Bournemouth staring down the barrel in relegation tussle
The Bournemouth players and coaching staff face "the biggest game" of their careers on Sunday as they battle to extend their surprising five-year stay in the Premier League, manager Eddie Howe says.
Bournemouth were widely tipped to make an immediate return to the second-tier Championship in their maiden season amongst the elite in the 2015/16 campaign, but Howe and the Cherries have defied expectations.
However, the mathematics looks especially tough for them to extricate themselves this time around.
They are second from bottom, three points adrift of safety and end their season with a challenging away trip to Everton on Sunday.
To preserve their status, Howe's side have to beat Everton and hope their goal difference is better if both third-from-bottom Watford and Aston Villa lose their matches.
Watford and Villa have a three-point advantage over Bournemouth.
Villa -- who head Watford on goal difference -- travel to West Ham on the back of an impressive 1-0 win over Arsenal in midweek.
Watford will hope for a similar result when they travel to Arsenal.
Howe, who has guided Bournemouth to 16th, ninth, 12th and 14th in their previous Premier League campaigns, made no bones about the importance of Sunday's game at his pre-match press conference.
"The next game is the biggest game of all our careers and we're going to do our best to win it," Howe said on Friday.
"Controlling our emotions is going to be key.
"You have to be in the moment and we need the players to play the game they've always done and do so to a very high standard."
'Thrown at you'
Howe says his players are not lacking self-belief but accept that they do not control their destiny even if they win.
"We know we have to do our bit, but we're going to have to be good mentally and focus on the match," said Howe.
"I think there's a belief that we can win our game and that's all we can control.
"We've got to win a game of football and then we're hoping for the bit of luck that we need."
His Villa counterpart Dean Smith can count it as being a good season on their return to the Premier League if they stay up, having also taken them to the League Cup final.
Smith believes his side are in the position he would have wished for going into the final round of games.
“We control our own destiny and that's what we wanted to have going into the last game," he said at his press conference.
"Results went our way in the week and we're above the dotted line (the bottom three) at the moment.
"The most important thing is to be above that dotted line on Sunday and we know we have to win to guarantee that.
"We'll be going all-out to win."
Smith said the crammed match schedule since the resumption after the lockdown had impacted everyone but he drew on some advice from home to illustrate how his side had stood up to it.
"My wife has always told me that you cope with whatever is thrown at you and you deal with it," he said.
"These lads have managed to deal with it so far."
Morale appears to be in short supply at last season's FA Cup finalists Watford following the surprise sacking of manager Nigel Pearson on Sunday.
Goalkeeper Ben Foster said confidence was "so, so crazy low" following the 4-0 home hammering by Manchester City earlier this week.
However, Hayden Mullins, who is caretaker manager for the second time this season, denies this is the case.
"The game was a tough one to take because we got beat and secondly because Villa picked up points," he added.
"That is how Ben felt at the time, I wouldn't say there is a blanket kind of feeling for everyone in the squad, it was probably just how he was feeling."
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Will Oliver