Before their second season in the top-flight had kicked off back in August, Bournemouth’s manager Eddie Howe was being realistic, acknowledging the much-diagnosed ‘second-season syndrome’ that curtails many clubs following impressive debut seasons.
Bournemouth defied expectation by staying up with a cushion of five points last season and Howe was grounded enough to point out how he expected it to be tougher going this time around.
“I think the novelty value will have gone from our players’ perspective” he said, “that is a challenge for us that they (should) respond to this season in a positive fashion, not a negative fashion.”
Sitting tenth after 14 games with 18 points on the board already and they can claim that they have started the difficult second term with utmost positivity, daring to look upwards after Sunday’s chaotic 4-3 comeback win over Liverpool.
Touted for England
It seems odd that a club with the tiny 11,464-seater stadium and the well-documented backstory of their rise from the administration-ridden depths of League Two can be in the process of establishing themselves as a top-flight club but here they are, thriving under the guidance of Howe, the club legend who became the youngest manager in the football league when appointed in 2009 and is now being touted as a future England manager.
Member of the FA panel that appointed Gareth Southgate as successor to Sam Allardyce, Howard Wilkinson claimed they considered Howe, suggesting a relative lack of experience would not be a hurdle for the 39-year-old who continues to draw plaudits for his aesthetic style of play.
Having lasted not even two years in the only managerial job he has taken away from Dean Court, at Burnley in 2011/12, Howe would be cautious enough to think twice about making such a move and besides, he would be prioritised with the challenge of the second Premier League season with the homely south coast club he joined as a boy in 1994.
Bright second-season start
If the dreaded second-season was an issue there is no hint that it is troubling the Cherries who, until Sunday’s breath-taking comeback stunned Jurgen Klopp, were going about their business in a typically understated manner.
Howe will be relieved, given his side only won five times at Dean Court last term, their home form has formed the basis of their bright early season form.
Bournemouth have taken 13 points in the quaint surroundings of Dean Court this time around and the opening day defeat to Manchester United plus the extremely unfortunate loss to Sunderland have been their only blips.
Disappointing defeats to West Ham and Middlesbrough have come on their travels but it was a measure of the resilience Howe has built into his team that the 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City at the Etihad gave birth to a four-game unbeaten spell, a run that included the 6-1 drubbing of Hull City.
With Jordan Ibe, Junior Stanislas, Callum Wilson, Joshua King and Benik Afobe at his disposal, Howe’s team boasts a powerful attacking punch as the way they tore through Hull indicated, but 1-0 wins over Stoke, Everton and West Brom, as well as the 0-0 draw with Spurs in the fixture they lost 1-5 last season, have shown they can also now they can turn to solid pragmatism to grind out results when required.
Extraordinary self-belief and intrepid signings
Ruthlessly-taken goals from Sadio Mane and Divock Origi left Howe fearing the worst at half-time on Sunday but his team have not lost any of the extraordinary self-belief that got them into the Premier League from the basement division.
“We didn’t want to lose our never-say-die attitude” said Howe.
The sheer determination that led the fight back at Klopp’s swashbuckling Liverpool, even after Emre Can swept them ahead at 3-1 with 25 minutes to go, has been mixed with experience, raw talent and Howe’s intelligent coaching to create an exciting blend.
The lower leagues have been trawled to unearth the likes of King and Wilson while this summer, with some money injected to sign the 20-year-old Jordan Ibe from Liverpool for £15 million, saw Howe’s business following the familiar theme of identifying rough diamonds whom he feels can be polished.
Lewis Cook won the Football League’s Young Player of the Year award before his switch from Leeds but has seen his progress carefully managed by Howe, as has 20-year-old Lys Mousset, scorer of 14 goals in French Ligue 2 last term for Le Havre, the club that introduced Dmitri Payet, Paul Pogba and Riyad Mahrez to the Premier League.
The season-long loan of Jack Wilshere was viewed as a coup but as the 24-year-old cleverly linked play and launched attacks amidst the frenetic madness on Sunday afternoon it appears that the midfielder made the correct decision when he chose the south coast as the place to rebuild his fitness and confidence after falling out of favour at Arsenal.
Nathan Ake, the promising young Chelsea defender who is also impressing on a loan spell and who scored the winner against Liverpool, said the prospect of working with Howe swung his decision to move to Dean Court.
Ryan Fraser, who has been used sparingly at Bournemouth since moving from Aberdeen in 2013, was sent on against Liverpool with the aim of “trying to spark a bit of life into the game” and was a bundle of energy, winning a penalty from James Milner before hitting home his first goal for the Cherries.
Howe stood with his arm around Fraser’s shoulder prior to him coming on and 35 minutes later the man of the match award was his, with an ability to drain the best out of every member of his squad becoming the manager’s speciality.
Stability engrained through the spine of the club
Charlie Daniels, Harry Arter, Steve Cook, Marc Pugh and captain Simon Francis have all been with the club through their Football League rise and that spine has helped the younger players and the newcomers integrate into a tightly-knit squad.
It has helped to create a sense of stability that has allowed Bournemouth to build without fear of losing any individuals; few can imagine Callum Wilson’s head being turned by West Ham’s reported £25 million bid for the striker when the transfer window opens in January.
Wilson has successfully returned from the ACL tear he suffered in September 2015 to score 3 goals this season and is likely not to discard the loyalty shown in him so quickly, especially by joining a club currently in disarray after grandiose ambitions took them to their troubled new stadium in the summer.
The dreaded syndrome successfully fended off thus far
Bournemouth meanwhile have taken their progression slowly and wisely, refusing to lose sight of where they came from.
‘Second-season syndrome’ has been successfully fended off so far.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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