The football season is drawing to a close and everyone is fixated on the Championship as the race for the Premier League intensifies. For a neutral fan there is nothing better than when the schedule has perfectly aligned, with two teams having it all to play for right at the death. Whereas for the supporters of the clubs right in the thick of the action, the nerves are unbearable.
On Tuesday evening, we will be treated to one of the biggest clashes in the second tier for a long time as second-placed Bournemouth welcome third-placed Nottingham Forest in a match that will almost certainly determine which side will achieve automatic promotion to the promised land. Both have been exceptional this term and it is fitting that they should meet at this stage to help determine which one of them rightfully gets to join Fulham in the Premier League next year.
The importance of this game cannot be overstated. As is the cliche with games of this overwhelming pressure, form goes out the window and it all boils down to who is the best over the course of 90 minutes.
The Cherries have a three-point lead over Forest, but a victory for the visitors would see them swap places as they boast a better goal difference by one as things stand. Scott Parker’s side have been impressive this season but have suffered wobbly spells. In their last 10 league matches they have picked up six draws and invited the pressure from Forest. But they know that their fate is still in their own hands and a win for them would help see them over the line.
They will be boosted by the fact that they have won four out of the five meetings at the Vitality Stadium while also beating them at the City Ground earlier in the year. They cannot get complacent. They will be wary of the attacking quality that Forest possess and the Cherries will need to be at their best on Tuesday evening.
The away side have been one of the standout stories of the season. For Steve Cooper to have his squad in this promising position after their poor start to the season just further highlights the incredible job he has done in the East Midlands. When he walked through the door at the City Ground they were dead last in the division after seven games with just one point, and now they are in a great position to seal their return to the top-flight for the first time since 1999.
His side have been relentless and since Cooper took charge in September, the club have picked up a whopping 75 points - more than any other side. They have evolved from a side devoid of ideas to one of the most dangerous forces in the division. They may be concerned about their recent track record on the south coast, but they have been in much better form than the hosts in recent weeks, having won their last four on the bounce.
The midfield battle in this contest will be key. To witness Jefferson Lerma and Philip Billing go head-to-head with James Garner and Ryan Yates will be quite entertaining and both sets of players will be the key should either team win. Of course it will all come down to which side will be clinical with their chances and both have players who have been prolific in front of goal this term.
Bournemouth’s leading striker Dominic Solanke has only been bested by Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic for goals in the second tier with a tally of 29. Forest’s highest scorer in the league has been the mesmerising young winger Brennan Johnson with 16. But over the last couple of weeks striker Sam Surridge has stepped up to the plate with five goals in his last four appearances and it is shaping up to be between him and Solanke to be the difference maker in this gargantuan fixture. Surridge could of course come back to haunt his former side whom he left last summer in a pursuit of playing more frequently. The 23-year-old scored a stunning hat-trick against Swansea City last time out and he will be more than fired up for this game that has so much at stake.