Eddie Howe says a crippling injury crisis at AFC Bournemouth this season left him fearing for their Premier League status as they prepare for their final home match of the season against West Brom.
Bournemouth have won just once in their past six matches, but with two games remaining they have already guaranteed a second campaign in the top flight.
It has not always been plain sailing for the south coast side, with influential players such as Tommy Elphick, Callum Wilson, Harry Arter, Max Gradel and Tyrone Mings having spent significant time on the sidelines.
Manager Howe praised his depleted squad for stepping up to fill the void and not using the injury woes as an excuse for failure.
“It was a huge blow to lose these players and the worry I had was the effect it would have on the rest of the squad,” Howe told the Bournemouth Echo ahead of Saturday’s contest at Vitality Stadium.
“It can eat away at the confidence and self-belief when you see players going down injured. It was a tough examination of our resources, our character and our ability to bounce back and it took a few games but we did and the lads responded superbly.
“At the time, it felt as if things were going against us and we had to shake away the excuses because the mind is a very powerful thing. If you allow an excuse to develop then the sub-conscious will take it but, thankfully, we didn’t.
“A lot of the players in the squad really stepped up and that was key.”
Like Bournemouth, West Brom’s season has rather petered out, with Tony Pulis’ men having only briefly flirted with the unwelcome prospect of relegation.
The Welshman will be disappointed by the team’s recent form – only rock-bottom Aston Villa are on a worse run than the Baggies’ seven-match winless streak.
With just two matches left to play, Pulis is already looking at ways to improve the squad next season, as Premier League teams await the windfall from a bumper new television rights deal.
But Pulis says enticing players to West Brom – who are one goal shy of 400 in the Premier League – is not always easy.
“There will always be levels that players see clubs at. It’s easier for the so-called bigger clubs and the fact that it’s London as well,” he told the Express and Star.
“The money obviously changes the situation at this club but it changes the situation at every other club too.
“You’re still in the same position because everybody else is getting the same as you’re getting.”
Gradel (leg) is a concern for Bournemouth, while James Morrison (hamstring) hopes to return from a four-month lay-off to feature for the visitors.
Key Opta stats:
– Bournemouth have lost their last three Premier League matches on home soil, conceding 10 goals along the way.
– West Brom have won just one of their last 13 Premier League road trips (W1 D6 L6).
– Bournemouth have now lost three consecutive Premier League matches for the first time since November (four in a row).
– A league-high 10 of the Cherries goals this season have come courtesy of defenders.
– West Brom have posted the oldest starting 11 on average in the top flight this season (29 years, 209 days), yet have fielded the only player born in 1999 or beyond to play in the Premier League (17-year-old Jonathan Leko).