Even in his wildest dreams, Marc Pugh could not have imagined a more memorable first Premier League start of the season. The likeable Lancastrian had been restricted to the occasional substitute’s appearance after slipping down the pecking order, largely due to an injury-blighted few months. But the absence of Ryan Fraser, who rolled his ankle against Burnley, provided Pugh with an opportunity to show Eddie Howe that he still has much to offer – and boy, did he take it. The winger scored the only goal of the game as the Cherries recorded back-to-back home victories and climbed to eighth in the table, for the time being at least.
Pugh is one of Bournemouth’s longest-serving players and has established himself as a firm favourite among the supporters since joining from Hereford United for £100,00 in 2010, when the club was in League One. Now a veteran of more than 200 appearances, he is a symbol of the club’s astonishing rise through the divisions. Every goal is cheered, but there is no doubt that Pugh’s match-winning strike against Leicester received an even louder roar than usual because of the scorer’s identity. There was a palpable sense of relief and satisfaction in Pugh’s celebration. He must have begun to wonder whether he would ever get another chance in the first-team.
However, Pugh’s man-of-the-match performance was about much more than just the goal. The trademark Cruyff turns were on show and the near telepathic link-up down the left wing with Charlie Daniels, such a feature of Bournemouth’s two seasons in the Championship, was back in full working order. Because he lacks explosive pace, Pugh relies on a technique that ranks up there with any other player at the club. His composure on the ball and ability to retain possession were vital in the dying minutes as Leicester piled forward in search of an equaliser, which was to prove fruitless.
Pugh’s first-half goal demonstrated his technical ability perfectly. After Benik Afobe’s close-range shot had been well saved, the 29-year-old was on hand to volley the rebound into the roof of the net. His display drew fulsome praise from boss Howe, who was also quick to highlight the midfielder’s exemplary attitude in training during a frustrating period out of the side. Now that he has forced his way back into the starting XI, Pugh will be intending to stay there. In the short term, he looks certain to keep his place for this weekend’s mouth-watering home clash with neighbours Southampton. After a rocky patch, Pugh’s love-affair with Bournemouth is clearly still burning strong.