Little brother spoiling to give south coast sibling a bloody nose
Only 33 miles and the New Forest separate Bournemouth and Southampton, a distance so short that it more often than not guarantees resentment and rancour between neighbouring football clubs. This afternoon, though, the teams meet for the first time in the top division and the game's complexion on the south coast, with Portsmouth languishing in League Two, will take a different hue.
This is only the second time Bournemouth and Southampton have been in the same division since 1960; the previous occasion was five seasons ago in League One. Throw a handful of League Cup and third division meetings more than half a century ago into the mix and they have met 21 times competitively. It is a derby based solely on geography.
Historically, Southampton have helped Bournemouth out, playing fundraising friendlies when the Cherries were cash-strapped and loaning players. Supporters on both sides agree that the situation has always been akin to siblings - the big brother giving regular hand-me-downs - but now things have altered.
The younger sibling has graduated and wants to be equal. "We don't mind being the small brother at the moment, as long as we can give our sibling a bloody nose on Sunday," says Bournemouth supporter Peter Ball, the editor of the Cherry Chimes blog.
On the other side of the fence Southampton fan Steve Grant, the editor of saintsweb.co.uk, says: "They're only rivals in so much that they're in the same league as us this season. Certainly from most Saints fans I know quite like Bournemouth - largely because they've never been a particular threat to us and we've often used their first team to blood our youth prospects."
While Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe is not quite as vehement in his desire to get one over the neighbours, there is a definite sense of this being a bigger game than most. "I think it could," he says when asked if a major rivalry may develop. "It'll take time. We've always been considered the smaller club, not serious competitors for Southampton. It will take us to beat them for the rivalry really to begin.
"I don't think Southampton would consider us a rival until we beat them. It would take a result for us to ignite rivalry between the supporters. I don't know how they feel about us. All I know is they have a class manager and he won't underestimate us."
Howe has plenty of admiration for his opposite number, Ronald Koeman, and while sticking to "the Bournemouth way" believes his team could learn a lot from their neighbours. "I think he has been excellent for them," he added.
"When you consider the amount of players they've sold, it has been very difficult. It's a brave man who has to rebuild a squad like that. We do admire how they have built the club up, but we have to be true to ourselves. We've done very well. We can't get away from that fact. We're doing it the Bournemouth way and want to build on that success."
So much will have changed since those League One fixtures in 2010-11. Both squads are largely unrecognisable but the one thing that remains is Southampton possessing the favourites' tag. They won all three meetings that season, having also drawn one another in the League Cup. Ball describes it as getting a "brotherly know-your-place thumping".
Grant adds: "We ended up winning all three games fairly comfortably, they basically didn't turn up to either of the games at St Mary's. They did take an early lead at Dean Court, but it didn't last long as their keeper dived over a tame header - they seem to have a history with dodgy keepers!"
Howe's current major worry is the form of his keeper Artur Boruc, who signed permanently from Southampton last summer after spending the Championship-winning season on loan at Dean Court. Boruc has not trained since conceding five to Tottenham last Sunday because of a dietary issue.
Adam Federici, a summer signing from Reading, started in the League Cup loss at Anfield on Wednesday but had also played in the competition's earlier rounds. The manager is non-committal when pushed on who should play: "We have tough decisions every week. The goalkeeper will be just one of those. Artur has had a diet problem and hasn't trained. We'll wait and see if he is fit and make a decision. It will come down to firstly if they're fit, secondly who I want to play."
Bournemouth have never won at Southampton. The match comes at a crucial time for the Cherries. Struck by an horrific run of injuries - up to half a dozen key players could be absent - they have a single point from 12 and shipped 10 goals in their past two league games, five apiece to Manchester City and Tottenham. They will, though, be buoyed by the midweek return of Harry Arter from injury. "It felt like part of our identity has returned with him coming back into the team," Howe said. "It felt like a new signing and a huge boost."
Christian Atsu, whose game-time has been limited to two League Cup appearances since he joined Bournemouth on a season-long loan from Chelsea, is back at Stamford Bridge having treatment after picking up a stress fracture while on international duty last month. The Ghanaian returned to his parent club a couple of weeks ago.
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