AFC Bournemouth entertain Norwich City on Saturday in a crucial Premier League clash between two teams battling to move further away from the relegation zone, with Benik Afobe desperate to make amends for a poor debut.
Both sides are coming off disappointing results during the midweek round of fixtures, with Bournemouth having lost 3-1 at home to West Ham to make it four league matches without a win after new signing Afobe missed two key first-half chances.
Meanwhile, Norwich paid the price for Gary O’Neil’s first-half red card and suffered defeat by the same scoreline at Stoke City, snapping a run of two straight league wins.
The results mean just two points separate Bournemouth and Norwich in 16th and 15th position respectively, with the pressure at the bottom of the table increasing after their relegation rivals Sunderland and Aston Villa both won last time out.
Afobe, who made his debut along with Juan Iturbe, is one of only four current top-flight players to have scored 30 or more league goals since the start of last season, alongside Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane and Odion Ighalo.
And the former Arsenal youngster is desperate to prove his ability in front of goal against Norwich.
“Everyone dreams about playing in the Premier League,” he said.
“I was pleased to get my debut but I would have much preferred a win from the boys. We cannot dwell on it too much and we go again on Saturday.
“I know what the Premier League is about now, you have to be fitter and stronger and I think the more I play here with these boys here I am going to get fitter and stronger.
“As a centre forward you dream about the sort of chances I had. Normally I bury them and I am my biggest critic – I know I should have scored.
“But even the best players in the world miss chances and I am going to keep working hard. I am not going to beat myself up about it and I know that I had good movement and was in sync with my team-mates.
“Hopefully I will get my first goal for the club on Saturday.”
The West Ham game also saw Lewis Grabban make his first appearance since returning to Bournemouth after a controversial spell at Norwich, with his potential participation against them in this weekend’s match presenting an intriguing sub-plot.
Alex Neil wants to see Norwich, who are unbeaten in their last six meetings with Bournemouth in all competitions, produce an immediate response to their loss at Stoke.
“It is important to win games,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter which way we are looking [in the table], we just need to get the points. If we keep 11 men on the pitch, we will have a better chance.
“We will react on Saturday because the boys worked their socks off. We need to make sure we shut down areas we know are going to be a problem.”
Bournemouth will check on the fitness of Josh King (hamstring) and assess Matt Ritchie (leg), who came off against West Ham. Norwich have no major injury concerns, although O’Neil is suspended.
Key Opta stats:
– Norwich have won their last two away trips (in all competitions) to Bournemouth by a 2-1 scoreline after conceding the first goal.
– Bournemouth have claimed just one point when trailing in the Premier League this season, a league low.
– Norwich City are the only Premier League side yet to keep a clean sheet away from home in 2015-16.
– No team has scored more goals in the opening 15 minutes of Premier League games this season than the Cherries (six goals, level with Stoke City).
– Bournemouth have won just one of their last seven home matches in the Premier League (W1 D3 L3).
– Norwich City scored with three of their four shots on target when they beat Bournemouth 3-1 in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
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