Goldsands Stadium, Tuesday 10th February
AFC Bournemouth (Last Starting XI v Wigan, A): Boruc; Francis, Cook, Elphick, Daniels; Ritchie, Arter, Surman, Pugh; Kermorgant, Wilson
Derby County (Last Starting XI v Bolton, H): Grant; Shotton, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Hendrick, Mascarell, Hughes, Ward; Ince, Martin
Match Odds (From William Hill): Bournemouth 11/10, Draw 23/10, Derby 5/2
- Bournemouth Form (Last 6 league games): WWLWLW
- Derby Form (Last 6 league games): WWWLWW
- This match sees the top two teams in the league go head-to-head in arguably the biggest game of the season so far.
- Since Bournemouth’s promotion back to the second tier, the sides have met 3 times with Derby edging all 3 previous encounters.
The Cherries put in another impressive away performance on Saturday, seeing off a struggling Wigan side in a 3-1 victory. That was their 8th league win in their last 10 games and kept them at the summit of the Championship table, albeit only ahead of the visitors on goal difference. They have been top of the league since mid-December and, despite a couple of defeats in recent weeks, they are proving many doubters wrong, looking extremely comfortable and composed in one of the tightest battles for promotion that there has been for years.
Callum Wilson put in an yet another impressive performance in his last outing at Wigan, bagging a brace taking his goal total this season to an impressive 17, with strike partner Yann Kermorgant also scoring in both of Bournemouth’s last two games. With plenty of goals being provided from midfield as well, Bournemouth find themselves as top scorers in the division, playing a style of football that is being admired and respected by many.
Bournemouth have a tendency for starting games quickly, at home especially, and will be looking to do the same against McLaren’s side. They have only lost one game to teams in the top 6 so far this season, with that defeat coming at the iPro Stadium back in September. Since that defeat, Howe’s men have charged up the league claiming 45 points from a possible 57, showing the type of form that took them to the brink of the Play-Offs towards the end of last season. A win in this fixture would send out a statement that they are serious promotion contenders, with many expecting them to fall away in the latter stages of the campaign.
Eddie Howe has picked the same team in the last 2 games, and due to the strength of their last performance at Wigan, it would be a surprise to see him make any changes. Eunan O’Kane is still a doubt after picking up an injury against Watford, but apart from that, Howe should be able to field his strongest side for a game that could be described as a 6 pointer.
This game gives Derby a chance to return to the top of the pile for the first time since December, and if their away form is anything to go by, they will really fancy their chances of taking all three points from the league leaders. Since suffering a 2-0 defeat at fellow promotion rivals Middlesbrough in early December, they are yet to concede on the road and have only conceded 3 goals in their last 9 in all competitions.
The Rams will be looking for their new loan signing, Tom Ince, to put in a similar performance to the one he produced on Saturday against Bolton. Ince, along with Jeff Hendrick, scored twice in an impressive performance that saw them claim their 8th win out of their last 9 games in all competitions. The form team in the league were many people’s favourites to go up at the start of the season, and if they can maintain this sort of form for the remainder of the season, there will be few teams capable of keeping up with them.
McClaren’s men suffered a heartbreaking end to the last campaign, losing to QPR in the Play-off final in which they dominated. However, they seem to have put that disappointment behind them and have pushed on this season, building what is arguably the strongest squad in the division to try and ensure a return to the Premier League. They haven’t lost away to Bournemouth since 1984 and they will be determined to not leave the south coast empty handed.
There are no new injury concerns for the visitors, and many expect the same starting eleven that started against Bolton. However, with the likes of Darren Bent, Jesse Lingard and Craig Bryson looking to be included, McClaren is not short of quality if he was to make changes for this top of the table clash. Raul Albentosa will still be sidelined, joining George Thorne and Johnny Russell on the injury list.
Prediction: AFC Bournemouth 1-1 Derby County
Within the past 2 weeks, the top two in both the Premier League and League 1 have played each other, with both of the games ending in draws. Both teams play attractive, attacking football, however these games have a tendency be cagey affairs and with the race for promotion being so tight, a draw would arguably be a satisfactory result for both sides and could be seen as a ‘must not lose’ game.