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03/04: Reports:

Carling Cup First Round, 12/08/03, 7.45pm
AFC Bournemouth
By Matt Rowson

Oh, sodding hell.

Drive home from work. Bloody hot. Get home after half-an-hour on the M1, grab a shower, change clothes, fresh, fantastic.

Right, then. Bournemouth preview. Study. Hot. Again. Open windows. Well, that made an enormous difference. Need refreshment. Diet Coke, lots of ice. Sit down at PC. Still hot. Beads of sweat now declaring themselves and trundling down my forehead. Bastards.

This just isn't natural. Even my wife, who is African and will typically be wrapped in a blanket whilst I'm in shorts and a t-shirt, is complaining and slumped listlessly on the sofa. As for me, I hate the heat at the best of times, have quite enough natural insulation already thank you, really can't cope with this suffocation. And whereas getting up and going to work in the morning is never something that's top of my list of five fun things I could do with my day, temperatures like this make even waking up an effort. Or they would, were I able to sleep. Give me snow and ice any day of the week. Preferably today. This is insufferable.

Good job that the football season's almost here... we're at Selhurst in a week, it's sure to be drizzling by then.

Before then, we entertain Bournemouth in the newly-rechristened Carling Cup. As far as the new name goes, I've never really been offended by the sponsorship of the nation's second Cup competition... it would have been a hard-hearted soul that would have found "The Milk Cup" a disappointing development after all. More irritating by far is the ditching of two-legged early round ties (to save the legs of the poor dears in the Premiership, albeit depriving lower division clubs of revenue) whilst somehow justifying the retention of two-legged semi-finals. Go figure.

Anyway, the Cherries' trip to Vicarage Road will be their second away match of a season which they kick off at Port Vale on Saturday. This summer sees their return to Division Two following a year's sabbatical in the Third which came to an end as they tonked Lincoln City in the play-off final at Cardiff in May.

Judging from website reports and assessment Bournemouth seem to be a positive, passing side who play with two wingers, with an occasionally punchless attack perhaps their biggest problem.

In goal for our visitors will be Neil Moss, who was Paul Jones' deputy up the coast at Southampton before the arrival of Antti Niemi. His deputy is the injury-prone Gareth Stewart.

Regular right-back Neil Young has an ankle injury that rules him out of the season opener on Saturday. If unavailable on Tuesday, his place is likely to be taken by the versatile Stephen Purches, an attacking option also comfortable in midfield. On the left, Scottish international full-back Warren Cummings was on loan at West Brom from Chelsea during their promotion season from Division One two years ago. He joined Bournemouth on a free in April.

In the centre, team captain Carl Fletcher, last season's Player-of-the-Year, has made the conversion from a competent midfielder to a competitive stopper. The two most likely to partner him at the back have both suffered from injuries... Irishman Shaun Maher, a strong if slightly immobile 6'3", missed most of last season, whilst Karl Broadhurst has missed much of pre-season with an ankle problem.

In midfield, the central pair of Marcus Browning and Gareth O'Connor seems quite established. One-time Welsh international Browning, never a particular favourite at previous clubs Huddersfield and Gillingham in Division One, looks more comfortable and assertive in the Cherries' side, whilst O'Connor, a former Bohemians team mate of Shaun Maher, has undoubted ability if occasionally lacking in the motivation department. Their cover is provided by Brian Stock, a next-big-thing-who's-never-quite-made-it, whilst first-year pro Fawzi Saadi has also featured in pre-season.

In wide positions, former Palace man Steven Thomson was trialled in pre-season but doesn't seem to have impressed... the right-wing slot seems likely therefore to go to the talented but inconsistent Wade Elliott, who may regret the fact that suspension has delayed Robbo's kick-off by a game. On the left, Danny Thomas seems likely to feature if Purches is pulled back to full-back.

In attack, Bournemouth will be trying to identify a winning combination from a number of smouldering options. I seem to remember Steve Fletcher getting an awful lot of stick during our first match in Division Two in 1996... seven years on, he's still on the south coast and his season-long injury is cited as a key factor in Bournemouth's relegation two years ago. The big man is not a prolific goalscorer however, and so the Cherries will need to find some goals from either Alan Connell, Warren Feeney or James Hayter.

Connell is a small, quick twenty-year-old who hit six goals in ten starts at the beginning of last season before succumbing to a cruciate ligament injury. Feeney, who has also missed some of pre-season with injury, is on the fringes of the Northern Ireland squad... he's highly thought of, but his Bournemouth career has been in fits and starts so far. Hayter, who also plays in midfield, is eager but slightly lightweight. Derek Holmes, a Scotsman signed from Ross County, provides a more muscular if less popular alternative.

The League Cup in its various guises isn't a competition that we've fared terribly well in over the years - the anomalous Quarter-Final under Vialli being the exception. It's not so long ago that we faced Tuesday night's hosts in this same competition, that one ending in a penalty shoot-out and a whack on the head for Kevin Phillips. Hopefully our 4-3-3 can make life hot for the Cherries on Tuesday.

If perhaps not this hot...