Poor Bournemouth. Entering an international break off the back of a loss is never ideal and there 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United was especially cruel. In a game they dominated, they had the misfortune of running headlong into a freakish performance from Rob Elliot and a classic smash-and-grab by a visiting side.
In the aftermath, the reaction was almost universal: Eddie Howe must change the way he approaches games or face certain relegation.
It’s not an unreasonable stance, especially given that Bournemouth are now without a win since the 19th September (Sunderland) and are now without a goal in three games, but it’s one which seems to be adopted every year towards a newly-promoted team.
The Championship and the Premier League are clearly different places and they demand different virtues from their competing clubs, but there is still a place for recognising what teams - and managers - do well and what they don’t. Howe is a fine coach and the principles which he has installed at Dean Court have not only provoked a quantum leap through the divisions, but they also appear to suit the playing staff. It’s a team which has been built on a budget, obviously, but it is also one which currently adds up to far more than the sum of its parts - and that is as true a vindication of an approach as exists in the game.
And there’s no need for melodrama: Bournemouth’s losing sequence may be concerning, but they have only lost by more than two goals twice this season (Manchester City & Tottenham) and have been competitive in every game they’ve played. This is not a “rip it up and start again” situation, rather it’s one which demands a slight refinement and requires that - rather than a change in personnel - the existing staff simply reflect on and adapt to what they’ve experienced in the Premier League.
What works and what doesn’t? That’s a question that Leicester City struggled with for most of last season but they, much like Bournemouth, were never a hopeless case. They lost games because of minor mistakes and because they were frequently victims of their own inexperience, not because they were incapable of winning games at Premier League level.
The biggest mistake they could make no would be to panic. At the beginning of the season, chairman Jeff Mostyn spoke of his diligence in the transfer-market and of the need to avoid big budget mercenaries who typically knock on the door of newly-promoted, newly-wealthy clubs - and there’s no reason for that to change. On top of the broadcasting revenue paid to all top-flight sides, Bournemouth are in possession of a lucrative shirt-sponsorship deal with Mansion Group - home to brands like SlotsHeaven.com, Mansion Poker, and Mansion Casino - and are in position to gentle evolve irrespective of how the current season ends.
Long-term Injuries to Callum Wilson, Tyrone Mings, and Max Gradel have conspired to make the task harder and January does offer the chance to fill some of the gaps which have opened, but Mostyn, Howe and the rest of the technical staff still need to plan for a worst-case scenario and find a balance between making survival realistic and not betting the house on avoiding relegation.
Altering their style of play would demand a wholesale change to the shape and strengths of the playing squad and that would come at a significant financial cost - as well it being an almighty structural risk to take in the middle of the season.
Consider the opposing plights of Queens Park Rangers and Burnley. Both recently relegated from the Premier League, but each in opposing states of health. Rangers are the club who panicked and threw money at agents and players in the hope of somehow avoiding demotion and Burnley are the club who danced with the players who brought them and who spent thriftily but responsibly during their single season at this level. Both clubs may now be back in the Championship, but their respective chances of returning to the Premier League are vastly different.
Burnley took the benefits of that season and are using them to fuel what looks to be a long-term upgrade in their fortunes, whereas QPR are a basket case of a club who will probably spend most of the next decade paying for their attempts to live beyond their means.
It is a fine balance for Bournemouth, but there are ways to approach this situation and ways to not.