Stoke City manager Mark Hughes has hailed the job done by AFC Bournemouth counterpart Eddie Howe ahead of the teams’ Premier League meeting at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday.
Bournemouth have enjoyed memorable wins over the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United during their debut top-flight season and currently sit 15th, five points clear of the relegation places.
Stoke are five points better off in 11th and Hughes knows they will have to rediscover some of their better form in order to arrest a slide of three consecutive 3-0 league defeats and a winless run of six games in all competitions.
“They’re playing well at the moment and I think they were unlucky last time out,” said Hughes at a pre-match media conference, reflecting on Bournemouth’s 2-0 reverse to title-chasing Arsenal last time out.
“We know they’re a hard-working side. Their stats in terms of what they produce in every game are really high – some of the highest in the Premier League.
“First and foremost we’re going to have to match that, make sure we’re defensively sound and create a little bit more.
“It’s always a big ask when you come up with a promoted team. It’s a big, sharp learning curve for those teams and players who maybe have not had experience in the Premier League.
“The majority of that group haven’t had great experience in the Premier League.
“They’ve gone into the market and spent good money to make themselves stronger.
“They lost key players through injury, which they had to deal with, and at one point it seemed as though that would affect them until the end of the season.
“But they’ve been able to turn that around. They look really strong again and [Howe] has done a really good job.”
One of those timely recruits for Bournemouth was striker Benik Afobe, who has adapted seamlessly to life on the south coast with three goals in five Premier League starts.
On Thursday, the former Arsenal youngster hit back at criticism from senior figures at Wolves claiming his effort on the field was wanting before the switch.
Howe has few complaints and believes Afobe buys into the Cherries’ team ethic.
“It’s a big thing when you sign players that you have to have a vision for your team,” he told the Bournemouth Echo.
“It’s all very well bringing players in but you have to have a vision, not just for now but for the future.
“We have a healthy mix of strikers that can play alongside each other.
“One thing you don’t want to do is put players together and change the dynamic and then find the team is not successful.”
Stoke, who handed a contract extension to star forward Bojan Krkic on Thursday, should have their attack bolstered by the return of Jon Walters from a virus.
Captain Ryan Shawcross (back) remains on the sidelines alongside fellow defenders Geoff Cameron (ankle) and Marc Wilson (knee) and midfielder Charlie Adam (calf).
Howe’s only absentees are long-term knee ligament injury trio Callum Wilson, Tyrone Mings and Max Gradel. Wilson suffered his injury in the reverse fixture that Bournemouth lost 2-1 in September.
Key Opta stats:
– None of the last 12 meetings between Stoke City and AFC Bournemouth in all competitions has ended in an away win (10 home wins, two draws).
– Stoke’s victory over Bournemouth at the Britannia Stadium was their first of the Premier League season.
– Bournemouth have won only three of their 12 home matches this season, while enjoying four victories on the road.
– Jack Butland has been forced into a league-high 88 saves in the Stoke goal.
– Callum Wilson is still Bournemouth’s top scorer in the Premier League this season (five) despite not having played since September.