By Tony Leighton
Bournemouth winger Marc Pugh is revelling in the return to the club of manager Eddie Howe, the man who kick-started his career after signing him from Hereford United in 2010 and who, since switching back from Burnley to the Cherries, has sparked a remarkable transformation in the fortunes of the npower League 1 team.
Former Bury and Shrewsbury Town player Pugh, who started his career at Burnley but failed to make the first team, has hit four of his season's five-goal haul in the seven games since Howe's October arrival back at the club where he spent 11 years as a player and three as manager before spending 21 months in charge of the Clarets.
His decision to step back down to League 1 from the Championship shocked many in football and Pugh admitted to football-league.co.uk: "I was surprised myself when he came back. I'm a Burnley fan and wanted him to do well there, but he obviously loves Bournemouth and things have certainly changed in the last month."
Things have most certainly changed at the Goldsands Stadium, where immediately before Howe's return four successive defeats had plunged the Cherries into the relegation zone. Six wins and a draw later they are just five points below the Play-Off places and are being seen by League 1 watchers as serious promotion contenders.
Pugh said: "The manager expects the best from the players and that's what he's getting from us. After he brought me to the club he helped me improve my game and my belief in myself as a footballer, and the belief he shows in all the lads is showing now in this great run that we've been on since he came back.
"The way he wants us to play suits my game perfectly - I'm a winger who likes to attack the full-back and he wants us to be strong going forward, looking to get good service from the wings and creating lots of chances. That's what we've been doing and the results have been coming, but now we've got to keep it going."
If the Cherries are able to keep it going they will certainly provide a threat to the teams above them, particularly as these days they have more financial muscle than during Howe's earlier spell in charge. More money inevitably means more in the way of expectation, however, and Pugh is well aware of the growing belief of supporters.
"The first season I was here," he recalled, "the club had just got promoted from League 2, but they weren't financially strong and the main aim was to avoid relegation. Now, because of the financial backing we've got, there's a lot of expectancy among the fans and that's increasing since the manager came back.
"We're going well though, and I firmly believe that we can make a very strong promotion challenge. We're closing in on the Play-Off places and with two home games coming up in the next week we can hopefully get even closer. If we can then keep this run going until Christmas, we can really push on from there."
For all the latest news on Bournemouth please click here