No manager likes to be in a position where their team is involved in a relegation battle. Some teams will not survive and now is the crucial period when the pressure is starting to build on the players and the managers. Has Eddie Howe got what it takes to keep the Cherries up?
I have no doubt that it will be a challenge for the young manager and it is of course his first time of being in that position in the Premier League. We can point to his record though in keeping the Cherries up when they were in Division Two where it went right down to the last game before the club survived.
That kind of pressure is very different from when he has been trying to win promotion, but it is still the need to win games with the number of chances running out. It is to Eddie’s benefit that there have not been too many seasons in his managerial career when he has not been under tremendous pressure to win games at the end of a season and he arguably needs that to really push himself and the team on.
This season it is a matter of keeping calm and concentrating on what AFC Bournemouth are doing as the team’s fate is in its own hands. The next three matches against Watford, Southampton and Newcastle United could put a very different complexion on matters.
Getting points early on has been something that Eddie has vowed that he wants the Cherries to succeed in. Yet at home, those early signs of pressure have been there in the recent defeats against Arsenal and Stoke City. With two of the next three games being away, it just may be that Howe can put some distance between his side and the bottom three. If not, then it is likely to come down to the games when those also involved in the relegation scrap have to play the Cherries.
Eddie’s record against those teams currently sitting lower in the league is not anything special. An opening day defeat to Aston Villa and a narrow loss to Newcastle appear costly points lost at this moment in time.
While points have been shared with Norwich over the two games, there is still an opportunity to take more points off of Swansea, Aston Villa, Newcastle and West Brom. Yet, these matches are likely to be very pressurised and difficult for any side to play with their usual fluency – they will be battles. So is this AFC Bournemouth side ready for a series of battles?
Only Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis out of the bottom six teams really have much experience of pulling their teams away from the drop zone in the Premier League. This is something that Howe will take on board as another learning experience.
He is not in a bad position to succeed though and his decisions now will be a huge factor in the outcome. He not only has to face the media without wavering, but he also has to get his players in the right frame of mind for what lies ahead.
I had the feeling that there was a quiet optimism when the Cherries won away at Crystal Palace back in January. The gap had grown to seven points above the relegation places. Now it is down to four and the race is now on to get to the safety line.
We are about to see if Howe has the stomach for some difficult days and whether he can keep heads firmly fixed on the end objective. I’m confident that he will succeed as his energy and determination as well as his work rate are shown in his team. No one said it would be easy, but the Cherries are giving themselves every chance of beating the drop.