AFC Bournemouth are back in the Championship for the first time since 2015 after a five-year spell in the Premier League.

They have adjusted to being back at this level very quickly, and will arrive at the Brentford Community Stadium level on 38 points with us in the play-off zone.

The Cherries had the last unbeaten record in the league this season, before finally suffering their first defeat in their 10th game at Sheffield Wednesday in early November.

They have only lost once more – at home to Preston at the start of this month – and if they hadn’t drawn eight of their 20 matches, they would be leading the way at the top of the table.

Bournemouth have the best home record in the Championship, before the Tuesday night matches, with seven wins, two draws and that solitary defeat at the Vitality Stadium. Their away record is only the seventh best in the division, with three wins, six draws and the single loss.

They are also the Championships’s joint top scorers on 35 goals with Blackburn, and only three teams have conceded fewer than the 16 goals which have gone into their net (again before Tuesday night).

The Cherries have beaten Huddersfield 5-0 at home and Barnsley 4-0 away, while they also earned a 4-2 win over Reading.

They will be slightly more rested than Brentford for Wednesday evening’s game after their Boxing Day match with Millwall was called off because of a Covid outbreak at the Lions.

Bournemouth did not make much of an impression on this season’s Carabao Cup – although they did win an extraordinary penalty shoot-out 11-10 against Crystal Palace after a goalless draw, before going down 2-1 at Manchester City in the second round.

Among the Cherries squad is former Brentford centre-half and Wales international Chris Mepham, who became the first player from the Brentford B team set-up to progress to the Premier League, when he joined Bournemouth in January last year.

Chris joined the Bees as an under-16 player in 2014 and signed his first professional contract two years later. He made his first-team debut in an FA Cup tie against Eastleigh at the start of 2017, before establishing himself in the side by the end of the year.

In Bournemouth’s Premier League stay, the first time they had reached the top flight in their history, they had a best finish of ninth in the 2016/17 season. They finished in the bottom half of the table in their other four campaigns and last season were relegated by a single point.

The Cherries have spent most of their league career in the third tier – although they did have a three-season stay in the second tier from 1987 to 1990

They also won the first-ever Associate Members Cup, which became the Freight Rover Trophy, Johnstone’s Paint Trophy etc, in 1984, winning the final 2-1 at Hull, in the only year it was played outside Wembley.

WHO’S IN CHARGE

Jason Tindall replaced the legendary long-serving  boss Eddie Howe in the summer to take up his first managerial job in the Football League.

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Tindall was Howe’s assistant for all of his 456 games in charge of Bournemouth and performed the same role when Howe took over at Burnley for 18 months.

He also played alongside Howe at the heart of the Cherries defence, for some of his 199 appearances for the club across two spells.

Tindall joined Arsenal as a 10-year-old and moved on to Charlton before signing for Bournemouth in 1998.

He had a brief spell as player-manager of Weymouth in-between his two stints with the Cherries.

WE’VE MET BEFORE

Brentford and Bournemouth have met many times over the years, but only twice in the Championship.

Our first away game after promotion was at Dean Court in August 2014, and we slipped to a 1-0 defeat. The only goal was scored by Junior Stanislas in the 72nd minute, while Andre Gray hit the bar for us in the first half.

Line-ups: AFCB: Camp, Francis, Daniels, O’Kane, Elphick, S Cook, Ritchie (Fraser 66), Arter (Gosling 83), Pugh (Stanislas 66), Kermorgant, C Wilson.

Bees: Button, McCormack, Bidwell, Tarkowski, Craig, Douglas, Odubajo (Smith 80), Pritchard, Tebar (Dallas 60), Judge, Gray (Proschwitz 80).

The return game in February happened just after the news broke that Bees manager Mark Warburton would be leaving the club at the end of the season.

And Brentford turned in one of their best performances of the campaign as they beat the Cherries 3-1.

Jonathan Douglas gave us a ninth-minute lead after Alex Pritchard took advantage of hesitancy by Yann Kermorgant, but Marc Pugh levelled on the half-hour mark after a pass deflected off Toumani Diagouraga into his path.

Pritchard restored our lead in first-half stoppage-time direct from a free-kick, and then set up substitute Chris Long to seal the victory right at the end of the second half.

The victory denied Bournemouth the chance to go back to the top of the table and left us one point outside the play-off zone.

Line-ups: Bees: Button, Odubajo, Dallas, Tarkowski, Craig, Diagouraga (McCormack 74), Douglas, Pritchard, Judge (Toral 60), Jota, Gray (Long 69).

AFCB: Boruc, Francis, Daniels (A Smith 76), Elphick, S Cook, Ritchie (Fraser 45), Surman, MacDonald, Pugh, Kermorgant (Pitman), C Wilson.

 

OPPOSITION VIEW

BBC Radio Solent’s AFC Bournemouth commentator Kris Temple analyses the Cherries’ season so far, looks back at the impact Eddie Howe had at the club, and recalls a time he had to find his way out of a locked Griffin Park!

OPPOSITION VIEW

Q – How would you assess Bournemouth’s season so far?

A – It’s been an excellent first half to the season, and I think a lot of Cherries fans would admit to being pleasantly surprised with where the team are, given the changes over the (very brief) summer. It’s one thing being relegated, but when a manager with an inextricable link to the club leaves, as does £80m worth of talent, it wouldn’t have been a huge surprise to see things take a bit of time to settle and reshape.

The greedy might even suggest that Bournemouth could be in an even stronger position, because they’ve let some poor points slip away (losing at Sheff Wed, drawing at home to Derby for example). But having only lost two games by Christmas, in such a competitive division, is a big plus.

Relevant to this Brentford game too, is the fact that Bournemouth haven’t lost to any of the top sides as yet.

Q – After five years in the Premier League, how much of an adjustment was it on and off the pitch to return to the Championship?

A – For the reasons already mentioned above (management, key departures, short turnaround), there almost wasn’t too much time to think about the adjustment needed. That may actually have been a good thing, without a full summer to go away on holiday and dwell on the disappointment of going down, other key players to get unsettled and linked with moves away, etc. Bournemouth lost their Premier League status over the course of 38 games, but there’s no doubt that the way they came back into Project Restart was the clincher.

They couldn’t get going at all, and by the time they’d found some rhythm, time had run out. The shift in mindset though is notable, from being pleased to pick anything up every week, and expecting to come in for some pastings from the big boys, to now being disappointed with anything except a win every week.

You see a lot of fans’ comments that they prefer being a big fish in the Championship, rather than struggling in the Premier League. I can imagine, for those who travel up & down the country spending their money supporting, they can’t wait to get back to following a team that wins more often!

Q – How has the club coped with the departure of Eddie Howe?

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A – You have to say that Jason Tindall and his coaching team have done an eye-catching job so far. I admit to have been a little surprised the board opted not to freshen it up completely, but I can see why they didn’t.

The transition seems to have been a smooth one, and Tindall has proved a man with his own ideas and philosophies, backed up by a highly-rated assistant in Steve Purches, and bringing in the fresh pair of eyes in Graeme Jones, most notable for his time as number two to Roberto Martinez. It’s been a testing baptism in management for Tindall, with the relentless schedule allowing very little time on the training ground, and a delicate balancing of player game time.

As I mentioned earlier, Eddie Howe’s link with Bournemouth is inextricable, and his achievements over the course of his two tenures were nothing short of astounding. He laid the foundations right through the club which are reaping benefits now, even with things like the Academy producing first-team players all of a sudden. It was emotional for everyone when Howe and the club decided to part ways, but I do think the short summer and need to get things moving quickly helped that transition. He’ll be back in a top job very soon, no doubt.
Q – What are the chances of the Cherries returning to the Premier League at the first time of asking?

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A – They’ve certainly put themselves in a great position to have a crack at it in the second half of the season. Like any club, they’ll need luck with injuries, as they don’t have the deepest squad when a couple of players are out. Their bench is very inexperienced currently, and it would be a big ask to need to call on some of those week-in-week-out. There are going to be about 10 teams in the shake-up for the top six by the look of it, Brentford included, but with the individuals that Bournemouth, Norwich and Watford have, last year’s relegated sides look in a strong place to bounce straight back up.

Q – What business is the club likely to do in the January transfer window?

A – I’m not sure they’ll do that much. Jason Tindall has said he’s not desperately looking to strengthen, in what is always the cliched “difficult window”. They only brought in two loan players in the summer window, one of whom (Cameron Carter-Vickers) hasn’t even made a matchday squad yet due to fitness & injury issues.

I do wonder if they might look to add an attacking player or winger. Arnaut Danjuma has had nagging injury problems since he arrived, and others like Junior Stanislas and David Brooks have played a lot of games, and also have injury history. Dom Solanke is carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders at the moment, but has responded superbly.

Q – What do you remember of previous Bees-Bournemouth meetings?

A – The one that sticks in my mind is the 2004 meeting at Griffin Park, when Bournemouth’s Neil Young got sent off for booting Stephen Hunt halfway across Hounslow! Hunt had agreed to return a drop ball to Bournemouth (confirmed later by the referee), but broke that deal and set off towards the Bournemouth goal with the ball. Young took exception to that, and I think Stephen Hunt just avoided a few aircraft landing at Heathrow as he was catapulted through the air!

I also remember getting locked inside Griffin Park after one game, and having to climb out over the turnstiles!!

I used to anchor our Saturday show on Solent, which involved presenting until 6.30pm. I’d checked with Brentford when I arrived that we’d be fine to stay in until that time… they didn’t mention that I wouldn’t be fine to get out!!!
Got to the gate and found everything locked. Was able to pass my equipment over the top to my colleague (who’d gone to McDonalds to wait!), and scramble over.
The only other ground I’ve been locked in at was Belle Vue, Doncaster! Similar story!

Q – How much are you looking forward to visiting Brentford’s new stadium?

A – I had been very much relishing it, having driven past many times on the A4 and seen it taking shape over the last year! Unfortunately, the BBC have just this week brought in new rules that prevent me & my regular BBC Radio Solent co-commentator – John Williams –  from attending the game on Wednesday, as we’re not allowed to travel into a different tier four area. “Willo” and I have done 99% of Cherries games together over the last 16 years, so it will be very strange, and disappointing to have to sit at home and watch, whilst fit and available. A colleague – Paul Scott – who lives in London – will do a superb job in my absence though.

Q – Who should Bees fans watching on TV or online look out for in the Bournemouth team?

A – Hard to pick just one, but Lewis Cook has been a revelation this season in a deeper central midfield role. A brilliant ball-player, and you wouldn’t want to be on the end of a 50-50 tackle with him! Dom Solanke has been ignited as an all-round number nine this season, David Brooks is a genius when he’s full of confidence, and Asmir Begovic needs a mention too. He’s been almost impassable at times in goal this season.

Q – Finally can you give me a possible formation and line-up for Wednesday’s game?

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A – Having kept five straight clean sheets, it would seem probable that Jason Tindall would stick with that formula, even if they were a little short of spark in their last game at Luton. An 11-day impromptu Christmas break will have freshened the players up since then. Former Bee Chris Mepham is working his way back from a calf strain, so will be touch and go.

(4-3-3) – Begovic; Smith, S Cook, Simpson, Kelly; Lerma, L Cook, Billing; Brooks, Solanke, Stanislas.
HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAME

The match is being played behind closed doors at the Brentford Community Stadium at the early time of 5.30pm on Wednesday and is being shown live on Sky.

* CORRECTION Season ticket holders do have free access to watch the match (not as stated when this was originally published) ,but others can buy a match pass for £10.

If you don’t have Sky, you can also buy a Now TV pass to watch it.

Live audio commentary is available on iFollow with Mark Burridge, Marcus Gayle and Mick Cabble, with a match pass available to buy for £2.50. 

IAN WESTBROOK

@ianwestbrook