and, no doubt, their fans will be just as nervous about the prospect of these games as we are. We caught up with Bournemouth fan Chris Lines from the excellent ‘Narrow The Angle’ blog to chat about Bournemouth’s chances in the playoffs.
1) Let’s start by saying what a season you’ve had. It must be beyond anyone’s expectations, surely?
Way, way beyond. I predicted us to finish 16th at the start of the season, and that was under the assumption nobody would prise Eddie Howe away. Whatever happens in the playoffs is a bonus – the biggest thing is that it’s felt good to be a Bournemouth fan again for the last couple of years after a few years in the doldrums.
2) From the outside it seemed that your season would have crumbled after so many set-backs, the sale of Brett Pitman, Josh McQuoid, Marvin Bartley and the departure of Eddie Howe, to name just a few, did you ever feel that your form would begin to tail off or is the siege mentality within the squad really as strong as it appears?
Yes, I definitely thought we’d fall away. When Howe left I thought we’d end up somewhere between 8th and 12th to be honest. I’m not sure there particularly is a siege mentality. There’s only 3 or 4 big characters in that dressing room, the team have earned their results through good football and really excellent pressing. Perhaps Eddie Howe’s biggest legacy is how hard the team work and how good they’ve become positionally. And with Lee Bradbury taking over – a man who used to be in the army as a lad before Portsmouth spotted him – we weren’t going to suddenly become workshy with him taking over. I wanted Torquay’s Paul Buckle to succeed Howe at the time, but Bradbury’s done a very good job so far. If we’re still in League One next year though, that’s when we’ll get to see what he’s really made of. I hope he continues to be a success obviously.
3) Lee Bradbury has kept things ticking over nicely after replacing Eddie Howe. Has he changed much or just continued with Howe’s successful formula?
I don’t think he’s changed much at all really. The team are well drilled, and Bradbury was a regular player under Howe, so it’s been a natural progression. He hasn’t been able to get the best out of Mark Pugh yet though, which is a slight worry, as Pugh had been the star of the show until Howe left. It’s hard to say if this is a failing on Bradbury’s part, or whether Pugh just got a bit overconfident and eased off. We could really do with Pugh coming good in the playoffs.
Continuing the success: Lee Bradbury will be hoping to guide Bournemouth to their second consecutive promotion.
4) The emergence of Danny Ings seems to have been a real positive for the club. At 18 he seems to be a genuinely excellent prospect. How crucial will his form be going into the playoffs?
Despite having more striking options at the club than we’ve had for a long while, Ings will be pivotal. He looks like he could be the biggest striking talent to come off our production line yet – he’s certainly better at 18 than James Hayter, Pitman and McQuoid were. Seems to have a nice fiery relationship with the supporters too – loves it when we’re behind him and gets really wound up when we’re on his back. If he wants to run to us when he scores and shush us for criticising him after a few bad games, then maybe we should keep being hard taskmasters with him! I would hope he’d only leave us if it was for first-team football at a bigger club, or if he was trebling his money. A full season with us next year would certainly be the best thing for his development. It’s a lot of pressure to heap on an 18-year-old’s shoulders, but we’ll need him to do well if we’re to make the final.
5) What would you suggest is Bournemouth’s main strength? And who will be your key man?
There are two main strength, one predictable and the other new and exciting. The predictable one is the way we pass the ball around. We’ve been a side that keeps it on the deck for most of my lifetime (bar an awful spell under Tony Pulis in the early 1990s), and hopefully that will never change. Yes, we do lump the occasional one up to Fletch when he’s on the pitch, but that stops us being predictable. The key man should have been Pugh, but he’s lost a lot of form in recent months. So the key men are probably Ings, midfield workhorse Anton Robinson and dynamic Spurs loanee Adam Smith at right-back.
6) And where would you say the team looks most vulnerable? Is there a weak-link the squad?
Centre back Shaun Cooper is only 5ft 10in, so set pieces are always a worry. Our wingers can be a bit prone to having a quiet game too, perhaps because there’s no quality wide man on the bench to keep them on their toes. Subbing a winger normally means a change of shape for us.
7) Come on then, prediction time. Who’s going to win the playoffs? Can Bournemouth go all the way?
We’ve got a chance, but my gut feeling is that Peterborough will outgun everybody. I’d love to be proved wrong though, and this Bournemouth squad are very good at doing that. Whenever fans are asked if they can win something, it’s almost considered traitorous to predict anything but victory. But realistically, we’ve got more modest resources than the others in the playoffs and they ought to be too strong for us. But you just never know… Like I said, we’ve got a chance. But whatever happens, it’s been an absolutely amazing season. And if we can cut out our new favourite habit of letting in stoppage time equalisers, we might be half decent next season too.