Eddie Howe has always been a streaky manager at AFC Bournemouth, with long runs of wins often followed by stretches where he can’t pick up results for love or money.
Throughout these runs he’s never yielded any ground on his attacking principles though, and that’s what makes him my club’s greatest manager – with the iron-clad faith he has in his beliefs repaid yet again in recent weeks.
Seven points out of our last three games is an amazing return considering just a handful of weeks ago we were labouring against anyone we faced. It was all rather unpleasant.
After the draw against Manchester United the side’s mojo has returned however, and it’s not just because of one or two players – it’s been a team effort, and here are five reasons why.
Defence improved vastly
Our defence is still not convincing, not by a long shot. But after somehow riding the storm against Manchester United earlier this month our back four is suddenly looking a lot more focused and less likely it’ll concede every time an opposition defence steps anywhere near it.
The clean sheet against Swansea on Saturday was a big step forward, and even if it was against a listless opponent we probably would have still found a way for them to score against us just a few weeks ago.
There was a clear determination from the back four not to leave themselves too open, and that’s a blessed relief after our often naive approach to games earlier in the year. Steve Cook’s blocks in the game against Swansea were further proof of this – as we scored our second goal of the game just seconds later.
Goalkeeper looks more assured
Artur Boruc dropped a huge clanger against West Bromich Albion back in February, but since then he’s redeemed himself – with a sensational display at Old Trafford and making some vital punches in our home games against West Ham United and Swansea City.
Although I don’t think he’ll be around next season he’s certainly been a valuable – if incredibly unpredictable – member of the squad. Recents weeks have proved that no end.
Midfield putting in the work
Jack Wilshere not starting against Swansea on Saturday may have caused a few eyebrows to be raised, especially with Harry Arter not available for selection and Andrew Surman being put straight back into the team after his one-match suspension.
But although we never really looked truly majestic against Swansea, the amount of work Dan Gosling and Andrew Surman put in to keeping the Welsh side quiet – and they were very quiet throughout, only rarely threatening our goal – was truly superb.
Whether Jack Wilshere could put in the same amount of hard yards is unclear, but I’m of the belief he’ll have to if he wants to break into the first team – especially when we’re playing sides in and around us.
Wilshere’s ineffective performance in our limp defeat to Crystal Palace back in January has seemingly made up Howe’s mind when it comes to the on-loan man’s ability to be an effective midfield engine room – especially when he only plays four across the middle.
Both strikers chipping in
Josh King is a real handful, even if he’s slightly off colour as he was against Swansea on Saturday. He need not worry too much about scoring all our goals if Benik Afobe keeps chipping in however, as he has done at times this season – including at the weekend where he finished our second very well indeed.
Afobe still isn’t a hugely convincing figure up front in my opinion, often looking clumsy and ineffective for long periods in matches – but if he keeps finding the back of the net then I don’t have too much to complain about I suppose.
Howe was accused of being too naive when we were plunging down the table, and many of the criticisms levelled at him – not investing in our defence and choosing out of form players constantly – definitely had an element of truth to them.
But in recent weeks he’s gone back to basics and selected as many of our Championship title winning team as he could, and they’ve done the business for him. Artur Boruc, Steve Cook, Adam Smith, Simon Francis, Charlie Daniels, Marc Pugh, Dan Gosling, Ryan Fraser, Andrew Surman – it’s surprising how many of them are still around, and furthermore how they can outplay established Premier League sides.
Alongside this tactic he’s also tried to stick to using the same players in the first eleven for the last few weeks, and this selection consistency has no doubt aided our solid performances. We weren’t at our best against Swansea for instance, but everyone in the team knew their jobs and battled for each other tooth and nail in order to get us another three points closer towards safety.
Even Jason Tindall commanding the ball boys to slow down distribution near the end of the match against Swansea shows we are becoming increasingly well versed in the dark arts of the Premier League. And if it helps us survive then I certainly don’t mind us occasionally stepping into the darkness.