AT FIRST glance the Capital One Cup quarter-final clash between Bournemouth and Liverpool has a classic cup-tie dynamic, with the plucky, small-town outfit dreaming of a glorious long-shot against the Premier League giants. Although former Aberdeen midfielder Ryan Fraser is reluctance to accept such a narrative.
Indeed, Bournemouth’s position at the top of the Championship table and their run to the last eight of the League Cup betrays the presumption most would hold of the south-coast club. “Outsiders probably think ‘who are Bournemouth?’,” admits Fraser, who will have spent two years at Dean Court come January.
But whether Fraser likes it or not. Bournemouth make for an uplifting underdog tale. It’s just four years since they were handed a winding up order by HMRC, and six years since the club was forced into administration and relegated to the foot of the English Football League after amassing debts of around £4 million.
But, having avoided liquidation, a 17-point penalty was meted out to Bournemouth for failing to adhere to Football League insolvency rules. When Eddie Howe took over as the youngest manager in England – at the age of just 31 – the club was ten points adrift at the bottom of League Two.
What followed is now fondly remembered as ‘The Great Escape’ at Dean Court, with Howe leading the club to safety with a dramatic 2-1 win over Grimsby Town on the final day of the 2008-09 season.
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Howe subsequently led the Cherries to two promotions in five seasons – albeit with an unsuccessful 18-month spell with Burnley in between. “He’s a huge presence here,” explains Fraser. “The manager knows everyone at the club, to such an extent that he kind of is the club. He’s very involved with the squad as well, and stays behind for hours after training when other managers I’ve had would go home. He’s improved basically every player here and has certainly improved me as well.”
At Aberdeen Fraser made a name for himself as a talented – yet slightly temperamental by his own admission – winger. “In Scotland I would always stay wide, but now I come inside a lot more,” he says. “When I was at Aberdeen I would fade out of games, but I don’t do that as often now.”
Since Fraser left Pittodrie for a fee of £400,000 midway through the 2012-13 season Aberdeen have lifted their first piece of silverware in a generation and become a regular fixture in the Scottish Premiership’s top three under Derek McInnes. So does the midfielder regret not sticking around in the north-east for a while longer?
“No, not really,” he insists. “I keep up to date with their results, and it’s great to see the club doing so well. I still speak to some of the players there – like Ryan Jack and Declan McManus and Cammy Smith – but I made the right decision to move when I did, so I have no regrets there.”
Russian owner Max Demin now has Bournemouth’s sights firmly set on the Premier League, but despite significant foreign investment the Dean Court club are hardly the Chelsea or Manchester City of the Championship. Their rise to the brink of the top flight has been much more organic.
Just over £3 million was spent on signing striker Callum Wilson from Coventry in the summer, with Artur Boruc – whom Fraser calls “a funny guy” and the one team-mate he can talk to about Scottish football – also joining on loan from Southampton, but Howe’s squad has been assembled on an otherwise modest budget.
“The training pitches and the stadium have been redone this season,” the wide midfielder added. “I think we’ve got planning permission for the stadium to be expanded if we go up as well. The club is getting ready for the Premier League.”
And, yet despite their impressive form this season and Fraser’s insistence that the club is preparing for the top flight, there’s still something slightly jarring about Bournemouth sitting atop the Championship.
“When people think of Bournemouth, they think we’re just a little club,” adds Fraser. “People underestimate us, and then they come down here to play us and we turn them over in the game. We have proved our doubters wrong all season, and we want to do it again on Wednesday.”
Liverpool travel south having suffered elimination from the Champions League and defeat to rivals Manchester United in the space of a week. Bournemouth offered meek resistance when the Reds visited Dean Court in the FA Cup last season, losing 2-0 to Brendan Rodgers’ side, but Fraser admits the Cherries may never have a better chance to topple the Anfield institution.
“When we played them last season they were flying high in the Premier League,” he continues, “but this time they’re not playing too well, and we’ve improved. You can feel the belief around the place. We can beat them this time.”
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