EDDIE Howe revealed Chris Mepham was “getting closer” to a return ahead of English football’s shutdown and said the defender “could have a big impact” on Cherries' final nine games of the campaign.

Wales international Mepham last week posted a clip of himself doing kick-ups with a ball on Instagram – after undergoing a knee operation which had ruled him out since January.

The former Brentford star, who sustained the injury in Cherries’ 4-0 FA Cup third-round victory over Luton, had initially been ruled out for 12 weeks.

Mepham had previously played 90 minutes throughout seven top-flight games in a row before being forced to miss the club’s past eight fixtures.

His last league outing came against West Ham on New Year’s Day.

Howe told the Daily Echo: “Chris was another one who was getting closer before the Premier League was suspended.

“He is one that again will come back into the mix – who could have a big impact on our last nine games.

“I think before his injury was his best run of games in the team.

“He was looking really confident, playing very well. He’s such a talented lad, so young as well.

“It will be a big lift to have him back in and around the squad.”

Mepham is one of a number of Cherries defensive stars forced to continue their respective recoveries from home, amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

Steve Cook is recovering from a hamstring injury sustained at Liverpool in the club’s most recent Premier League encounter, while Charlie Daniels continues to do rehab after dislocating the patella in his right knee back in August.

Lloyd Kelly is yet to make a league appearance this season after being plagued by ankle and thigh problems.

“You have a different dynamic with injured players and how they have maintained their treatment and their recovery processes,” said Howe.

“There has been quite a bit for the staff to think about, even though we are not directly seeing the players every day.”