BOSS Eddie Howe admitted a failure to improve Cherries’ league finishing position for a seventh time in succession would be a “huge frustration” to him.

But although surpassing last season’s points tally of 46 was now out of reach, Howe said he was more concerned with his team’s recent performances.

Howe was adamant his players had not taken their foot off the gas in their past few games and said he could not fault them for a lack of effort.

But he conceded he could not find any positives from their dispiriting 2-1 defeat at Southampton on Saturday – their third consecutive reverse during a five-match winless run.

Cherries suffered just two defeats in their final 12 games as they secured ninth place in the Premier League last season – the highest finishing position in club history.

Victory over Burnley in their last home match of 2016-17 guaranteed Howe would improve Cherries’ league standing for the sixth time since he first took the reins in 2009.

Howe has guided Cherries to the brink of safety this season with a run of just two defeats in 14 games between Boxing Day and the start of April seeing them pull clear of the bottom three.

But defeats by Liverpool, Manchester United and Southampton in their past three games has seen them stuck on 38 points, just six above the drop zone.

Asked for his thoughts on not being able to beat last season’s points haul, Howe said: “It is a huge frustration for me because we want to keep growing and improving and the standards we have set have always been to push so hard to achieve that.

“But the points tally is not the biggest measure for me. It is inside knowing how we are performing and how the team is looking to grow and improve.

“I have been frustrated by that in recent weeks, I am not going to deny it. We haven’t had the best run of performances.”

Asked whether he felt his players had eased off the pedal in recent games, Howe replied: “I think that is a really difficult question to answer because I can’t put myself in their heads.

“From my perspective, certainly not. And from the preparation we have given the players, certainly not and I haven’t seen that on a day-to-day basis.

“We came up against Liverpool and Manchester United and the Southampton game was one we felt we should have done better in. But in terms of the players’ effort, I am not going to start criticising that.”

Asked whether the possibility of finishing ahead of Southampton would represent a successful season, Howe said: “I am not going to start talking about finishing above any team at the moment.

“Until we do our job and get the points we need that would be stupid of me and it wouldn’t send the right message to my players. We have to try to beat Swansea.”