Bournemouth recorded back-to-back league wins for the first time since last March to hoist themselves nine points clear of the relegation zone and dent Swansea’s survival hopes. Eddie Howe felt he was ageing after his team’s difficult start to the year but this relentless display will have left him full of vigour.
The pressure was on for both teams, with wins for Leicester and Crystal Palace before kick-off amplifying the importance of this fixture. The significance of a result for Bournemouth was even more pertinent given that Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham are three of their next four opponents.
“I do not feel any younger but I feel very pleased with the team,” Howe said. “I feel very grateful because when results are not going your way it is easy for the camp to become split or negativity to creep in. I really do admire how much the guys have been fighting for the club.”
Howe was conscious of what to expect of Swansea under Paul Clement, insisting they are a “different team” since they turned them over 3-0 on New Year’s Eve. A lot has changed: Clement was skiing in the Austrian Alps at the time, Swansea were rock-bottom but they are still in trouble now after a fourth consecutive away defeat.
“We must not panic, not start looking for culprits or pointing the finger – we are very much in this together,” Clement said, before referencing Bournemouth’s recent upturn in form. “We have got some really positive results over the last two and half months and we have another two and half months to go now.
“The objective is very clear, to finish in 17th position and any higher than that is a bonus, based on the position we were in at the start of January.”
Bournemouth made a high-powered start but Swansea ensured they did not have it all their own way. Gylfi Sigurdsson’s delivery from set pieces proved problematic for the home side, with Alfie Mawson and then Joshua King, at the wrong end, heading narrowly wide.
Ryan Fraser, named in the senior Scotland squad for the first time this week, was again bright and bypassed Tom Carroll on the edge of the area before skimming an effort across goal and wide of Lukasz Fabianski’s right post.
But it was a slice of luck that brought Bournemouth the lead just after the half-hour mark. King beat Federico Fernández to the ball on the edge of the box and played a one-two with Marc Pugh before crossing paths with Benik Afobe who then drove towards goal. His tame shot was surely heading wide until it struck Mawson’s shin-pad, wrongfooting Fabianski as it rolled into the net. The scruffy nature of the goal typified a first half that made largely painful viewing.
Clement, a towering presence in his technical area, demanded a reaction. Carroll clattered into Adam Smith after earlier harrying Andrew Surman. Perhaps, though, Swansea were trying too hard. Jack Cork, a one-time Bournemouth loanee, lost the ball in the middle of the park, allowing Dan Gosling to force Fabianski into a save from distance.
The fear for Bournemouth was Sigurdsson, the Swansea playmaker silencing the home crowd every time he stood over a dead ball. After all, no team have conceded more points than the 18 Bournemouth have dropped from winning positions this season. Both Steve Cook and Afobe threw their bodies at crosses, with Fernando Llorente lurking.
But Bournemouth made sure of the points after 72 minutes when Afobe added a goal that this time definitely belonged to him. King was again involved, feeding the striker, while Mawson slipped, to slot past Fabianski. The Swansea goalkeeper then made a magnificent save low to his left from King’s header to deny Bournemouth a third goal.
“Full credit to the players because it is one thing knowing the importance of the games but another actually going out and delivering a very good performance,” Howe added.