Bournemouth finished the season in sixth in the Championship table with a seven-point gap between them and seventh-placed Reading, which earned them a spot in the 2020/21 play-offs. Was there a sense of relief when that was confirmed, given that they had dropped out the top six in March?
After losing to Barnsley, Cherries’ hopes of reaching the play-offs appeared quite bleak. The sides around them were all in good form and there were a couple of teams coming up the table too. But credit to Jonathan Woodgate for turning things around so quickly after that disappointment, beating fellow promotion chasers Swansea 3-0 in the next game and from there embarking on one of the club’s longest ever winning runs. So from where they were, to get the job more or less done with three games to spare was a really impressive feat and the team played some excellent stuff during that seven-match run as well.
As you mentioned when you spoke to brentfordfc.com prior to last month’s meeting, Brentford are the only top seven team the Cherries failed to beat during the regular season. How desperate will the players be to put that right in such an important set of fixtures?
Well, given how they ended the season, beating Brentford now will be the only chance they’ve got of going up! Personally I think it is the one team they really could have done with avoiding over two legs, but a disappointing three-game losing run at the end of the campaign has left them in sixth. Just one victory from those final three games would have changed all that. But both the management and players remain convinced the team can just flick the switch and go again when it really matters, which will be on Monday night. Obviously losing to Brentford just a few weeks ago, especially the fact they went down to 10 men, is a cause for concern. But there still remains a genuine belief among the squad that they should have been right up there with Norwich and Watford and have the players capable of beating anybody at this level.
Though you would imagine Jonathan Woodgate will not have been happy to end the season with three losses, would you say he will be almost treating this game as the start of a new tournament, with the form book thrown out of the window?
Essentially, yes. Woodgate has repeatedly reiterated that Cherries have won seven of their past 10 matches, rather than focusing on the three that they lost. He insists the club still have momentum. The defeat to Wycombe can be mitigated slightly by the fact he made wholesale changes, but the flat and disappointing display against Stoke on the final day did raise a few alarm bells given it was the XI which may well have been the side expected to face Brentford in the play-offs. Whether or not the form the team showed a few weeks ago can suddenly return again now will only be seen over the next week or so. But if they can play like they were during that winning run, they’ll have a great chance of going up.
What can you tell us about the injury situation at the club going into the tie? Which players will be key?
One bonus of securing the play-off spot early was that Woodgate could rotate his squad and keep them as fresh as possible, and that seems to have worked. Lewis Cook is a long-term absentee with a serious knee injury, but the only other player struggling is Junior Stanislas. He is set to miss the first leg, and possibly second leg as well, with a hamstring problem. In terms of key players, it’ll be a very similar answer to the last time the sides met. Arnaut Danjuma is still so often the man they look to to make things happen in attack, while at the other end Asmir Begovic has been in great form all season. It was no surprise to see those two named in the Championship team of the season.
When the Bees visited the Vitality Stadium a few weeks ago, you said Bournemouth generally lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Would you expect Woodgate to stick with the same system for the first leg?
It would be a big surprise if Woodgate switched away from that now. He tinkered with his system slightly when he first took the job, but after a home defeat to Cardiff he made the switch to the 4-2-3-1 and has stuck with it ever since. The majority of the starting XI is pretty much set, with the only issue really up for debate probably coming in central midfield, with a choice between Ben Pearson or Jack Wilshere to partner Jefferson Lerma.
In that game, a late Bryan Mbeumo strike earned Thomas Frank’s men all three points and set them on their way to finishing the campaign with four straight wins. What’s your score prediction this time around?
Especially with fans back, I think Cherries could really do with a lead going into the second leg. But previous results this season, form over recent weeks and Brentford’s form generally over the past two seasons shows just how hard they are to beat. So I’ll say 1-1 for Monday’s first leg, but the home support will certainly be pushing them for a winner.
Monday's game is exclusively live on Sky Sports with audio commentary on iFollow Brentford.