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Why Bournemouth’s League One roots have been a recipe for safety and success

Holly Thackeray | April 12, 2016

The dominant Premier League narratives are currently, and justly, Leicester City’s rags to riches title charge just a season after relegation threat and, of course, the trio of big names now involved in the drop zone dog-fight.

Yet, quietly in the background Bournemouth (now 12/1 with Coral for a top 10 finish) have been building something just as newsworthy. At the weekend Eddie Howe’s top-flight newcomers surpassed the feted 40 point mark, sitting on 41 actually in 11th spot, to all-but guarantee their stay among the elite.

For a Premier League bow, knocking on the top 10 door, just three points and one place behind almost dethroned champions Chelsea and ahead of the likes of Everton, it ain’t half bad.

Watford v AFC Bournemouth - Barclays Premier League - Vicarage Road

A Foxes-style fairytale in the future is far-fetched, but this season will have surely given the south coasters confidence that they can continue to carve a name for themselves, having forced several pundits to eat humble pie already. It certainly looked as though Howe’s men would be mired in the relegation wrangle, but time and again Bournemouth have bounced back.

Cheeky Cherries to continue punching above weight

What then is the Dean Court recipe for success? Bournemouth boast the smallest ground in the top-tier, and have been injury-ravaged to the point where they were without skipper Tommy Elphick and in-form forward Callum Wilson – not a situation many promoted sides could have successfully withstood with the trap door beckoning.

Yet resist relegation it seems they have, and play appealing football to boot, even though six stars are still out for the count, with big names such as Benik Afobe, Adam Smith, Harry Arter, Junior Stanislas and Tyrone Mings.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - AFC Bournemouth v Sunderland - Vitality Stadium

Perhaps their ability to play ball took a few established sides by surprise – Chelsea, Manchester United, Southampton to name but a few – and even held league leaders Leicester to a stalemate, something few can crow about this campaign.

Their pressing, possession-based approach has succeeded in putting many in the shade, as sides such as Everton fail to find that balance between attack and defending as though their lives depend on it, maybe because for so long they have not been the underdogs.

Plucky Cherries League One legacy

Another flash point in Bournemouth’s south coast survival has been loyalty, continuity and sticking to their roots, something local rivals Saints have been lauded for but the Cherries have gone overlooked.

They may not have a production line of prodigious talent, but intriguingly, there were several players in the squad last time out against Aston Villa that featured in League One and the subsequent rise up two-tiers under Cherries academy graduate turned coach Howe.

AFC Bournemouth v Manchester City - Barclays Premier League - Vitality Stadium

Just some of those at Villa Park that have been with Bournemouth every step of the way from those third-division days, include protagonists such as captain Elphick, diligent defenders Steve Cook, Charlie Daniels and Simon Francis, midfielders Marc Pugh, Eunan O’Kane and Shaun MacDonald plus wingman Matt Ritchie.

It was fitting then, that these instrumental stars avenged the Dean Court club’s first-ever Premier League defeat against those who inflicted it on the opening day of the season, Aston Villa, when many thought the Cherries would be the top-flight whipping boys.

Yet, instead of defensively naive in the pursuit of aesthetics, Bournemouth’s backline have been brave and even chipped in with goals to add to the attack.

And the Cherries team as a unit have shown courage and camaraderie the likes of Villa, Newcastle United and Sunderland could have used a dose of, as they crucially came back from an league eight-game streak without a win to sink the Premier League champions back in December – a result which proved a turning point.

Can Bournemouth remain with the big boys?

Having travelled a long way together, team spirit is more than evident, perhaps largely due to Howe sticking by his guys, the ones that got him this far.

Key defender Francis took time to highlight Howe’s preference for a close-knit squad, stating: “I’m delighted for all the lads but especially the ones who have been here from the start and seen the story.

“For the lads who have been here since League One, it is a great accomplishment and now we want to build on that and make sure we stay here for years to come.

Tottenham Hotspur v AFC Bournemouth - Barclays Premier League - White Hart Lane

“Credit goes to the manager because he saw enough ability in the squad we had in the League One days to stick with the players, nurture them and manage them in the way he has.”

By contrast Watford, for instance, were hugely fashionable as they romped to wins earlier in the term with an expensive and freshly assembled team of strangers, but their hype has trailed off somewhat despite an exciting FA Cup run, as the Hornets have now slipped to 15th. While, the Cherries have dug deep to claw their way up the standings.

Now the challenge is to stay at this level, with a gaggle of hungry Championship teams awaiting promotion, and a summer in which, after a strange season, many sides will be going all out in to strengthen.

Summer signings could give Howe headache

Bournemouth, of course, did make additions of their own in the January transfer window, most notably the odd and fruitless loan capture of Juan Iturbe, who will almost certainly set sail back to Italy come June.

So, there is cash in the Cherries coffers to be used, but how Howe uses it could be more important than any of his rivals’ purchases.

It is often tough to pick out an individual from the Bournemouth boys, though many would have pointed to Wilson and his five goals in seven games as the main lighting rod before his injury. Yet this lack of over-reliance and focus on team play seems to be how they have survived, so tinkering with team chemistry could be calamitous.

Crystal Palace v AFC Bournemouth - Barclays Premier League - Selhurst Park

Winter window acquired striker Afobe, who has so far hit three in six, is a prime example when compared to shock signing Iturbe, as the ex-Arsenal and Wolverhampton Wanderers man fits the Dean Court profile far better.

Young, hungry and homegrown, Afobe has had to toil to make it this far, and Howe should look for players of the same ilk, with Leeds United’s tenacious midfielder Lewis Cook also linked. This type of player, who may see Bournemouth as a step up rather than step down, should be who the Cherries covet, rather than that elusive sprinkling of expensive star dust at the cost of what has worked so far.

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