It’s not often the bookies are guilty of falling for a media-led romance, but with Bournemouth they seem to have done exactly that.
The Cherries are a industry-wide 2/1 to be relegated after just one term in the top flight and that looks like the gaffe of the season from several of the big players.
BetVictor, Ladbrokes and Coral all go 2/1 about Bournemouth to go down with Sunderland, Aston Villa and Newcastle all more likely to drop through the trapdoor, according to the layers.
Just to recap, the moneymen claim Bournemouth have just a 33 per cent change of getting relegated. But, I’d say closer to 50 per cent would be nearer to the truth.
‘Fairy tale’ promotion
Much was written in the tabloids over the summer about Bournemouth’s ‘fairy tale’ promotion, but let’s not kid ourselves here. Bournemouth’s promotion to the Premier League was certainly not by definition ‘a story for children with magical creativity’, more an ‘incredibly misleading account’, because the Cherries’ rise to the top table was driven by huge investment from Russian billionaire Maxim Demin.
It’s unclear exactly how much Demin has pumped into the south-coast club, but it’s understood the financial aid had topped £25million before the summer spending which included the £8million arrival of Tyrone Mings and £7million signing of Max Gradel.
It may seem small fry in comparison with the Premier League’s big guns, but Bournemouth have a backer who has enabled them to compete with the best – they’ve not done it on a shoe-string. That’s not to detract from likeable boss Eddie Howe though, who oversaw their promotion to the Premier League with a swagger.
It’s been a different story this season though for the Cherries, who were 6/5 to be relegated before the season kicked off in August. Howe has been crippled by injuries with star man Callum Wilson ruled out until April with a knee injury.
New boys Mings and Gradel are also sidelined long-term, while Tommy Elphick is also likely to miss a large chunk of the season for the club, who are currently in 17th place with eight points.
That is some injury list and that alone should have seen Bournemouth’s price for the drop come tumbling in, but instead in recent weeks they drifted out to 13/5 before shortening into 2/1 ahead of the weekend’s tussle with Tottenham.
“We are going to have to cope. I still believe the team and the squad we have is able to be competitive, despite the fact we have so many players out long term,” said a bullish Howe.
“We are not looking at that as an excuse or an issue. We have to try to find a way to make them competitive. With our full squad this is an incredibly tough task but even more so with the players we have out.”
Howe might well have run over a black cat or Demin walked under a series of ladders because their luck has been rotten. Injuries aside though, TEAMtalk’s Referee Review has also highlighted their bad luck so far this season with several key decisions going against them.
Against Man City at the weekend they were denied a clear penalty when Nicolas Otamendi did not get enough of the ball and should have been penalised for bringing down Dan Gosling – making it six decisions against and none for, so far this season.
They say those things even themselves out over a season and maybe that’s one reason the bookies have placed so much faith in them.
But looking at their stats this term they obviously have problems elsewhere. They have only produced one clean sheet to date – the 2-0 win over fellow strugglers Sunderland – however their defensive stats on the whole don’t look too bad.
They only allow 10.6 shots on their goal per game and only the two Manchester clubs can better that, but it’s just that when they do give away a chance – it’s a blooming good one and the opposition generally capitalise.
In attack they are not quite as impressive with an average of just 3.7 shots on target per game and the absence of the lightning quick Wilson – who had five goals in seven games pre-injury – has certainly seen that attacking potency curbed.
Their possession count has been encouraging with only opponents Man City and Liverpool having more of the ball than Howe’s men, but they have struggled to make chances. And in fact their top assist maker is full-back Simon Francis with two.
They have simply not been able to impose their short passing game on the muscle of the Premier League and they have been vulnerable to making defensive mistakes, which have been punished.
I admit I was one of the many people who thought Bournemouth would have enough to stay up, but nine games in and a raft of injuries and I’ve changed my mind.
The steady flow of rhetoric from the tabloids has now stopped, the pundits who talked up the Cherries’ style of play has been muted, but still the bookies hold a flame for them. Why? I’m not so sure, because the other strugglers all look to have the capability to steer away from danger.
Newcastle smashed six past Norwich on Sunday and have enough quality players to keep their heads above water. Sunderland have brought in survival-specialist Sam Allardyce and they will surely make a determined bid to avoid the drop, while Tim Sherwood will surely get the chop at Aston Villa if they continue to struggle and a new lease of life could be breathed into their bid.
Of course fellow new boys Norwich and Watford both look susceptible to relegation, but Bournemouth look to be in the box seat, despite Demin’s financial muscle.
Playing the long game?
He could of course flex his muscle in the transfer window, but attracting good enough players, with the right attitude for a relegation battle is difficult. And considering he has just handed Howe a new contract to see him through until 2020, Demin might just be happy to play the long game.
Last season’s bottom club QPR went down with a £65million payment – made up of TV money and prize money – and Demin might well be content to take the money as a relegation sweetener and try and build another promotion campaign from the Championship with Howe at the helm.
That would not be the disaster it has seemed to be in years gone by. Such is the amount of money now pumped in from the Premier League it gives those relegated teams a huge foot up in their bid for an instant return. The majority of Championship clubs, who have not benefited from the Premier League’s millions, are starting to struggle to compete in the top six and that will only be exacerbated in the coming years.
In essence, the bookies have been swayed by a media lovin’ for Howe and the Cherries and the 2/1 about them getting relegated is simply huge – and too big a price to ignore.