MANAGER Eddie Howe and skipper Tommy Elphick have highlighted the vital role played by the Cherries support staff over the hectic festive period.

Physio Steve Hard and head of sports science Dan Hodges, together with their respective teams, helped the squad prepare for four games in 12 days – a period Cherries came through unbeaten.

Howe told the Daily Echo: “It was a key time of year. It is not about training or doing too much work between games, it is about recovery and making sure the players are ready to go again.

“We like to think we are at the cutting edge of science and do most things correctly to try to get the marginal gains you need to reproduce another performance. Our backroom staff are key to that and I think they have been excellent.”

Elphick heaped praise on the medical and support staff for helping team-mate Elliott Ward come through the gruelling period following a month out injured.

He said: “Wardy is modern in his approach to the game in terms of nutrition, fitness and the way he looks after himself. He is a great professional and leaves no stone unturned with that.

“It was not only credit to him but to the fitness coaches who got him back. I don’t think the plan was for him to come back so quickly but, when the situation arose with Steve Cook’s injury, he was ready, just like anyone would have been. He jumped at the opportunity and fitted in seamlessly.”