Stuart McCall earmarked Bournemouth as a serious promotion threat – until they got clobbered by a 17-point deduction.

McCall was alerted by the Cherries’ storming finish last season when they won six of the final seven games in League One but were still relegated.

It looked a serious statement of intent – until the Football League dished out their punishment for going into administration, leaving Bournemouth, Rotherham and Luton with a huge task just to survive.

McCall said: “I don’t know the ins and outs and all the regulations so I’m not qualified to say whether it was the right punishment. But I was disappointed for all three clubs.

“It’s difficult for any player and supporter for their club to start that far back. It’s sad for everyone to be at such a disadvantage.

“I remember hoping that Bournemouth would stay up because of the fantastic run they’d been on. I tipped them to be really strong contenders because of that, not knowing they would have the points taken off.

“But they inevitably lost a few players like Sam Vokes, the centre forward, and it’s made it very tough for them.”

Boss Kevin Bond was sacked a fortnight ago and replaced by one-time City striker Jimmy Quinn. But the Cherries are still chasing their first win and languish on minus 14 points – a massive 29 behind the Bantams.

It looks the ultimate home banker, but not in McCall’s eyes.

The City chief added: “There isn’t such a thing in this game. That’s the beauty of football – or the mischief.

“If we perform with the lethargy of the first half last week then anyone can beat us. Likewise, if we show the ability of the second half then we’ll have a good chance of beating any team in this division.

“There will be times when players have a dip in form. That’s only natural. Some are playing at the top of their game at the minute. If they kept that up every week, they’d be doing it in the Premiership.

“I’d love them to continue but I’m not silly enough to think it will happen for 46 matches.

“But there are lots of different ways to win football matches and if we have to battle and scrap it out at times, then we will. As long as we always play with enthusiasm.

“The two centre halves had their most disappointing game as a pair last week but everyone else pulled them through it. This is a team game, not just about individuals, although we have players performing out of their skins right now.”

Peter Thorne returned to training yesterday after being given an extra day off to rest his stiff back. With eight goals already, McCall is not taking any risks with his red-hot marksman.

He added: “Peter’s a good pro and I know that if I tell him to go for a walk or a jog, he’ll do it.

“Him and Boulders (Michael Boulding) are doing everything asked of them but there are also lads snapping at their heels to get involved.”