When Eddie Howe left Bournemouth for Burnley at the start of 2011, most fans of the South Coast club were left downbeat. Howe had saved Bournemouth from relegation in his first season in charge despite having a 17 point disadvantage when he was appointed, then led the club through a transfer embargo to automatic promotion the following season.
Despite leaving, Howe remained a hugely popular figure at AFCB thanks to his managerial success and previous links with the club as a player. His recent return has therefore been welcomed with nothing but open arms, especially seeing how this season has started so poorly. Paul Groves was promoted from the youth team to first team on a permanent basis in the summer but results had been far from impressive. Bournemouth had slipped to within touching distance of the relegation zone and rumours of discontent from the players began to emerge. Groves was duly sacked (although he is now again in charge of the youth team) and Howe returned.
Chairman Eddie Mitchell said fans should thank his wife for the reappointment of Howe as it was her who convinced Mitchell to ask the question to Howe (perhaps he should listen to her on more club decisions?) Burnley were understandably reluctant to let their man go, but Howe was drawn back south for family reasons and Bournemouth have benefited ever since.
In the first 8 league games of Howe’s second reign, Bournemouth have won 6 and drawn 2, seeing them climb the table like an unstoppable force. Now only four points off sixth place, the play-offs are rapidly becoming a realistic goal for Howe and co. Bournemouth have stopped conceding silly goals (perhaps due to the influence of Howe’s playing days as a defender) and have started to find the back of the net more regularly. Attendances have also risen which is no doubt both a factor and a consequence of the recent upturn in results.
Off the pitch, Howe appears to be having a positive effect as well. Marc Pugh has been a key player for the club over the past few seasons, and the winger had refused to sign a contract extension to keep him at the club beyond the summer under Groves. Pugh had stated he wanted to play at a higher level, with many sound judges agreeing he would not be out of place in the Championship.
However, Pugh has had a change of heart since Howe’s return and has publicly said that the manager has had a huge influence on his decision to sign a new three and-a-half year deal. Pugh has said that he believes he can play at a higher level with Bournemouth under Howe, showing a new belief has been installed in the squad. Veteran keeper David James has also been quoted as saying that training sessions are a lot more exciting nowadays and despite being his manager’s elder by eight years, knows that Howe is the boss, something that supposed more heralded Premier League managers have failed to do with more senior players.
Howe has also overseen the recent return of striker Brett Pitman on loan from Bristol City, with a view to a permanent move in January. Pitman was lethal in his first spell at Bournemouth and despite not playing that many games for City, has maintained a decent goal to minute ratio. Pitman enjoyed his second debut this weekend, scoring a last minute equaliser against Bury to preserve Howe’s unbeaten record in his second stint. All in all, things on the South Coast have been juicier than a peach since Howe’s comeback; the only question now is, can this form be kept up or is the honeymoon period fast coming to an end?
Written by Cort Robson, We Are Going Up’s AFC Bournemouth blogger
Cort tweets at @cort_robson