CHERRIES remain stuck in the relegation zone after slumping to a lacklustre 3-0 defeat against fellow strugglers Watford at Vitality Stadium.

Eddie Howe’s men sat a point and a place above the Hornets heading into the match but end the day below the visitors after a goals from Abdoulaye Doucoure, Troy Deeney and Roberto Pereyra.

Cherries slip to 19th in the table, with just one win in their past 11 league games, now two points adrift of safety after another disappointing home display.

There was a big boost prior to kick-off with the returns of both Nathan Ake and Adam Smith from injury to play at full-back, with the pair missing since early December due to hamstring and ankle injuries respectively.

They were two of four changes from the 4-0 loss at West Ham last time out in the Premier League with Ryan Fraser also coming in.

The final switch was notable with Mark Travers making his for his first Premier League start of the season.

Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale missed out with a minor hamstring injury, instead taking a spot alongside the fans in the Steve Fletcher Stand.

The three others to drop out of the side were Lewis Cook, Diego Rico and injured Chris Mepham.

Smith looked lively upon his return and a trademark burst from the right saw him fire an effort into the box which almost fell for Dominic Solanke, before Ben Foster pounced.

Harry Wilson was the next to test the former England goalkeeper, who scrambled across to parry away a long-range free-kick.

In a game of few chances, Watford looked to threaten as Cherries grew increasingly sloppy in possession. The visitors almost punished a slack pass from Simon Francis, with Deulofeu finding his way into the box only to be denied by a smart low Travers stop. Adam Masina headed just wide from the resulting corner.

Dan Gosling had to be alert to make a brave block from a Doucoure shot, while the only effort at the other end saw Jefferson Lerma balloon an effort well over the bar.

Just as a tight half looked to be petering out, Watford got their noses in front after a gift from the hosts. Francis returned a short goal kick to goalkeeper Travers, whose clearance fell straight to Ismaila Sarr. The winger progressed ahead of Ake and picked out Doucoure unmarked in the centre, who gleefully swept it home.

Cherries looked for an instant response but went in behind at the break as Masina got back to slide in and block.

Sarr missed a good chance to double the lead soon after the restart while Callum Wilson twice fired wide for Cherries before Howe turned to his bench, introducing Philip Billing and Lewis Cook.

But the changes did not have the desired effect as the Hornets doubled their lead. Sarr was the creator, twice evading a sliding Steve Cook before picking out Doucoure six yards out. While his shot was blocked, captain Deeney was on hand to slam home the rebound.

Travers denied Deeney a second soon after before Francis headed behind a Deulofeu effort.

Howe made his final roll of the dice with 15 minutes to play, throwing on Sam Surridge for his first Cherries appearance at Vitality Stadium.

But the change could not yield any late pressure as Watford eased to a third win in four league games to jump out of the drop zone under new boss Nigel Pearson, wrapping up the win when substitute Pereyra fired in after Fraser had cleared an Andre Gray effort off the line.

Cherries: Travers; A Smith, Francis, S Cook, Ake; H Wilson (Surridge, 75), Lerma (Billing, 59), Gosling (L Cook, 59), Fraser; Solanke, C Wilson.

Unused subs: Simpson, Rico, Surman, Boruc (g/k).

Booked: Smith.

Watford: Foster; Mariappa, Dawson, Cathcart, Masina; Chalobah, Capoue; Sarr (Pereyra, 82), Doucoure (Quina, 86), Deulofeu (Gray, 90+1); Deeney.

Unused subs: Holebas, Dele-Bashiru, Success, Gomes (g/k).

Booked: Deeney.

Referee: Mike Dean.

Attendance: 10,384.