AWARDS? KEEP ‘EM, WE JUST WANT TO GO
CHERRIES’ ARTER HAS SOLE FOCUS:
BOURNEMOUTH’S Harry Arter couldn’t care less that the Cherries were overlooked in the Championship Player of the Year awards. Though striker Callum Wilson has scored 22 goals since his £3m move from Coventry and flying winger Matt Ritchie played a part in 27 more, neither man even made the cut for last week’s glittering bash at The Brewery in London.
Instead, they were overlooked in favour of Middlesbrough’s Patrick Bamford, Ipswich’s Daryl Murphy, and Watford’s Troy Deeney.
But ahead of tomorrow’s vital clash at home against Bolton, Arter – who has himself netted eight times from midfield – says there is only one prize that matters.
“Nobody here was disappointed,” insists Arter. “This team has never been about individuals. It’s about what we do together – playing an attacking brand of football, something that is enjoyable for people to watch.
“I’m genuinely pleased for Patrick and the other lads. They’ve all done really well. But you can keep your individual awards – the ultimate prize is promotion. And if we win these next two games, that will be ours.”
Watford booked one of the two automatic promotion spots yesterday and Bournemouth are now hot favourites to join them. With a better goal difference than third-placed Middlesbrough, victory against Bolton will effectively seal promotion with a game to spare.
What is certain is that the Cherries have spent more time at the top of the table than any other side in the division, finishing 22 games at the summit.
Eddie Howe’s men have also scored more goals (92) than anyone else and shipped fewer (45) than every side except Middlesbrough. Best is a subjective term, but most observers would certainly admit they are the Championship’s most expansive and attacking outfit.
Which is remarkable for a side that just five years ago played in League Two, has never tasted top-flight football and even now attract gates of barely 10,000.
“Based on history and size, I’m sure you’d have looked at the top four and thought ‘Bournemouth are the ones who’ll fade away’,” says Arter, 25. “That has fuelled us, but I wouldn’t say it was the major factor. It was having a bunch of honest lads with a bit more talent than people perhaps realised.
“It’s no fluke. We’ve been top for the majority of the time. Between November and now, nobody has been there more than us.
“About December time, we had some quite tough games – the kind we might have lost the year before.
“But we showed a lot of consisten- cy, not just in the results but in the way we played. We dominated possession, we had more shots. We played really, really well and probably at that time we actually thought ‘Yeah, we could stay the distance here’.
“We had a bad run a couple of months ago and thought we were out of it. Now we’re 11 or 12 games unbeaten so we do have a bit of consistency.
“We just need to keep in mind
what got us here – belief, attacking football and hard work.”
This time five years ago, Arter – who won his first call up to the Republic of Ireland squad in March – was a 20-year-old kid scrabbling in the muck and nettles of Conference South with Woking after being released by Charlton.
“It was my first experience of men’s football,” he recalls. “And as much as the standard was lower, I actually enjoyed every single minute.
“They were semi-pro, so it was a few days on, a few days off. You had to be personally responsible for keeping professional standards. That helped me mature and actually made me the player I am today.”
And he’s not the only rags-toriches story at the Goldsands, with the likes of Simon Francis and Marc Pugh survivors from the days when Bournemouth sat penniless and hopeless at the foot of League Two.
“If I can finish the season by going up, it’ll be an unbelievable journey and something I look back on with a lot of pride,” says Arter.
“And I hope younger players everywhere, especially at the lower levels, will take confidence and belief from what we’ve done – that if they work hard and keep believing, they can get to the highest level.
“I think there are only three or four players in our entire squad who have Premier League experience and plenty who were here in the League One and Two days. That’s credit to Eddie Howe for the work he’s put in but it also shows the ability was always there.”
Bolton boss Neil Lennon, meanwhile, has warned that his men will relish playing the party-poopers at a sell-out Goldsands.
“We are an afterthought in this fixture and I don’t like that,” said Lennon, whose side lie safely in 17th after another lacklustre campaign.
“All the talk has been about Bournemouth, and that will suit us. We want to give them a bloody nose and we’ll go there to make life very difficult for them.
“There’ll be a lot of nervous tension around the ground and the longer the game stays level, the tenser it will get. Some of those Bournemouth players haven’t been in that position before so it will be interesting to see how they handle it.
“I do think they’re the best footballing side in the division, the easiest on the eye. They’ve certainly scored a lot of goals. But it takes more than that to win titles. You need the right temperament. Tomorrow night will show us whether they have that.”
And Lennon says bad boys Barry Bannan and Neil Danns will be back in contention after apologising for breaching the club’s code of conduct. The pair were fined two-weeks wages and left out of the squad for last week’s game against Brentford after abusing hotel staff following an all-night drinking session.
“They did something wrong, they crossed the line, and they’ve been heavily punished for it,” said Lennon. “We’ve also put a marker down for the rest of the squad that behaviour like that won’t be tolerated. But we’ve drawn a line under that and they will be in contention for Monday.”
MIDFIELD MAESTRO: Harry Arter has played a big part in Bournemouth’s success this term Insets: Callum Wilson scores, below left, and Matt Ritchie celebrates LEADER: Eddie Howe has masterminded Bournemouth’s charge