SOMETIMES in football you do not know what you have got until it is gone.

Fortunately for Cherries, Steve Cook’s absence from the starting XI was a short separation.

Both Nathan Ake and Chris Mepham rightly received praise for their performances over the past two months while Cook was sidelined with a groin issue.

However, the wider influence Cook has for Eddie Howe’s squad can be highlighted after Saturday’s 5-0 win at Brighton.

He slotted into the left centre-back position alongside Mepham and kicked, blocked and headed clear from the first minute of the clash.

The nature of Cherries’ goals grabbed plenty of attention but two moments from the 27-year-old, with the game still in the balance, should not go unnoticed.

A firm but fair sliding challenge informed Brighton they faced a tough afternoon and midway through the first half he made an exceptional clearance in front of his own goal just fractions before taking a clattering from Shane Duffy.

Cook wears his heart on his sleeve and puts his body on the line without hesitation.

The former Brighton man’s recent seven-game spell out of the matchday squad was the longest period of unavailability since he joined the Dorset club in October 2011.

In his eight seasons at Vitality Stadium, Cook has made 302 appearances and, as a defender, netted an impressive 20 goals.

From the beginning of Cherries’ memorable 2014-15 Championship-winning season until his final appearance against Liverpool before his period in the treatment room, Cook started 177 out of 186 league matches, missing two through injury and being named as a substitute for the other seven.

Throughout this stretch, the Hastings-born star wrestled knocks and niggles but never showed signs of inhibition when on the pitch as he stuck to the task at hand until early February.

After Cook missed this season’s 2-2 draw with Wolves, ending his 14-month run of Premier League starts, boss Howe told the Daily Echo: “Cookie has been a model of consistency in terms of his selection.

“He has always been a player who has played through injuries where some players might not have.

“I remember a game at Crystal Palace where he thought he might have pulled a muscle in the warm-up but still played and played very well.

“But this time it got to the stage where he felt he couldn’t do himself or the team justice, so we hope he has a speedy recovery.”

The condition escalated when a routine injection became infected. After being unable to walk down a set of stairs, Cook spent six nights in hospital on a drip and was told at one point his career could have been cut short.

However, following a potentially accelerated return to training, he featured as a defensive linchpin, along with the captain’s armband, at the Amex at a time when his team longed for his presence.

Howe’s side certainly regained their identity in Sussex. While Cook’s return was not the sole reason for this, Cherries will not want to test the waters of another seven-game spell without him any time soon.