AFC Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe declared last week that tomorrow’s fixture against West Brom had the potential to be the Cherries’ biggest game so far this season. The south coast side sit in 11th place, just six points above the relegation zone, whilst their opponents lie rock bottom and will be playing Championship football next season bar a minor miracle.
Despite high-profile victories at Stamford Bridge against reigning champions Chelsea, as well as beating Arsenal at the Vitality Stadium last month, the Cherries’ sights are still firmly fixated on retaining their Premier League status for next season – which would be the club’s fourth consecutive year in England’s top flight.
In his pre-match press conference this morning, Howe declared the Baggies clash a testing game, and also urged the Vitality Stadium crowd to back the team to another important three points:
“I think this could possibly be the toughest game, everyone on the inside and outside will expect us to win.”
“If the crowd can get behind us, I expect that we can win.”
The Cherries boss also expressed his surprise at West Brom’s current league position, after the Baggies emerged 1-0 victors at the start of the campaign under former manager Tony Pulis.
“The previous game was a tight game, nothing between the two teams.” Howe said. “We were disappointed to lose, if you said then that they would be where they are I would have been surprised.”
Howe also revealed that Josh King and Ryan Fraser could miss out at the Vitality tomorrow:
“We have a couple of injury doubts. Fraser has been nursing a back problem and he hasn’t trained as much as we’d have liked. King has an issue with his neck but looks like he’s going to be okay. We have a couple of other niggles but we’ll wait and see.”
Another Cherries player currently in the limelight is young midfielder Lewis Cook, who was named in Gareth Southgate’s England squad yesterday ahead of upcoming friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy. Since breaking into the side in the latter half of last year, Cook has played an integral role in the Cherries’ more impressive performances this season, and continues his vein of good form on the international stage after lifting the U20’s World Cup with the Three Lions last summer.
“I’m very very pleased for him and his family,” said Howe. “It’s an historic moment for him. We’re delighted, he’s such a level headed down-to-earth lad and he’s improved greatly since he’s been here, now he’s got the recognition he deserves.
“Last year was difficult for him at times, we signed him and then there was a process of working with him behind the scenes and there was a lot of work from Lewis to stay with the project.
“He’s reaped the rewards this year and since he broke into the team he’s got better and better.”
With the international break rapidly approaching, Bournemouth will be looking to pull further clear of the end of season relegation scrap, starting with the clash with West Brom tomorrow (3pm).