BOSS Eddie Howe backed midfielder Lewis Cook to get back to his best levels and added: “Behind the scenes he has been top class.”

The 23-year-old made his return to a Premier League starting XI for the first time since New Year’s Day, during Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea.

England international Cook had played just 36 minutes combined over Cherries’ previous six top-flight fixtures – including being an unused substitute against Aston Villa, Sheffield United and Burnley.

Asked about the York-born ace’s return to his line-up, Howe told the Daily Echo: “He did really well. I was very pleased.

“Especially in the second half, I think he came into the game. He showed his qualities in the spell that we were on top – his technical ability really shone out.

“He has been patient. He has had to wait for his opportunity back in the team but I thought he did very well on Saturday.”

Cook has started 10 times in the top-flight this season, having returned in September from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

“Lewis has worked at his game. He’s gone away and, with the help of the coaches, he has continued to develop,” said Howe.

“He’s had a very serious injury. We’ve nursed him back to try to get back to his very best levels.

“I still feel he is on that path but Saturday was a sign that I believe he will definitely get there again and build momentum to produce the performances we know he is capable of on a consistent basis.

“He is a very professional lad. He really is very level-headed, very focused on what he wants to achieve.

“I was delighted for him on Saturday because his process to coming back to full fitness from that serious knee injury hasn’t always been a smooth one.

“Everyone will just see what happens on the pitch but behind the scenes he has been top class.”

Cook signed for Cherries from Leeds for £7million in July 2016. He has played 77 times in all competitions, registering three assists.

Asked about his lack of match action since the turn of 2020, midfield ace Cook said: “It’s been tough, it’s been a challenge coming out the team for a while – it’s been hard.

“Obviously you get a bit of self-doubt come into your mind but the gaffer has been great and the players have been great.

“We have a lot of quality players in the position I’m in.

“We are all behind each other and we are out there to get the three points.

“No matter who is playing, we will give it our all.

“I’ve trained well, kept going and I got my chance to play on Saturday. I really enjoyed it. It was a tough game – one of the ones you want to be involved in.

“You come back from an injury and you do well, there’s always going to be periods where you might dip – it’s just like anything with form.

“I am glad to get out of that and do all right on Saturday. It was a good one for me and hopefully it can continue.”

Asked whether this season has made him mentally stronger, he said: “Definitely. The injury was one thing but coming back from that and playing at the highest level is another thing.

“It’s all part and parcel of having something like that. Hopefully I just can find some form and put it behind me.”

Cook will hope to be involved when Cherries make the trip to runaway league leaders Liverpool on Saturday (12.30pm).