WIN, lose and draw.

Cherries’ past three league games have highlighted how far they have come this season alone.

Cuffed 6-1 and 5-1 during visits to Watford and Huddersfield in August, the January rematches both proved very different propositions.

And although defeat by Leicester on Saturday saw the Foxes add to their win at King Power Stadium in October, it took a hotly-disputed goal to see off Eddie Howe’s team.

The fact Cherries had been “disappointed” to lose to the runaway Championship leaders also spoke volumes of the progress being made at Dean Court.

Howe’s men went into the clash on the back of a run of one league defeat in seven, while the visitors were on the crest of a wave following a club record eight consecutive victories.

Under Nigel Pearson, the second longest-serving boss in the Championship, Leicester have gone from strength to strength this season, the East Midlands outfit benefiting from managerial stability and backing from its owners.

An established club in the top two tiers, the Foxes’ lofty standing is testament to some sound recruitment by Pearson during his 26 months in his second spell at the helm.

Their day in the sun and a return to the Premier League following a 10-year absence moved ever closer after Kevin Phillips’s header had given them a 10-point cushion at the summit.

And while the manner of the defeat would have been hard to stomach for Cherries followers, if this is a team in transition, the rest should be wary of the day that this caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

While those early defeats on the road may have set the alarm bells ringing, Cherries have been steadily transformed by Howe into more than competent opponents and consolidation in their first season in the second flight for 23 years should be assured sooner rather than later.

Currently placed highest of the three promoted clubs, five months ago, Cherries may not have expected to find themselves level on points with Watford and above early-season pacesetters Blackpool at the start of February.

With 12 points gained from 15 games against teams in the top half and 22 from 13 against those in the bottom, it is evident Cherries have some way to go before they can start to think about trying to challenge the big guns for promotion. But there is no doubt they are heading in the right direction.

This was a clash between a crack Championship outfit and a work in progress, with defeat for Howe’s team down to a combination of the ruthless nature of the division, Cherries’ failure to keep a clean sheet and their lack of threat in front of goal.

No blame, however, could be apportioned to Cherries goalkeeper Lee Camp whose string of fine saves had looked destined to blunt the Foxes until Phillips struck nine minutes from time.

During his post-match press conference, Howe hit the nail on the head with his summation that Cherries had not managed to do the things they had needed to “in both boxes”.

“We had a couple of early chances and had three more in the second half before they scored,” said Howe. “We didn’t take them and that is what you need to do in this division because you get found out.”

Leicester survived a specious claim for a penalty after Tokelo Rantie had gone to ground in the early stages before Cherries stood firm at the back at the visitors forced a flurry of corners.

Camp saved superbly from Lloyd Dyer when he parried the winger’s strike after Jamie Vardy’s deep centre had found him at the far post in the 18th minute.

It was another feather in the cap for Camp to prevent Vardy from opening the scoring after the striker had gone through one-on-one for the first time midway through the first half. And Cherries must have thought it was going to be their day when the stopper repeated the feat just minutes later.

Sent clear by Danny Drinkwater’s incisive pass, Vardy saw his first shot pushed on to the top of the crossbar before Camp diverted the frontman’s flicked effort away from goal after he had gone clear a second time.

Foxes goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel remained relatively untroubled during the opening period, although he would have had his heart in his mouth when Tommy Elphick’s header from Ian Harte’s probing free kick flashed past the post on the stroke of half-time.

Enlivened by interval substitutes Matt Ritchie and new signing Yann Kermorgant, Cherries improved in the second half with Lewis Grabban’s 25-yard ripsnorter flying narrowly past the upright.

And another top-drawer stop from Camp to push away Anthony Knockaert’s header from close range suggested the omens were in Cherries’ favour.

However, and after referee Darren Drysdale had allowed Marcin Wasilewski to escape with just a yellow card after he had appeared to catch Kermorgant with an elbow, Phillips applied the coup de grâce.

Presented with a free header at the far post, the 40-year-old met Knockaert’s centre, his effort deemed to have crossed the line by assistant Martin Hulme, much to the chagrin of the home players and supporters.

Although Camp felt it had been a close call, he also acknowledged Cherries should have done better: “We can make excuses but he had a free header and it was a disappointing goal to concede from our point of view.”

And Phillips had the final say: “I can clear up the confusion. I had a great view – it was at least two inches over the line!”


Lee Camp

Goalkeeper Camp deservedly walked off with all the man-of-the-match plaudits following an inspired and commanding display between the sticks.

He almost single-handedly kept Cherries in the game after pulling off no fewer than three superb saves in the opening period.

Having parried a ferocious drive from Lloyd Dyer in the 18th minute, Camp then twice denied Jamie Vardy after the striker had gone through one-on-one.

To top off an outstanding individual performance, Camp managed to keep out Anthony Knockaert’s header from point-blank range in the second half.


Cherries: Camp 9.5, Francis 6, Ward 7.5, Elphick 7.5, Harte 7, O’Kane 7, Grabban 6, Arter 6, Surman 6 (Pitman, 83), Fraser (Ritchie, h-t, 7), Rantie 5.5 (Kermorgant, h-t, 7.5).

Unused subs: Cook, Smith, MacDonald, Allsop (g/k).

Booked: Ward, Arter, Camp.

Foxes: Schmeichel, De Laet, Wasilewski, Morgan, Konchesky, Dyer, Drinkwater, James (King, 79), Knockaert, Vardy (Hammond, 88), Nugent (Phillips, 73).

Unused subs: Wood, Mahrez, Schlupp, Logan (g/k).

Booked: Wasilewski.

Referee: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire).

Attendance: 10,719 (including 1,435 away supporters).