EDDIE Howe admitted he expected Chris Mepham to be “naturally disappointed” by being taken off early against Southampton – but insisted: “He reacted with great professionalism.”

The 21-year-old, who had started as one of three central defenders at St Mary’s, was replaced by Ryan Fraser after just 23 minutes during the 3-3 draw, as Howe adjusted his side’s shape.

Wales international Mepham had a lengthy discussion with the Cherries boss in the technical area before taking his place among the rest of the substitutes after being brought off.

Explaining the early switch, Howe told the Daily Echo: “It wasn’t anything against Chris, it was for the good of the team.

“I needed to change things. Sometimes you can leave things and the game may have gone.

“I felt I needed to act, it’s not something I’d necessarily want to do but I think sometimes you have to be prepared to make that decision, if it’s for the benefit of everybody.”

He added: “Unfortunately, Chris was the victim of that.

“He will naturally be disappointed. I’d expect him to be but you have always got to think of how people will observe your reaction.

“A lot of people would look and see how he did react – he reacted with great professionalism, which shows great respect for his team-mates.

“I wouldn’t expect anything less from the type of player he is.

“He is very level-headed and has a very good attitude and I’d expect him just to brush that off because it wasn’t as if I was taking him off for a straight replacement. It was very much with the shape of the team in mind.”

Winger Fraser would go on to cross for Callum Wilson’s late leveller to seal a point for the Dorset club against their south coast rivals.

Howe revealed he had opted not to start Fraser at Saints due to a calf problem.

Quizzed on the introduction of Fraser, the boss added: “My question to him was ‘if I bring you on now, can you last the game?’ He said yes and then I had no problem doing it.

“When we scored the goal, Ryan was playing left wing-back, David Brooks was playing right wing-back.

“We had to really go for it with Dominic (Solanke), Joshua King and Callum Wilson in our frontline.

“You could see how attacking that was and thankfully we got our rewards for that. It was great to see Ryan put a great ball in and Cal finish it away.”

Fraser’s assist for Wilson at Saints meant the duo had combined for 13 top-flight goals this season.

The pair are one behind legendary double-act Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton for most goal combinations in a Premier League campaign.