Written by Oliver Ferris (@OllieFerris12)
Jonathan Woodgate was very clear in emphasising his gratitude towards those surrounding him at AFC Bournemouth as the Cherries lay secure in the play-off positions with one game to go.
Despite two losses in the two previous games, Woodgate’s Bournemouth have been flying under his management. Previous to the last two games, the Cherries had achieved a seven-game win-streak in the league, in which it was performance after performance that showed exactly what Woodgate and the side are capable of.
Humble as ever, Woodgate took the spotlight away from himself. He said: “It is not me; it is the staff behind me. I am just the person at the front of the house having to face the media and make the decisions, but they help enormously so it is full credit to them.
“It is an exceptional group. They’ve welcome me and have made my job a lot easier.”
The Vitality Stadium will play host to Stoke City as the travellers conclude their season. The Potters had started the season very well under Michael O’Neill having been amongst the play-off positions, and their highest position in the league being 5th in early December.
In recent months however, form for O’Neill’s side has dipped having only won 2 in their last 10 league games. Sitting comfortably in 14th, Stoke will be closing the season with plenty of good things to reflect on and look to build on going into next season. They enter tomorrow’s lunchtime kick-off with a chance to break a club clean sheet record.
The Potters currently hold 20 clean sheets in the league, with only Watford doing better with 22. One more clean sheet for the side will see them achieve the club- record for clean sheets in a season.
As a defender himself throughout his career, Woodgate appreciated the accumulation of the defensive statistic, “It is an unbelievable achievement, I adore clean sheets.”
With the Cherries having secured the play-offs ahead of tomorrow’s game, Woodgate detailed the task he now faces of team selection with the all-important last two games in view. He described it is a “fine balance” as he tries to ensure valuable players do not get injured, and yet do not lose “match fitness”. With changes from the Wycombe game to give players minutes on the pitch, there is the concern for those who were rested to keep match fit, in which Woodgate must weigh against the possibilities of injury.
Woodgate said: “There is a fine balance. You can do a lot on the training pitch, but there is match fitness. You do not want to take the sharpness away from the players.
“They’ve all been looking really, really good to be fair and I am super happy with the group at the minute,” he added.
Taking a look ahead to the play-offs, a win tomorrow for Bournemouth will see them remain above the sixth position and therefore will face Swansea City in the play-off semi-finals at the end of the month. Woodgate was clear to show he had no preferences as to the route to promotion as they focus game-by-game.
He told Nerve Sport: “I don’t mind who we play, all I want to do is win the game. It is a winning mentality. The next game to concentrate on is Stoke.”
In team news, captain Steve Cook returns to the squad, as well as fellow defender Lloyd Kelly. Key attacker Junior Stanislas was forced off in the game against Wycombe with a hamstring injury in which the club are currently still waiting on the scans to determine the full extent of the injury.