AFC Bournemouth will be looking to maintain their unbeaten start in the Championship when they visit promoted Hull City on Saturday (3pm kick-off).
The Cherries have taken eight points from their first four games, winning at Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City and drawing with West Brom and Blackpool.
Hull were crowned champions of League One last season and made an immediate return to the second flight after finishing nine points clear of third-placed Blackpool.
The teams last met in the Premier League in 2016/17 when the Cherries triumphed 6-1 at Vitality Stadium before losing 3-1 in East Yorkshire.
Grant McCann’s team made a promising start when goals from Keane Lewis-Potter, Richard Smallwood, Josh Magennis and Andy Cannon earned them a convincing 4-1 win at Preston on the opening day of the season.
Homegrown striker Lewis-Potter, 20, was again on target as they exited the Carabao Cup at the first hurdle, going down 8-7 on penalties to Wigan after the tie had ended 1-1.
Since then, they have lost three games in succession, going down at the MKM Stadium against QPR (3-0) and Derby County (1-0) before suffering a 2-0 defeat at Fulham.
HULL CITY IN PROFILE
Ground: MKM Stadium
Nickname: The Tigers
Head coach: Grant McCann (appointed June 2019)
Club captain: Richard Smallwood (pictured above)
Current league position: 19th in Championship
Last season’s finishing position: First in League One
Leading goalscorer 2020/21: Mallik Wilks (22 in all competitions)
Last game: Fulham 2-0 Hull City (Championship)
afcb.co.uk: How has the season started for the Tigers?
BC: It started in incredible fashion, winning 4-1 at Preston having been a goal behind early on.
To turn it around and win in such a convincing manner was not a surprise because they were so good away from home last season and it was a continuation of that. Maybe people were a bit shocked it happened on the opening day.
Since then, it’s been a bit of a reality check for them. I think people expected them to get something from home games against QPR and Derby.
They played well against QPR. They had a couple of efforts cleared off the line and QPR scored their second goal against the run of play. City had a player sent off and before you knew it, they were 3-0 down.
The Derby game left a bitter taste. With the narrative surrounding Derby, everyone expected City to win the game quite comfortably but it didn’t happen.
It put pressure on the Fulham game. Fulham were far too good for them and were 2-0 up inside 30 minutes.
It could have been a longer afternoon than it turned out to be and they deserve credit for sticking at it. It’s been a tough start – welcome to the Championship! There have been some positives and there is plenty to work on.
afcb.co.uk: How has the transfer window been?
BC: It’s been challenging because the club are working under a transfer embargo. It’s not a punishment, it’s more of an agreement with the EFL. They accepted a loan to help them through Covid when they were in League One.
One of the caveats within the acceptance of the loan was that they would be restricted to what they can and can’t do in the transfer market.
Grant McCann has had his hands tied in many respects. He can only sign players on loan or free transfers. He’s done what he can and he’s done okay. He’s got one of the lowest budgets in the division but he’s doing what he can.
George Moncur was a good acquisition from Luton and has Championship experience.
They’ve got Di’Shon Bernard (pictured above) on loan from Manchester United and Matt Smith from Manchester City, both highly-rated youngsters.
I think the concern is a lack of experience at Championship level, that was certainly evident defensively at Fulham on Saturday.
afcb.co.uk: How has Tom Huddlestone (pictured above) looked since he returned to the club?
BC: I think he can be a big plus for them if they can get him fit and firing. He hasn’t played in the Championship for a year-and-a-half and hasn’t featured too much this season.
He played 45 minutes at Scunthorpe in a pre-season friendly and, within five minutes, he had dropped his shoulder, turned a player on the halfway line and pinged a ball out wide in typical Huddlestone fashion.
That gave a glimpse that he’s still got the ability. He scored against Manchester United under-23s in a friendly and came off the bench against Derby and looked okay.
He played 90 minutes for the under-23s on Monday and, by all accounts, did okay. He hasn’t played in the Championship since January 2020 so, potentially, it’s going to take him a bit of time to get up to speed at this level.
But he’s got undoubted quality on the ball. He’s never been a box-to-box midfielder or a midfielder that will go past people, he operates in that quarter-back position where he receives the ball from the back four and ping passes about.
He can also slot into centre-half if the need arises. It’s a good signing and it’s lifted the fans massively. The squad is young and inexperienced at this level.
Huddlestone aside, there’s only something like 600 Championship appearances across the whole squad and Richard Smallwood has around 200 of those.
Huddlestone’s experience is needed massively and I think he’ll be fine going forward.
afcb.co.uk: What’s been the biggest difference you have noticed between Championship and League One?
BC: It’s so much more clinical in front of goal. Matt Ingram (pictured above), the City goalkeeper, was brilliant last season and kept 16 of their 20 clean sheets in League One. Invariably, when he made a mistake, they didn’t get punished.
He made a mistake against QPR and they were punished. He should have saved one and the ball was in the back of the net. At this level, you get punished.
At Fulham, they made a mistake from a set-play. They allowed their centre-half to be blocked at a corner and Aleksandar Mitrovic headed in.
All of a sudden, they were 1-0 down and, within ten minutes, it was two and the game was pretty much done and dusted.
It’s the harsh reality of being punished and they need to be clinical in both boxes.
In the three games they’ve lost, they haven’t been clinical and it’s that difference in quality they are going to find going forward.
afcb.co.uk: Who is Hull’s one to watch?
BC: Keane Lewis-Potter. He came through the academy and recently turned 20. I’m not going to say he’s the next Jarrod Bowen because he’s a different type of player. I’d say he’s more of an attacking threat but that’s not to demean Jarrod Bowen.
He’s pacy, talented, tricky and he can score all types of goals. He is the next big thing but, equally, there’s an awful lot of pressure on him, especially at the moment because they are missing Mallik Wilks who scored 22 goals last season.
Ryan Longman, who is on loan from Brighton, is out injured. George Moncur is suspended against Bournemouth so their attacking options are limited and everybody is looking to Lewis-Potter to make something happen.
He scored a terrific goal against Preston and set one up for Josh Magennis. He scored against Wigan in the Carabao Cup with a well-taken goal.
afcb.co.uk: Are any key players either suspended or injured against the Cherries?
BC: George Moncur serves the third of a three-match ban. George Honeyman, last season’s player of the year, is recovering from ankle surgery and Mallik Wilks has a calf problem so it looks like he’ll be out.
Ryan Longman, another attacking player, went off with a groin strain against Derby so it’s unlikely we’ll see him, it depends if they risk him.
Defender Alfie Jones has a groin problem and missed the Fulham game.
There’s a chance Longman and Jones could be involved against Bournemouth but, with the international break coming up, they may also look to not risk them and get them back for Swansea.
afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?
BC: I’m going for 1-1. Given what happened to Bournemouth at Norwich, albeit with a much-changed team, and Hull’s desperation to get something, I think they would take a point.
You can follow Barry on Twitter – @bazdjcooper
Officials: Geoff Eltringham (referee), Rob Smith (assistant), Andrew Dallison (assistant), Marc Edwards (fourth official).