Bournemouth happy in middle lane and travelling in the right direction

Bournemouth were a quaint novelty when they began their Premier League adventure in the summer of 2015, with their tiny stadium, unfashionable British core of players and seaside homeliness, a combination that seemed to make people want to ruffle Eddie Howe’s hair, pinch his cheeks and give him a bar of chocolate as a reward for doing ever so well.

It wasn’t going to last, of course. How could it? Look at the little scamps, with their tiny stadium, unfashionable British core and seaside homeliness, a combination that was surely going to get them relegated.

By the end of their first season in the top flight, however, it became more noticeable that a little weariness was being directed towards the fairytale club who rose from the brink of financial oblivion to the big time, Bournemouth fatigue an understandable response to an unfussy debut Premier League campaign. It was not that people were leaping off the bandwagon, more that it seemed as though the meat of the story had been chewed off the bone, and now there was nothing left for us to sink our teeth into. They were almost extinct, they came up from League Two, we get it. Change the record.

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They beat Chelsea and Manchester United in December, but the achievement of keeping themselves free of relegation fears after Christmas meant that interest drifted elsewhere, homing in on the battles taking place at either end of the table as Bournemouth scuttled along in the middle, content with their lot.

That serenity remains. Bournemouth are happy in 10th place, unlikely to challenge for Europe, unlikely to find themselves in a relegation fight. There have been no scandals, no tales of wantaway players, no hint of second‑season syndrome. They have mostly been given room to continue their development and it has been too easy to ignore them.

Until their stunning comeback victory against Liverpool on Sunday, that is. While there is a valid argument that Liverpool’s defensive collapse should be the main focus of discussion, Bournemouth’s resolve and the breathless nature of their attacking was a reminder that the consistent excellence of their football under Howe more than makes up for the lack of any obvious narrative.

Let us not get carried away. Only one of this season’s five league wins, the 6-1 thumping of Hull City in October, has been by more than one goal. There have been a few disappointing results and performances, most notably in defeats against Middlesbrough, Sunderland and West Ham United, so this team still have much to learn before they can truly feel that they have established themselves in the Premier League.

But they are certainly heading in the right direction under Howe, who continues to impress with his preference for playing stylish football and ability to bring the best out of players through the quality of his coaching.

There has been a willingness to scout in the lower leagues and bring in young or unwanted players, and that continues to pay off. Even Jordon Ibe, signed from Liverpool for £15m, is a rough diamond for Howe to polish, a 20-year-old winger who needs to be shown how to become more consistent, and it is not difficult to see why Jack Wilshere felt that Bournemouth was the best place to rebuild his confidence and fitness after deciding to leave Arsenal on loan.

Howe is no romantic, misguided idealist. He is not averse to pragmatism in the right circumstances, but he wants his youthful team to take risks, play through midfield and on the floor, all of which is a good fit for Wilshere.

Greater challenges lie ahead for Bournemouth. Not so long ago Swansea City were held up as the model for careful planning and growth. Now they are on the verge of becoming a cautionary tale after making several poor decisions that have left them in danger of relegation. Forget about reaching the mythical next level, standing still in the Premier League is tough enough for clubs of Bournemouth’s and Swansea’s stature.

Meeting rising expectations is far from straightforward. Bournemouth will have to deal with interest in Howe at some point and the test of their board’s ambition and vision will come when they need to find a new manager. Then they can be a club in crisis, like all the others. Until then, however, simply enjoy the entertainment they provide on the pitch.

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