“Eddie had a dream,” sung the hordes of Bournemouth fans tucked into the corner of Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening. And for many of the 3,000 visiting supporters, this would have been a fantasy realized, as they celebrated a shock 1-0 win over Chelsea.
Regardless of the troubles endured by the Blues this season, this was a remarkable result for the Cherries. For a team of their humble stature, to rock up at the home of champions, perform as if undaunted, dig in and then snatch a win, it was a superb effort, propelling them out of the bottom three in the process.
The display was also an emphatic indicator of Eddie Howe’s managerial pedigree, which some have prematurely doubted during Bournemouth’s debut campaign in the Premier League.
Many pundits have castigated the fresh-faced boss for not deviating from the enterprising model which saw the Cherries tear up the second tier. With the spine of the side ripped out due to poor fortune with fitness, there has been a harsh period of adjustment for the players and many experts felt a more defensive, disciplined set-up would have been more prosperous in terms of points.
Howe has been unshakeable in his belief in his principles, though, and it seems his players, emboldened by their manager’s eminent poise, are beginning to finally garner a foothold in the top flight.
Prior to the triumph at Chelsea, Bournemouth salvaged a point with a spirited second half showing against an in-form Everton team, coming back from the brink on two separate occasion. Anyone who watched that game will attest to the fact that the Cherries, if anything, deserved a victory.
Nevertheless, they carried the momentum accrued from that 98th minute rescue job to Stamford Bridge and produced a showing which their manager described as the best in the history of the football club.
It wasn’t just a smash and grab either. Against a Chelsea team which hadn’t lost to a newly promoted team at home in 43 attempts, Bournemouth took the game to the Blues in the first half. Their attacking play was polished, their control in midfield total and against an attack which contained Eden Hazard, Pedro, Oscar and Willian, the defense was relatively untroubled.
Granted, Chelsea did up the ante in the second period to relieve some of the pressure on Thibaut Courtois’ goal, but Glenn Murray’s smuggled winner late into the game was richly deserved for the game visitors.
It was the kind of decisive impact Bournemouth have lacked at times this season. Without their star striker Callum Wilson to call upon and big issues finding a consistent presence between the sticks, it’s no surprise they’re languishing down in the lower reaches of the campaign. But looking past the poor results, there are few games in which the Cherries have played badly in overall.
They are evidently a team which is coached tremendously by the scrupulous Howe. At Stamford Bridge, the interchanges in play were almost telepathic between the forward players. They each knew when to drop into space and when to run in behind; there is nothing overly flashy about their general play either, just short, sharp passing and clever positioning.
It gives their approach play a paradoxical sense of mechanical fluidity. Mechanical in that all sections of this attacking unit know where they needed to be at all times, and fluidity in the interchanging of positions and slickness of their passing.
To get a group of players who are far from illustrious to perform with such conviction is testament to Howe. His unyielding belief his principles is embodied by his squad who have been a reflection of their vibrant boss. It’s also a surefire sign that Howe is cut out for the Premier League and would inevitably thrive with a better standard of player at his disposal.
Much of the praise which has come Howe’s way during Bournemouth’s rapid rise has been centered around his guidance of the Cherries from the depths of the football league up to the big time. But the Premier League was always going to reveal a lot about the Englishman, putting his conviction in his beliefs to the ultimate test. So far, he seems to be taking it all in stride.
Of course, the Chelsea win is just one result and Bournemouth still face a massive challenge to keep their Premier League status intact this term, with signs of life from the likes of Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Sunderland this weekend. But there have been signs aplenty Howe is a coach on track to achieve great things in English football, whether with the Cherries or elsewhere.
Managing better players and a bigger club would pose different kinds of challenges for Howe. But when the day does come for the popular manager to leave the south coast, there are diminishing doubts that he’ll be anything other than a roaring success.
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