GOALS from Luka Milivojevic and Jordan Ayew meant a miserable return to Premier League football for Cherries – and left them inside the drop-zone with eight games of their season to play.

The Palace duo punished Eddie Howe’s men as the hosts sunk to a 2-0 defeat to the Eagles at Vitality Stadium.

Milivojevic’s classy free-kick coupled with Ayew’s neat finish, meant Cherries remained on 27 points, inside the bottom three on goal difference.

It had been last July when David Brooks had to be replaced at Brentford in a pre-season friendly, after sustaining an ankle problem.

Two operations and 330 days later, he was back in a Cherries shirt to make his first competitive start of the campaign.

The Wales international returned in midfield, as Eddie Howe’s men were back in Premier League action for the first time in 106 days.

Their last outing was a 2-1 defeat at Liverpool on March 7, a loss which left them in the bottom three for the entirety of the coronavirus lockdown.

But with West Ham going down 2-0 at Wolves earlier in the day, the Dorset outfit knew a point against Palace would take them out the bottom three.

It was the visitors however who took the advantage after just 12 minutes, through a sublime free-kick from Milivojevic.

After Brooks brought down Wilfried Zaha 25 yards out, the Eagles skipper sent the ball over the wall and into the top corner to break the deadlock.

The hosts then looked to create a swift response.

Brooks, operating in a midfield three, sent in a precise cross for the head of Callum Wilson, who rose highest but failed to keep down his header at goal.

And midway through the second half, Eddie Howe’s men fell two goals behind. Zaha again caused problems when he released the overlapping Patrick van Aanholt down the left.

The Dutchman’s centre found the arriving Ayew to drill into the bottom corner on 23 minutes and give the hosts a mountain to climb.

Cherries kept possession well towards the end of the first half but failed to make inroads in a stubborn visiting defence.

Both sides then traded cards. Ayew was cautioned for flattening Jefferson Lerma in midfield before Adam Smith entered the referee’s book for bringing down Zaha on the counter.

Howe decided to look to his nine-man bench at the break and replace Harry Wilson with Arnaut Danjuma – the Dutchman making his first appearance since sustaining a foot injury in December.

The hosts’ wretched injury luck continued however, with frontman Joshua King on the end of a crunching tackle from Gary Cahill.

Norway striker King was forced off with what appeared to be an ankle problem – after a VAR check, Cahill was left unpunished.

Despite the disruption, Cherries started the second half with more gusto. Lewis Cook drilled an effort wide after being teed up on the edge of the box.

Nathan Ake then headed straight into the clutches of Vicente Guaita in the away goal – the centre-half clashing heads with Cahill for his troubles.

Former Chelsea man Cahill then had the chance to kill off the contest with 17 minutes remaining. His volley flew into the empty stand after a free-kick from deep was headed down into his path.

The hosts had a good opportunity to get back into the contest after van Aanholt felled Callum Wilson 20 yards from goal.

But Stanislas’s tame free-kick flew straight into the wall, as Cherries pondered their fourth defeat in five league games.

Cherries: Ramsdale, Stacey, S Cook, Ake, Smith, H Wilson (Danjuma, h-t), L Cook, Lerma, Brooks (Stanislas, 61), King (Solanke, 49), C Wilson.

Unused subs: Gosling, Surman, Rico, Kelly, Mepham, Boruc (g/k).

Booked: Smith, L Cook, S Cook.

Palace: Guaita, Ward, Dann, Cahill, Van Aanholt, Kouyate, Milivojevic (McCarthy, 65), McArthur (Riedewald, 89), J Ayew, Benteke (Townsend, 76), Zaha.

Unused subs: Meyer, Sakho, Tavares, Mitchell, Pierrick, Hennessey (g/k).

Booked: Ayew, Ward.

Referee: Stuart Attwell

VAR: Derek Eaton