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.
Junior Stanislas winner cliches Premier League survival for Bournemouth
The Cherries came from behind to beat West Brom on Saturday.
Bournemouth fought back from 1-0 down to secure a vital three points against West Bromwich Albion, as they took a huge step towards Premier League survival.
It wasn’t the best performance from the Cherries, but one player to standout was Junior Stanislas. The winger has been in good form during recent weeks and scored the winning goal on Saturday with a superb free-kick from range.
The 28-year-old is reaching the peak years of his career and he will want to be a regular starter in the top-flight. Bournemouth are a good fit for him, as there are no superstars and the team is greater than the sum of its parts. There are sprinklings of quality throughout and Stanislas is one of the players that can produce moments of brilliance on the pitch.
During the second half of the season, he has been one of the key attacking elements for Bournemouth. He has scored four goals in his last seven Premier League matches, but the one on Saturday was the most important of those as it was directly responsible for the win.
There were only minutes remaining and the chance came from a free-kick that was a long way out. Stanislas showed great confidence to take a shot and the resulting goal will go down as one of the best in his career to date.
The overall performance from Stanislas was a positive one, as he worked hard and contributed in both halves of the pitch from the left wing. The 28-year-old completed two dribbles and made one key pass during the contest, while his pass completion rate was 80%.
He was effective in possession and rarely gave the ball away, which aided the team’s attacking play. In addition to his goal, the winger offered a threat for the entire game and had four attempts on goal. This was the joint-most of any player on the pitch.
Eddie Howe demands total commitment from his players and everyone is expected to contribute to the defensive effort. Stanislas certainly did that on Saturday as he completed both of his attempted tackles. It is important for the wingers to work back and help their full-backs in a 4-4-2 formation. Both Stanislas and Jordon Ibe did their bit for the team.
With their victory over West Brom, Bournemouth moved into the top ten of the Premier League and sit on 36 points. That should put an end to their relegation worries, as they are eight points clear of the bottom three with only seven matches left to play. Although the Cherries have been in the top-flight for three seasons now, it remains a huge achievement to stay in the division given the size of the club.
The success has been due to the team spirit and players stepping up to the highest level. Stanislas is a great example of that, as he has spent the majority of his career in the Football League. He helped Bournemouth get promoted and has continued to improve since the club arrived in the Premier League. Now he is one of the Cherries’ best players and moments like his goal on Saturday reflect that.
Leicester City 1-1 Bournemouth: Three talking points from the King Power
Riyad Mahrez’s stunning 97th-minute free-kick rescued a point for Leicester City against Bournemouth.
Mahrez, who had been heavily linked with a move to Manchester City in the January transfer window, curled the ball past Asmir Begovic from 30 yards to deny the Cherries victory in a grandstand finish at the King Power Stadium.
Joshua King had given Bournemouth a first-half lead when he stepped up to dispatch a spot-kick after being fouled inside the area.
The Foxes threw everything at their opponents in the second period but had to wait until deep into added-time for a dramatic equaliser.
Here are three talking points…
Redemption for Mahrez after troubling period
The Algerian’s attempts to engineer a switch to City and subsequent failure to report to training had not been well received by Leicester supporters.
Mahrez had been a key figure in the Foxes’ phenomenal Premier League title triumph two years ago, but his reputation suffered a battering when he made it clear he saw his future away from the club.
After a difficult period for all involved, Mahrez is back in the fold and now back in the fans’ good books.
His last-minute goal against the Cherries certainly was evidence of his redemption.
Thirty yards out, the 27-year-old started the ball outside the wall and watched it bend back past Begovic’s outstretched right hand.
Leicester, who have never beaten Bournemouth in the top-flight, are winless in five Premier League matches, but they remain eighth in the table.
With Mahrez’s reintegration seemingly complete, a fruitful finish to the season could even help them push for a European place.
Howe ‘disgusted’ as Bournemouth concede so late
Bournemouth’s backs had been firmly up against the wall in the second half as they sought to hold on to their tenuous advantage.
It looked to have been a worthwhile effort until Mahrez’s moment of magic.
A share of the spoils was probably fair in the context of the game, but Cherries manager Eddie Howe admitted he felt ‘disgusted’ after watching the visitors concede so late.
Only four minutes of stoppage-time had been scheduled, but an injury to Simon Francis as well as a substitution meant referee Lee Probert played nearly double that amount.
Despite missing out on what would have been a crucial win, Bournemouth are edging towards safety.
They have lost only once since Christmas, a run that has helped them climb out of the relegation zone and amass 33 points.
Two more victories from their remaining nine fixtures should be enough to secure Premier League football for a fourth successive campaign.
Summer will be a key time for both clubs
In a league that is dominated by the so-called ‘Big Six’, the primary aim of the other 14 clubs is survival.
As mentioned above, both Leicester and Bournemouth are all but guaranteed to be playing in the top-flight next season.
The question for both in the summer will be, how can they push on?
The first job for the Foxes’ hierarchy and manager Claude Puel will be deciding the future of Mahrez.
Do they cash in on their star player and reinvest the funds into the squad, or do they try to tie him down to a new contract?
Bournemouth’s ambitions are perhaps not as high as Leicester’s, but after finishing ninth last season, another mid-table position will consolidate their status as a bona fide Premier League outfit.
On the field, there may be some significant outgoings as Howe looks to freshen his resources.
The out-of-favour Harry Arter is one player who looks likely to leave the south coast.
Off the field, the club will hope its plans for a new stadium get closer to becoming a reality.
Bournemouth 2-2 Newcastle United: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium
Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Bournemouth fought back to salvage a point against Newcastle United at the Vitality Stadium.
Dan Gosling scored a late equaliser against his former club as Bournemouth fought back from 2-0 down to salvage a point against Newcastle United.
Two first-half goals from Dwight Gayle had deservedly put the Magpies in complete control on a freezing afternoon on the south coast, as the home side struggled to make an impression.
Newcastle squandered opportunities to extend their advantage before a stunning strike from substitute Adam Smith halved the arrears.
The Cherries suddenly looked a team transformed and they were back on level terms when Gosling pounced in the dying moments, ensuring they remain above Newcastle in the Premier League table.
Here are three talking points…
Smith inspires the comeback kings
Boos echoed around the Vitality Stadium when referee Roger East whistled for half-time, with the hosts two goals adrift following a lethargic performance.
Newcastle were good value for their lead, picking off the Cherries on the counter-attack to great effect.
Bournemouth needed a spark and that came from Smith, who replaced the ineffective Charlie Daniels at the break.
Smith’s boundless energy and marauding runs were just what Eddie Howe’s men needed to engage the crowd.
His first goal of the campaign came right out of the blue, with the purity of the strike leaving Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka rooted to the spot as it went in off the underside of the crossbar.
It was the catalyst for a comeback that has been a regular occurrence at the Vitality.
No Premier League side has collected more points from losing positions than the Cherries this season and this spirit came to the fore once again as Gosling made sure the points were shared.
Gayle rediscovers his goalscoring touch
After a spell of 11 Premier League games without a goal, much like London buses, two came along in quick succession for the Newcastle striker.
Both owed to his positional awareness (as well as unnecessary defensive errors from Bournemouth).
Gayle’s first, a cheeky back-heel after his initial effort had been blocked, rocked the home side.
And the former Crystal Palace frontman found himself well placed to double his account in first-half stoppage time when a cutback from the right inexplicably slipped underneath the hands of Asmir Begovic.
Gayle had a further three attempts as Newcastle searched for the goal that their endeavours merited but to no avail.
Despite being on a hat-trick, he was substituted on 78 minutes with his team on course for victory.
It looked like job done, but there was a late twist and he had to watch on helplessly as Bournemouth mounted a dramatic comeback.
Newcastle are still in a relegation dogfight
Victory for the Magpies would have lifted them four points clear of the drop-zone, with 10 games remaining.
However, their failure to hold on to a two-goal lead means only a couple of points separate them from 18th-placed Swansea City.
Make no mistake, Newcastle dominated the majority of this clash, which must make it all the more frustrating for manager Rafa Benitez and the club’s travelling supporters, who had made the long journey to Dorset and supported their team in great voice throughout.
Jonjo Shelvey was an instrumental figure for Newcastle but he spurned a gilt-edged chance to kill off the game, moments before Smith reduced the deficit.
Benitez should be encouraged with his side’s display, which built on the morale-boosting victory over Manchester United a fortnight ago, but he will rue the late collapse that saw them drop two points.
As the battle for survival increasingly looks like going down to the wire, it could prove costly.
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