After a dark winter, spring has very much sprung in Bournemouth. Winless for the first nine games of 2017, Eddie Howe’s side have now dispatched West Ham and Swansea at home in consecutive victories that have propelled them into the luxury of mid-table.
It is a long-awaited and much-needed return to form, and it has been spearheaded by an increasingly potent strike pairing of Josh King and Benik Afobe. King scored the goals that downed West Ham last week, while Afobe sealed the points against Swansea with two crucial strikes, although the first was later judged to be an Alfie Mawson own goal.
Afobe has struggled for form since joining Bournemouth for what was then a record fee in January 2016, and he credited manager Eddie Howe for getting him back on track after he lost focus and motivation earlier in the campaign.
“It has been tough,” he said. “I started off well then I got a hamstring injury when we went away in March last year and I didn’t come back the same player so I wrote the season off.
“Then I worked hard in pre-season but I had a little knee injury which set me back and I started the season on the bench. I tried to get myself back in the team but the boys were doing well and I couldn’t really complain.
“I lost my head a bit and didn’t train as hard as I could have. I had a heart-to-heart meeting with the manager and ever since then I have concentrated on working my way back.”
Afobe has now started three games in a row for the first time this season, while his tidy second-half finish was his fourth goal of the campaign.
“I could have hidden and got upset but instead I worked hard after training, on my finishing, playing it out of my feet and then hitting it,” he added.
“He [Howe] could have just left me out of the side and said ‘I don’t want him in and around the changing room’ but I have always been a team player and it was nothing to do with the players.”
Howe’s decision to pair Afobe with King has increased the attacking firepower on the south coast, at the expense of the midfield dominance that has characterised his team since their promotion to the Premier League.
“It has changed the dynamic slightly,” Howe said. “At times you might lose the element of control that you want, but you are adding a goal threat and maybe a counter-attacking threat that you didn’t have before.”
They will need all of that threat on the break in a tricky run of fixtures that sees them play Southampton before they come up against Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham next month.
For Swansea, this was their second defeat on the bounce, and it leaves them just one place above the relegation zone. Paul Clement now has the international break to prepare his squad for a vital clash with Middlesbrough in two weeks.