Cherries have eased relegation concerns ahead of Gunners’ visit on Sunday
6 February ~ For the first time this season there’s a feeling of relative safety at Dean Court after Bournemouth’s gritty Premier League victory over Crystal Palace in midweek. Palace will feel aggrieved at not getting a draw but the Cherries put away the chances they created and battled throughout – physical qualities not always apparent during the turbo-charged drive up the divisions under manager Eddie Howe.
The goalscorers on Tuesday are an encapsulation of how the new and old have been blended this season to give Bournemouth a fighting chance of staying up. Marc Pugh, who got the equaliser after a typically meandering run, has been at the club since the League One days of 2010-11. A winger without express pace, Pugh has gradually lost his starting place in the team but his transfer from Hereford is instructive of the changing fortunes of the club – a Football League tribunal eventually ordered the Cherries to stump up £100,000, a fee described by then-vice-chairman Jeff Mostyn as “quite excessive”.
Benik Afobe, the powerful forward who scored the winner, reportedly cost 100 times more during the recent transfer window at £10 million from Wolves in the division below – and was described as a typical Bournemouth signing by Howe, as established Premier League players are still “too expensive for us”. How times change.
The focus on British players or those already playing in the UK seems to be a deliberate policy as overseas signings have not proved successful. South African striker Tokelo Rantie has been left out of the 25-man squad for the second half of the season, Ghanaian winger Christian Atsu has been sent back to Chelsea without playing a second of Premier League football and young signings from River Plate and Internazionale have had their contracts terminated.
This has led to the only blot on the landscape, with two unpopular players returning to the club – Lewis Grabban for an eye-watering £7m from Norwich and Rhoys Wiggins for a nominal fee from Sheffield Wednesday. Both left the club at different times and under different circumstances but are seen as disloyal and disruptive. Such is the faith in Howe that these are only minor complaints – In Eddie We Trust is still the mantra at the Court.
Bournemouth have won two of the last five league games, a run including good draws away at Leicester and Sunderland, so sit seven points and three places above the relegation zone before Sunday’s home game against Arsenal. The reverse fixture on Boxing Day was a Mesut Özil-inspired 2-0 drubbing – one of the few times Bournemouth have looked outclassed in the division.
Having now started to get results against direct rivals for relegation, there is less pressure to win matches against teams of a clearly higher calibre – but such have been the Gunners’ recent results that home fans will be quietly confident of securing a point and continuing 2016’s early fine run of form. Simon Melville