BOSS Eddie Howe conceded it was “incredibly difficult” to take points off the Premier League’s powerhouses – but also said he felt Cherries were closing the gap “ever so slightly”.

Howe has this season presided over the club’s best start to a top-flight campaign, with sixth-placed Cherries having taken seven points from their first four games.

Their unbeaten run was halted by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge ahead of the international break, a 2-0 win for the 2017 champions seeing them maintain their 100 per cent record.

Together with Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal have occupied the top-six finishing positions in each of the past two seasons.

In Cherries’ first year in the top flight, Leicester and Southampton managed to break the monopoly – the Foxes winning the title and Saints finishing sixth.

Only Everton (twice), Newcastle and Aston Villa gate-crashed the top six in the six seasons between 2014-15 and 2009-10 – the year Cherries won promotion from League Two.

The size of the task facing Howe's team to lower the colours of the big guns is highlighted by their record against them.

Memorable wins last season at Chelsea and at Vitality Stadium against Arsenal were tempered by defeats in their other 10 games against the top six.

Cherries fared slightly better in their first season, collecting seven points from a victory over Liverpool and draws against the Merseysiders, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Asked by the Daily Echo whether he felt Cherries were closing the gap, Howe replied: “I would say from the top six we would have a lot of work to do.

“But I would have said that in the first year we got into the Premier League because the gap was huge.

“With every year, I would like to think we are closing it ever so slightly.

“Games against them are really tough for every club outside of those teams so we know these challenges are huge.

“But we have risen to them before and picked up important points and our challenge this season is to do the same again.”

Asked whether he felt it would again be a case of the top six against the rest this season, Howe replied: “Without saying yes 100 per cent, I think that will be the Premier League this season.

“It is incredibly difficult to get points off them and I think it is getting harder. There is definitely a gap in quality.”

Howe has injury concerns over Charlie Daniels, Ryan Fraser and Jermain Defoe ahead of the visit of Leicester on Saturday (3pm).

Daniels (knee) and Defoe (hamstring) both missed the defeat at Stamford Bridge, while Fraser (hamstring) picked up his injury on international duty with Scotland.

Howe said he did not anticipate either Daniels or Defoe being sidelined for a long period, while Fraser’s withdrawal from the Scotland squad in midweek was understood to have been precautionary.