EDDIE Howe hailed the “unbelievable character” of Steve Cook after he returned from injury to captain Cherries to a 5-0 win at Brighton.

Cook had been absent since February due to treatment for an abscess discovered on his groin.

The centre-back spent six days in hospital recovering and admitted he feared for his career.

But after just one training session back with the first team, the 27-year-old made an immediate return to the starting XI.

And his presence was felt from the start, making numerous early interventions to set the platform for Cherries to net five times down the other end and seal the club’s biggest away win in the Premier League.

Howe told the Daily Echo: “Steve Cook returning was huge for us.

“His leadership, mentality and experience was just what the group needed.

“It was a really nasty infection. Speaking to him at the time and afterwards, it was a really low point for him.

“From being a professional footballer one minute to not being able to walk and climb your stairs the next, can be quite destabilising.

“But I think he’s an unbelievable character when the chips are down.

“He hadn’t done a lot of training for Saturday’s game but is someone you can always rely on to give his best and inspire other people.

“Him coming back into the group was a big boost for the lads last week.”

The Cherries boss added: “When you look round in the dressing room before the game and in the tunnel, you look at the players next to you and think ‘we are going to be okay today’.

“Good players give you confidence and I think that’s what he (Cook) did on Saturday.

“I am full of praise for him and everyone who played around him.”

Before the big win at Brighton, Cherries performed poorly in defeats against Leicester City and Burnley.

They also travelled to the Amex having lost 11 of their previous 12 away matches in league and cup.

And Cook admitted it had been difficult to watch the team’s struggles from the sidelines.

He told the Daily Echo: “It was great timing by myself to come back into the team and win 5-0.

“The period I’ve had out was tough to take.

“I was very unlucky but also very lucky with that because I did get told at one point it could’ve threatened my career.

“So to be here six or seven weeks later and winning 5-0 in the Premier League, I’m delighted.

“Whenever you lose, everyone feels it.

“But credit to the boys. We never really doubted ourselves, it was just getting that next win and hopefully being able to kick on.”

Cook was replaced on 87 minutes at the Amex, with Jack Simpson handed just a third Premier League appearance.

And Cook admits he was not too disappointed at being withdrawn.

He said: “I’ve been out a while and I’ve not trained, hardly at all.

“I’m not often pleased about getting subbed but I was quite thankful because my legs were feeling it.”