A long, hard slog of a season rounds off for Everton with Sunday’s visit to Goodison Park of Bournemouth, whose Premier League life hangs by a thread.
The Cherries, who have lost on all four previous visits to Goodison since promotion in 2015, are three points adrift of safety going into the final day.
Everton cannot finish higher than their current position of 11th, but will want to round off a turbulent, forgettable campaign with successive wins and clean sheets after Monday’s impressive 1-0 victory at Sheffield United.
Ahead of Sunday’s game, we spoke to Bournemouth fan Peter Bell of the Cherry Chimes blog:
RBM: Firstly, a week after Bournemouth’s 3-1 win over Everton in September, they won at Southampton to enter the top six. Now they stand on the brink of the drop. What’s happened to them?
Peter: It hasn’t been a great season. Even before those games Bournemouth were under pressure, as we had only won one of the first four games, against Aston Villa. There was a crisis of not scoring - we didn’t score any goals in October. Then the confidence fell away. We have also had key players with long-term injuries, like Charlie Daniels, David Brooks, Lloyd Kelly, Simon Francis, Steve Cook, Junior Stanislas; pretty much all the players have missed games. The problem is that Eddie Howe has then played players like Adam Smith out of position, and it has affected the balance of the team.
It was also a mistake to sell Lys Mousset to Sheffield United and perhaps even Tyrone Mings to Aston Villa in the summer. It seemed good business at the time, but ultimately they could have improved our numbers. Looking at the club’s financial losses though some players had to be sold. We should have sold Jermaine Defoe as well if he wasn’t going to play, rather than send him on loan to Rangers.
I feel the Ryan Fraser transfer saga also had an impact on the dressing room. There has been lots of fan disappointment about the situation of Ryan not signing but it was compounded by his poor form.
VAR has also been a bit against us with shoulder handballs in the defeat at Burnley. David Silva made a similar handball in the recent Man City game, but we got nothing for it. To be honest, the team hasn’t defended well enough. If you defend badly and can’t score there is always a place in the bottom three for you.
RBM: How disastrous a prospect would relegation be for Bournemouth as a club?
Peter: It’s the financial impact that will be the problem. Can the club sell its best players at reasonable fees and can we off load them? Will the new training facility see cut-backs, will it affect the youth teams and academies? The Championship is still a good league for Bournemouth and we’ll enjoy it, but it will feel that we have not performed to have ended up there next season.
Okay, we get a parachute payment, but Bournemouth rely on TV money more than any other club in the Premier League, because we have the smallest fanbase. That money won’t be there and there will have to be job losses and cut-backs in some areas if the club is in the Championship. The good thing is we may see more of our under-21s step up and fill some of the positions in the first team.
RBM: Having led Bournemouth from League Two to the Premier League, Eddie Howe surely has too much credit in the bank for his job to be at risk. That said, do you fear he may have run his course at Dean Court now?
Peter: There are some fans who feel it has gone stale under Howe. He has made mistakes and seems to have his favourite players, even when they don’t play that well. I believe he has no desire to step down and wants to make Bournemouth better than ever.
He will look at the Championship as a challenge where he must succeed and I don’t think there is a better manager for our club in that league. If he finds himself down the bottom of the Championship, it may be said then that he has perhaps had his day. I don’t see that happening, though.
RBM: How much do you think empty stadiums have had an effect on Bournemouth’s results and performances since the restart?
Peter: Good question. I’m not sure the players can blame the lack of atmosphere on all their results since the restart. They trained in the stadium at times and will have played many games in their careers with the under-21s when there are very few spectators in stadiums. However, at Dean Court, we do create a good atmosphere and have lifted players in the past to great comebacks.
Many of the players were returning from long-term injuries at the restart and they needed games to get up to speed - that as the main reason for the poor performances I think. The players perhaps just thought they would pick up points in the first few early games since returning, but they found the period extremely difficult. There was no spark and any momentum we had from drawing with Chelsea and narrowly losing to Liverpool in March was lost by June.
RBM: Bournemouth have the third-worst defence in the league, having shipped 64 goals this term. But do they simply have to go all-out-attack from the first minute at Goodison?
Peter: Bournemouth are at their best when they attack. I can’t see them thinking, ‘Let’s not concede for an hour and then try and nick a goal.’ Howe is an attacking coach and he’ll want to win the game, and score as many goals as the team can. They need to at least finish the season confidently with a good result, even if they don’t stay up.
The team played better in the first half against Southampton, but better in the second halves against Leicester and Man City. Getting the team to have a great 90 minutes has been a problem all season. Generally, though, Bournemouth do come on stronger in the second half.
RBM: If Bournemouth do pull off an escape this weekend and retain their Premier League status, what needs to change next season?
Peter: I’d like to see a bigger squad. We have been in trouble in seasons when we have picked up injuries and the only way you can deal with that is by having a bigger squad. The finances will only go so far though.
The team has been short of strikers all season as well and those they have, like Dominic Solanke, have not scored enough goals. So it has been poor recruitment at times, but not every signing is going to be good for a club.
The team has to adapt to formation changes better and look to get on the front foot quicker. Howe prides himself on his team being a possession team and yet they have been on the wrong side of those stats for most of the season.
RBM: How do you expect Bournemouth to set up on Sunday?
Peter: I expect Howe will go with a 4-4-2 formation, which is not how I like to see the team play. I’d rather him go for 3-5-2 as he did against Man City and try and overload midfield.
So this is what I expect, not necessarily how I would like us to go into the game. Harry Wilson could come in for Brooks as he was not with it at all last game but we don’t know the reason why.
(4-4-2) Ramsdale; Smith, Cook, Kelly, Rico; Brooks, Lerma, Gosling, Stanislas; C Wilson, King.
RBM: Who do you think can cause Everton the most problems?
Peter: Stanislas is the in-form player for us. He has always been a quality player but gets too many injuries. If we could have had him playing all season, we would have been in a stronger position. He finds space well and is one of the best finishers we have.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game? And will Bournemouth survive?
Peter: I have a horrible feeling Bournemouth will win the game 2-1 and still be relegated because of results elsewhere. It is the kind of bad luck we have been getting.
Things worked out really well for us back in 2015, when we needed to pip Watford to the Championship title; perhaps we can have some of that last day luck again this season though. Aston Villa are in the box seat and Watford are playing an Arsenal team who were woeful against Villa when they needed to play well for European aspirations.
The omens aren’t good - I think Watford will survive. But you always have to have an inkling of hope that it could be Bournemouth’s day, and that they do the virtually impossible to stay up on goal difference on 34 points. That would make Howe an even bigger legend than he already is at Bournemouth.
Our thanks to Peter for his time.