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Could the return of Callum Wilson be the catalyst for an upturn in Bournemouth’s fortunes?

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Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s recent history has been as eventful as it has been impressive, and looking at their current Premier League status it is hard to articulate the position the club was in just ten years ago.

In 2008 the Cherries were placed into administration for the second time in little over ten years, starting the 2008-09 League Two season with a 17-point deduction and a looming transfer embargo.

Somewhat miraculously they managed to overturn this deficit, securing their Football League status in their final home match of the season against Grimsby, and this sparked the beginning of an unprecedented rejuvenation in English football as Bournemouth gained promotion after promotion.

With Eddie Howe at the helm the Cherries managed to navigate their way through the Football League ladder before, in May 2015, they sealed their redemption from the jaws of football’s abyss with the most unlikely promotion to the top-flight, signalling a dramatic turnaround from their woes of 2008.

Their impressive revival showed little signs of slowing down in England’s top division, finishing 16th in their first top-flight season before admirably working their way into the top-half last time out.

But, for the first time in a fair few years, the Cherries are currently facing a patch of adversity after their less than pleasing opening to the new Premier League season, struggling at the wrong end of the table.

Howe’s side have claimed just one victory in their opening seven matches – coming against newly-promoted Brighton – and as such they sit second bottom of the league, only ahead of Crystal Palace.

Despite making a number of high pedigree signings over the summer, bringing in Chelsea duo Asmir Begovic and Nathan Ake and adding prolific goal-scorer Jermain Defoe to their ranks, something hasn’t quite clicked into gear yet and Bournemouth could do with getting a run of wins on the board soon.

It is perhaps the perfect timing, then, that Callum Wilson has been stepping up his recovery from a long-term knee injury across recent weeks and could be in-line for a return before the month is over.

The 25-year-old played a full 90 minutes on Monday night for Bournemouth’s Under-21 side – his second start in the space of seven days for the reserves – finding the back of the net twice in the 3-2 defeat at Cheltenham, and it seems he’s starting to build-up match fitness well ahead of a return.

The news on Wilson’s progress will no doubt come as a huge relief for boss Howe, with the striker not playing since January after suffering cruciate ligament damage for the second time in just 15 months.

Speaking to Sky Sports after Monday’s match, Wilson sounded confident about being ready for Premier League action in the upcoming weeks, insisting he is ‘ready to go’. He said:

“I’m feeling fine, the knee feels strong and I feel ready to go. I’m going to carry on working hard in training and waiting for my chance.

“It’s always good to score as it builds confidence and since the injury it’s good to get back on the scoresheet.

“I was never in doubt over my abilities and I feel I’m striking the ball probably better than I was before to be honest. Two goals, both different goals today, and now I’m looking forward to scoring these goals in the first team.”

Before Joshua King’s arrival on the big stage towards the end of last season it’s easy to forget that it was Wilson who was Bournemouth’s main man, scoring six times in 17 starts prior to his latest injury scare.

He proved to be the difference on a number of occasions in tight games, single-handedly earning his side points with goals against West Brom, Watford, Liverpool and Arsenal, and his presence has been missed.

Talking to the Bournemouth Echo earlier this month, captain Simon Francis has tipped his teammate to be an instant hit when he does return, claiming he is looking strong since returning to first-team training.

“Callum has come back stronger and is feeling more positive than ever.

“From what I’ve seen, he can definitely get back to his best. He’s hitting or even breaking his maximum speed which he’s had for the past few years, he’s looking stronger in the gym and his ball work seems great.

“His return is massive for our team spirit and morale. He wanted to be involved against Leicester City and he said to me, ‘I might go and see the manager’, and I said, ‘just calm down a bit, get a few training games in first’. He’s chomping at the bit to get back in and, hopefully, he will soon.”

It will be music to the ears of Bournemouth supporters as they look to find a solution to their goal drought this year, with four goals in seven games accurately representing their struggles until now.

King has failed to continue the momentum from the end of last year that saw him find the net 10 times in the final 12 league matches, whilst Defoe is yet to open his account in his second spell down at the Vitality, and the door is now wide open for Wilson to come in and add some life to his team.

There has been a lack of sharpness and cutting edge in their play in the final third, carving out an average of just five chances per match – the third worst record in the Premier League – and Wilson could offer a fresh impetus inside opposition territory.

His natural ability to finish around the 18-yard box is what Bournemouth are crying out for, and Howe will hope that he can also bring the best form out of King once again as competition for starting roles hots up.

However, whilst his pedigree in front of goals speaks for itself since his Coventry City days, the impact he is likely to have on the dressing room – and on the home support at the Vitality Stadium – could provide a much-needed lift in spirits and serve to kick-start Bournemouth’s underwhelming opening.

With the likes of Stoke City, Newcastle United, Huddersfield Town, Swansea City, Burnley, Southampton and Crystal Palace all coming up across Bournemouth’s next nine matches it’s arguably the perfect time for Wilson to come back into the first-team fold, and he could easily return with a bang.

The above encounters represent a real possibility of earning 21 points before the notoriously chaotic festive period, and anything close to maximum points would leave the Cherries in a comfortable spot.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @96PearsonW.

Bournemouth

Huddersfield Town 4-1 Bournemouth: Alex Pritchard steals plaudits after running the show

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Huddersfield Town took a huge leap in the race for survival with a 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Huddersfield Town produced a four-star performance to brush aside Bournemouth and move out of the Premier League relegation zone.

Junior Stanislas quickly cancelled out Alex Pritchard’s seventh-minute opener, but from that moment it was one-way traffic as the Terriers showed their bite on a freezing afternoon in Yorkshire.

A Steve Cook own goal made it 2-1 at half-time before Steve Mounie and a stoppage-time penalty from Rajiv van la Parra completed the drubbing.

Huddersfield climbed to 17th as a result of this much-needed victory, while Bournemouth’s excellent recent form came to an abrupt halt with their first defeat of 2018.

Here are three talking points…

Huddersfield breathe new life into survival bid

Boss David Wagner had highlighted his side’s upcoming run of fixtures as crucial to their ambitions of avoiding relegation back to the Championship.

On the back of five consecutive defeats, Huddersfield had free-fallen into the drop-zone.

Although the win over Manchester United will take some beating in the eyes of the fans, given their predicament this was arguably their most important three points of the campaign.

It was a crushing triumph and one that the Terriers fully deserved.

Yes, they caught the visitors on a bad day, but much of that was due to the nature of Huddersfield’s display.

They gave Bournemouth no time on the ball to play their natural passing game and took their chances when they came along.

Especially from set-pieces, Wagner’s men looked dangerous and exploited the Cherries’ weakness in the air.

The bottom half of the table remains incredibly congested, but this result gives Huddersfield genuine hope that survival is possible.

Bournemouth’s unbeaten run comes to a crashing end

Entering this match at the top of the form table, this was Bournemouth’s worst result of the season.

From the first whistle they were out-battled by a Huddersfield side that were fighting for their lives.

Perhaps an air of complacency had surfaced following the Cherries’ unbeaten sequence, which had stood at seven games and included victories over Chelsea and Arsenal.

Talk of qualifying for the Europa League can now be parked to one side.

Despite being in 10th position, Bournemouth are not assured of survival just yet.

Boss Eddie Howe will back his troops to get the three wins they need to reach the 40-point mark, but this was a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted in the Premier League.

He will be thoroughly bemused by this showing.

It was a day to forget for the Cherries and their dedicated supporters, who had left in the very early hours to embark on the long journey north for this lunch-time kick-off.

Pritchard brings ingenuity to the Terriers’ ranks

Although Huddersfield’s win was a by-product of a real team effort, one player that deserves special praise is new recruit Pritchard.

Signed from Norwich City in the January window, he ran the show in midfield, making the Terriers tick with crisp passing.

Pritchard opened the scoring in the early exchanges with a well-taken finish for his first ever Premier League goal, at the seventh attempt.

He had previously played in the top-flight with Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion.

There is always a risk attached to any new signing from a lower division, but Pritchard had demonstrated enough class for Norwich to indicate he would be able to make the step-up.

The 24-year-old will face tougher challenges in his midfield role, but he has brought a touch of guile and class to Huddersfield.

Pritchard’s teasing run that induced the foul for a penalty in added-time underlined his capability to make things happen.

Wagner will hope it is a positive sign for the run-in.

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Bournemouth

What is behind Bournemouth’s dramatic upturn in form?

Bournemouth fans would have sitting uncomfortably throughout the opening half of the season but, in typical fashion, Eddie Howe has turned the tide for the south coast club.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

On Christmas Day, Bournemouth were sitting in the relegation zone.

Winless in more than a month, their slide from the relative comfort of mid-table had been alarming.

The doubters were chirping and the pressure mounting. Was this the beginning of the end of the Cherries’ unexpected stint in the Premier League?

Fast-forward six weeks and the landscape is altogether different.

Bournemouth, in ninth position, are on their longest ever unbeaten Premier League streak, currently standing at seven games.

In fact, they currently top the form table.

In their past six matches, the Cherries have claimed 14 points – the highlight undoubtedly being their stunning 3-0 triumph over Chelsea, which Eddie Howe described as the ‘best result’ since his appointment.

It has been an astonishing turnaround and one for which Howe deserves immense credit. Modest as ever, however, he would accept it only begrudgingly.

Despite increasing criticism from pundits who urged him to revise his philosophy or risk relegation back to the Championship, from where they were promoted as champions in 2015, the 40-year-old has steadfastly stuck to the approach that has brought him such unprecedented success.

Many managers may have panicked and gambled on new signings during the January transfer window, but Howe resisted, with a couple of outgoings the only business done on deadline day.

He has always favoured a tight-knit squad over a bloated one and improving the players at his disposal, rather than relying on recruitment.

Perhaps this stems from when the club was cash-strapped during his formative years as boss and he had no alternative.

Despite being the only Premier League club not to strengthen their resources, Bournemouth’s progress has been unchecked.

The recent sequence of results has not been plain sailing, though.

Controversy kick-started the run when Callum Wilson equalised against West Ham United on Boxing Day, despite strong suspicions of handball.

Other late goals against Everton and Arsenal have underlined the character in the squad.

In previous seasons, the Cherries’ fast starts were often the prelude to collapses in the final stages, but no longer is that the case.

In light of Chelsea’s recent troubles, Bournemouth’s performance in that game has largely and unfairly been overlooked. Victory was no fluke.

The visitors were magnificent and not flattered by the three-goal margin of victory.

Intricate passing and movement, solid defending and predatory finishing were all on display at Stamford Bridge, which amounted to make the reigning champions look very ordinary.

Although his philosophy has remained unaltered, a tactical switch has paid dividends.

Howe experimented with three at the back earlier this season, especially against the top sides when he felt outnumbered in midfield.

This has evolved into a 3-4-3 that maximises Bournemouth’s strength of pace down the flanks, while also offering more protection in central defence, an area in which they have traditionally been vulnerable.

By luck or judgement, Howe has identified his preferred front three of Junior Stanislas, Jordon Ibe and Callum Wilson.

Stanislas is prone to muscle strains but is a creative fulcrum.

Ibe’s transformation from the timid, indecisive player of last season whose confidence looked shot has been remarkable. He now has more assists than any other Cherries player this term.

With eight goals to his name, Wilson is the club’s leading scorer and has benefited from Jermain Defoe’s enforced absence.

After suffering two cruciate knee ligament injuries, Wilson is back to his fearsome best and speculation of an England call-up is growing.

Now seven points clear of the drop-zone, three wins from their final 12 outings should guarantee Bournemouth extend their Premier League stay for at least one more campaign.

As ever, Howe, who has been nominated for the January manager of the month award, will not get carried away.

His focus will be devoted entirely to Sunday’s televised encounter away to Huddersfield Town.

Win or lose, one thing is for sure; Howe’s demeanour and belief in his methods will not change.

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Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke City: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the Vitality Stadium as Bournemouth recorded a 2-1 comeback victory over relegation rivals Stoke City.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Bournemouth extended their Premier League unbeaten run to seven matches as they came from behind to complete the double over Stoke City.

Following their tremendous victory over Chelsea in midweek, the Cherries started with a hangover and conceded in the fifth minute when Xherdan Shaqiri – one of the smallest men on the pitch – headed past Asmir Begovic.

The hosts looked transformed in the second half and equalised through Joshua King on 70 minutes. The Cherries then continued to dominate and struck the knockout blow when Lys Mousset nodded in his first top-flight goal for the club.

This was Stoke’s first defeat under new manager Paul Lambert as they slipped back into the relegation zone.

Here are three talking points…

Cherries’ character again comes to the fore

A feature of Bournemouth’s impressive recent form, which has seen them climb out of the drop-zone and up to the dizzying heights of ninth place, has been their ability to overturn a deficit.

It started on Boxing Day when Callum Wilson’s controversial injury-time goal rescued a point against West Ham United.

Twice they came from behind to earn a draw with Brighton & Hove Albion on New Year’s Day and now in their past two home matches, the Cherries have recovered from an early setback to register victories over Arsenal and Stoke.

In their previous two seasons in the Premier League, Bournemouth were renowned for making fast starts, but they often struggled to hold on to a lead.

Eddie Howe will be pleased with his side’s never-say-die attitude, particularly at such a crucial stage of the campaign.

Only a month ago, the Cherries were in real danger of being caught up in a relegation dogfight. Now, with 15 points from their past seven games, that threat has been alleviated.

Lambert suffers his first setback as Stoke boss

With four points from his first two games in the hot-seat, Lambert had made an impressive start following the demise of his predecessor, Mark Hughes.

His troops started well again on the south coast, as Shaqiri was somehow left unmarked to head home a cross from new signing Badou Ndiaye.

The Potters pressed their opponents high up the pitch and gave them little space or time on the ball, but perhaps their endeavours contributed to a sloppy second-half performance.

The visitors retreated under intense pressure from Bournemouth, who capitalised with two goals inside nine second-half minutes to claim all three points.

With the lower half of the table incredibly tight, this was a real blow to Stoke’s ambitions.

Victory would have seen them climb as high as 14th, but instead they have plummeted into the bottom three on goal difference. Currently, Stoke are one of three teams locked on 24 points.

The battle for survival is going down to the wire.

Substitutes make the difference for Bournemouth

A hamstring injury to Steve Cook in the 13th minute disrupted Howe’s plans.

With his side already 1-0 down, the Bournemouth manager decided to unleash striker King instead of replacing like-for-like.

This prompted a change in formation, with the hosts ditching the 3-4-3 system that worked so well against Chelsea in favour of a 4-4-2, with Ryan Fraser dropping into an unfamiliar right-back position.

The results were not immediate and the Cherries struggled to adapt, with Stoke enjoying large spells of possession. However, the second half was one-way traffic as the hosts peppered Jack Butland’s goal.

King netted his fourth of the campaign after finding himself in space before Mousset, another substitute, scored for the first time in the Premier League since his move from his native France in the summer of 2016.

For Howe, the result was justification for his early tactical change and he deserves immense credit. Modest as always, he will deflect it to his players.

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