ON THIS day three years ago, disaster struck – again.

During a 1-1 Championship draw with Preston North End on March 6, 2021, Lewis Cook went down with a knee injury and hobbled off at Deepdale, aided by physio Steve Hard.

Boss Jonathan Woodgate was hopeful initially that the injury was “not that bad”.

As it transpired, it was bad, and Cook was facing up to second long road to recovery after again suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his right knee.

Bournemouth Echo:

His gruelling rehab was excellently displayed in Relentless, a documentary filmed by the club and still available to watch via YouTube.

It had already been a huge achievement by Cook to recover from his first serious knee injury in December 2018, to return to the pitch nine months later.

While he was unable to prevent relegation from the Premier League that season, the first campaign back in the Championship saw Cook hit a patch of excellent form, his best in a Cherries shirt. Despite being in the second tier, Cook still fielded some questions on if he felt he could force his way back into the England set-up.

But he would not complete the full season, his spell of regular football cut short at Deepdale.

Eight months to the day later, Cook returned to the field, in a 4-0 win over Swansea City, going on to play a key role in central midfield alongside Jefferson Lerma and Philip Billing as Cherries were promoted back to the top flight under Scott Parker at the end of that season.

Bournemouth Echo:

When Gary O’Neil got the job as head coach, the one-time England international featured regularly initially, before picking up a knee issue, thankfully not as serious as the previous ones, in a defeat at Brentford in January 2023.

He never truly regained his place back in the team last season, on the bench most weeks with Joe Rothwell preferred.

Fast forward to the summer and O’Neil was replaced by Andoni Iraola, while big money was spent on two new central midfielders in Tyler Adams and Alex Scott as Lerma exited.

Exactly how and where Cook would fit in looked uncertain.

As it transpired, Cook is now as important, if not more, to Cherries than he has ever been, playing quite possibly the best football of his career.

The 27-year-old has started 20 of the club’s 26 Premier League matches this season. He sat out two due to a senseless red card picked up against Wolves, also missing three games due to knocks. The other saw him come on at half-time as he worked his way back to fitness.

Bournemouth Echo:

Cook has never been a big provider of goals, or assists, despite in previous seasons not being totally restricted to just sitting at the base of the midfield, often having Lerma there to cover many of the defensive duties.

In 206 appearances for Cherries, Cook has scored just two goals, providing 11 assists. Two of those assists came in Sunday’s 2-0 win at Burnley.

With that in mind, the question in the past often popped up asking what exactly is Cook’s role in the team?

With Lerma’s replacement, Adams, struggling with injury, somebody needed to fill in as the deepest midfielder at the start of this season. Iraola turned to Cook and has never looked back.

Asked where he saw Cook fitting into the team when he took over in the summer, Iraola told the Daily Echo: “I think our first idea with Lew was probably for him to continue in the number eight position, where he was playing last season also.

“But I think his defensive understanding is really good.

“He is quite aggressive and he has adapted really well to this holding midfielder position.

“He is also gaining confidence on the ball.

“He is adding some long balls that I think are good for our team and we hope he continues with this level.”

Bournemouth Echo:

Iraola has not stopped there, moving Cook even further back to play in defence, both centrally and on the right at times, when the team is chasing a game.

The first time that was implemented came at half-time of the FA Cup tie at QPR in January, Cherries 2-0 down at the break, before going on to win 3-2.

“I've been trying to work on the defensive side of my game this year and I think (against QPR) obviously making blocks and clearances and things was a good addition,” Cook told the Daily Echo.

“It's a lot different (to being in midfield). You're against some big, big strikers and probably not going win all the duels and headers, but just trying to be clever.

“Tommy (Elphick) helped me a little bit before I went out, and it was a big help.”

Cook again filled in at centre-back for a big chunk of last week’s cup loss to Leicester City, Iraola after the game saying the York-born ace was “one of the best players we had” on the night.

Discussing the former Leeds United man’s increased versatility, Iraola said: “I think he has been very good all season.

“I think he is an inside player, obviously, he is a midfielder.

“But he has the physical attributes to survive anywhere.

“He can challenge a winger one against one, because he has the speed.

“And probably not to start the games, but in games we are losing and have to take some risks, we think we can be on the ball and he can help us in the build-up.

“Probably if we are defending low, in the box, he will suffer in aerial duels. But I think in some scenarios, for some minutes, he can help us there.”

Bournemouth Echo:

Describing his time at centre-back himself, Cook said: “It’s a little bit easier when we’ve got possession. But it’s not too dissimilar to playing defensive midfield.

“You’ve got win your headers and your duels, but it’s just the positioning that can be a bit tricky to get used to.

“But we’ve got Zaba (Illia Zabarnyi), Meps (Chris Mepham), Marcos (Senesi) and Lloydy (Lloyd Kelly), whoever is playing there, who can help me when I’m in there to try and get that right.”

Cook has forged an impressive, if unplanned, central midfield partnership with Ryan Christie this season.

Looking to force his way in has been the highly talented youngster Scott, who played the second half at Turf Moor on Sunday alongside Cook.

Speaking about Cook, the 20-year-old told the Daily Echo: “Amazing, he’s a massive player for us.

“On the ball and off the ball he’s huge. He’s probably one of the nicest guys to be around in the changing room and to learn off as well. He’s a top, top player.

“He’s played however many games in the Premier League so to have him next to me, guiding me through games. When I’m maybe not having a good game, I know he’s there and he’s going to protect me and get me on the ball when he needs to.

“He’s a top, top guy and obviously a top player. He’s showed that (on Sunday) and he’s been showing that throughout the whole season.”

Bournemouth Echo:

Speaking after the win at Burnley, Iraola added: “I think Lewis was really good. When we were struggling in the first half, he kept the composure of the team.

“He played some very smart balls behind their centre-backs. Lew also contributed with assists.”

If plans are not in place already, the club will surely be looking to tie the midfielder down to an extended contract, his current deal set to expire in the summer of 2025.

Speaking last month, after reaching 200 appearances for the club, Cook said: “I feel like it's always been a positive place.

“It's always had that family feel, like I always say, and I think now especially there's a really big project and you can see clearly.

“It's somewhere I'm delighted to be.

“A great group of lads that I always mention.

"It's just a nice place to be at the moment.”

Discussing his own recent form, after adding two assists to his tally at Burnley, Cook said: “I’m happy. I say it all the time and it’s probably getting a bit boring now, but I’m just happy to be playing football.

“I’m enjoying it and obviously when you get three points it’s even better. So I’m delighted to be playing and enjoying this season.”

Speaking after the severity of Cook’s injury three years ago at Deepdale became apparent, Woodgate said: “The only person who can deal with it is you.

“Okay, you get the support from the staff at the football club and your family but you’ve got to be mentally tough and deal with it.

“He will do that. I know what he’s like as a character, I love him as a character. I adore his personality.

“He’s type of lad you’d go to war with. He’s one of those characters.”

Asked how proud he is of how he has battled back to become such a key player at the club again, Cook said: “I think it’s just a bit of hard work, a bit of everyone helping me to get back here and just a bit of luck I think.

“I’ve had two serious ones, but some people can get a lot worse.

"I’m just happy to be playing.”