Written by Andy Jones (@TheRamblingHam)
AFC Bournemouth travel to Millwall on Wednesday night needing just six points from their final four games to secure a playoff spot as they attempt to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
The Dorset-based club have been in superb form of late, winning their last six league games, finding the back of the net on 17 occasions as the race for promotion nears its climax.
Victory over Championship leaders Norwich City last time out now means the fifth placed side are seven points clear of Reading – who sit seventh – one place outside of the playoff places.
Cherries boss, Jonathan Woodgate, has overseen nine victories in 11 games since taking the job on a permanent basis, with the former Real Madrid defender’s only defeat coming at the hands of promotion rivals Barnsley.
Speaking to journalists ahead of the midweek clash at The New Den, Woodgate said: “I think since I’ve come in, we’ve been pretty good to be honest with you.
“We got beat by Barsnley and I think that was a real game changer and the players have just taken on instructions that we’ve given them.”
But the 41-year-old was keen to point out that there was still more to do, adding: They’ve got confidence, they’ve got belief in them now.
“We’ve still a long way to go.
“You know what this league is like, it’s notorious for causing upsets.
“We’ve just got to win the next game and that’s normal.”
Woodgate has constantly insisted that his focus has always been on the next game – and that hasn’t changed – even with the club on the cusp of claiming a top six spot. But having claimed 18 points from 18 games the ex-Boro boss knows his side’s current form could be crucial in achieving an instant return to the English top flight.
When asked by Nerve Sport on the importance of momentum in a playoff race, he said: “Yeah it’s key, it’s key momentum.
“We’ve got a lot of it at the minute.
“We can’t be overconfident or complacent in how we want to go on and how we know we want to play.”
Millwall have drawn 17 games so far this season and are a tough opposition to beat, something the Bournemouth Head Coach is all too aware of.
He added: “We know against this team that it’s always difficult no matter when you go to The Den.
“It’s a very difficult game, they’ve drawn a lot of games this season but we need to go there and give it absolutely everything.”
The ex-England man would also not be drawn into revealing his team selection but stated competition for places remains high, saying: “It’s what I want, competition for places, we’ve got that across nearly every single selection now.
“If you look at the team it has been really well set up, there’s maybe a couple of places that are up for grabs. So more competition the better.”`
He has also been impressed not only by the quality of the squad he inherited from Jason Tindall but the work ethic too.
“We’re in a good space and we have got some exceptional footballers in that dressing room, that’s without question, but they’re matching that with the work rate and the effort they’re giving,” he said.
Key players such as Phillip Billing and Danjuma have been undroppable of late. The duo have been in good goalscoring form since the international break but Woodgate wanted to talk about the team and not any one individual.
“We seem to be pressing a lot higher up the pitch which helps ‘Arnie’ and helps ‘Phil Bill’ but these two players are nothing without the team behind them.
“It’s not just a two man team.
“We’ve got some overall exceptional players in the team and I like to look at the team ethos more than individuals and I think of them as a team.”
Woodgate remains grounded though, stating they have “done nothing yet” and that they “need to keep on winning games” before considering resting players ahead of a potential playoff semi-final, saying “let’s get there first”.
There are no new injury concerns ahead of the tie with Millwall for the South coast outfit. Woodgate confirmed Shane Long is still a doubt having missed the victory over Norwich and a decision will need to be made in the next 48 hours on the striker’s fitness.
The only other player sidelined is Lewis Cook who will remain out of action for the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury in the 1-1 draw with Preston in March.
Both sides will be keen to claim all three points with a place in the Premier League at stake and Bournemouth will be looking for the likes of Billing and Danjuma to keep their form going into the weekend and put the club in the best possible position to achieve promotion.