MANAGER Eddie Howe stressed Cherries had to “perform straight away” in a bid to beat the Premier League drop – as they head into a defining nine-game period.

The Dorset club had been set to go back into contact training for the first time today, ahead of their return to top-flight action next month.

Cherries are currently 18th in the table, inside the bottom three on goal difference behind Watford.

But Howe insists improved performances before the break, as well as having key personnel back in training following injury, could provide a boost.

He told Sky Sports: “It’s almost a mini-season of nine games.

“I think going into the break we had a number of injuries. We really did have a backlog.

“I thought we were actually playing really well. The last game against Liverpool (on March 7) was a really strong performance, then going back we were unlucky against Burnley and Sheffield United.

“We felt like the performances had turned a corner. The results were still inconsistent but the performances were a lot better.

“I hope we can carry the momentum of those performances - added with the players we have back from injury – can make a real difference for us.

“With nine games it’s such a small amount. We need to get results quickly. We are in the bottom three, so we know we have to act and we have to perform straight away.”

Reflecting on the lockdown period, the Cherries boss said he had almost tried to offer his squad “fatherly advice” to check their wellbeing.

“It felt quite strange to be cut adrift from the squad, in terms of seeing them,” added Howe.

“I spoke to them as regularly as you can do on the phone without being a bit of a nuisance to them.

“Some of them are just so young, and you are almost trying to give them fatherly advice and check they are okay.

“It can be a long way from home – sometimes in a foreign country – all these things need to be considered.

“It wasn’t just me as part of that team. We have a team of people trying to make sure the players have every need catered for.

“But it’s the mental strain, the mental side of life that you need to make sure they are prepared for.”