Bournemouth took advantage of a last-gasp slip-up by Watford to clinch the Championship on the final day, enjoying the sort of stylish 3-0 win at Charlton that epitomised the slick and fluid football the Cherries have put on show all season.
It was a disappointment for Watford, who were widely expected to claim the title having secured promotion the week beforehand. But the Hornets paid the price for an unusually poor day in front of goal and after failing to add to Matej Vidra’s first-half strike were punished in stoppage time by Sheffield Wednesday, who also snatched two points from Bournemouth in the same manner a fortnight previously.
Nevertheless, with 98 goals in the bank and a goal difference 12 superior to the Hornets (who were also the Championship’s runners-up in that department), there is no doubt that Bournemouth were worthy winners. Away from the champagne and the open-top bus parade, of course, Eddie Howe has been inevitably asked about his approach to Premier League football next season. His initial response hinted that his existing squad would still play a major part.
“We are going to have to be very creative with the players we do sign,” he said. “We are looking for players who can make our squad better and that was going to be regardless of what division we were going to be in. Maybe the only thing that changes is the pool of players who find us attractive is larger. We won’t do anything too different to what we have been doing.”
The trouble is, the difference in quality between the Premier League and the Championship appears to be growing. Like Bournemouth, Leicester, Burnley and QPR were all promoted last season playing exciting brands of football, largely to their strengths. None of the three made major changes to their squads, nor their styles of play when promoted and now all could pay the price because their soft centres are being exposed and in QPR’s case tactics away from home ripped to shreds.
With only nine points available and Burnley and QPR eight and seven adrift respectively, both look like returning to Championship level immediately, and Leicester are only one point above the safety zone by virtue of a remarkable run of five wins in six matches. That’s not to say that bravery is never the answer at the highest level but even Blackpool failed at the first attempt despite winning so many friends, and Bournemouth have already had a warning in the League Cup in December when they were knocked out by a horribly out of form Liverpool side in the quarter-finals despite dominating the game for sizeable periods.
Writing off a team’s capability to adapt to a higher division when it is managed by someone who has experience of guiding that once penniless League Two side up to the Championship in the first instance would be foolish. However, just here and there Howe may have to sacrifice his free-flowing methods and be prepared to sit deeper to dig out the odd point.
Nevertheless, the Cherries have been a joy to watch in the second tier and we can only hope their style of play can be a success in the division above. As Gary Lineker wrote on Twitter: “Tell you who don’t play boring football; Bournemouth. They’ll be an excellent addition to the PL. Look forward to welcoming them on MOTD.”
Think you know your football? Share your knowledge, tips and comments to win cash prizes in OLBG’s tipster competition – £11,000 to be won monthly!