Cherries produced a sparkling performance in the face of mounting speculation over Eddie Howe’s future to leapfrog local rivals Southampton into the automatic promotion places.

Goals from Danny Hollands, Liam Feeney and Marc Pugh, with a cheeky penalty, proved more than enough to see off a poor Plymouth Argyle side at Dean Court this afternoon.

The 3-0 victory saw attention switch back to on-field matter after a week of reports linking Dean Court boss Howe with a move away from his boyhood club.

He is understood to be the leading contender for vacancies at London clubs Crystal Palace and Charlton Athletic.

But his high-flying side put that to one side to turn in another dominant home display, with attacking pair Marc Pugh and Danny Ings both in fine form.

Had it not been for former Cherries loan keeper David Button – and the intervention of the woodwork on three occasions – the winning margin could have been even greater.

Howe made three changes to the team that beat Brentford, with Steve Fletcher, Hollands and Warren Cummings all coming into the starting XI.

Shaun Cooper and Rhoys Wiggins were not named in the matchday squad, with Lee Bradbury dropping to the bench.

Back-up goalkeeper Dan Thomas, sidelined by a long-term knee injury, returned as Shwan Jalal’s deputy. Fellow stopper Jon Stewart was ruled out through illness.

For the visitors, unbeaten in five, top scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips was absent following transfer talks in Reading last night.

Cherries, spurred on by the prospect of leapfrogging neighbours Southampton, made a perfect start under clear blue skies.

Hollands, racing on to a pass from the excellent Pugh, was the man to set them on their way. He made no mistake with his trusty left foot from 12 yards, hammering the ball past Button.

Top scorer Pugh came close to doubling the advantage but, as he looked to latch on to a Fletcher return pass, he was denied by Button’s brave block.

Argyle’s Joe Mason tried his luck from 18 yards but failed to test Shwan Jalal.

Button, who endured a forgettable spell at Dean Court, looks a far more accomplished performer these days and produced a fine double save to keep out Anton Robinson on 29 minutes.

Ings did well to control a Cummings cross and cleverly play in Robinson, but the midfielder saw Button parry his first drive before recovering well to collect the rebound.

Button continued his good work to deny Ings a first senior goal on 34 minutes. The 18-year-old unleashed a fierce shot after Kari Arnason had headed clear Pugh’s cross, but Argyle’s keeper leapt to his left to push it to safety.

The young stopper then made his best save of the afternoon so far, Ings again the unfortunate Cherries player. The youth team graduate showed his two-footed abilities by hammering a volley goalwards with his left peg this time, only for Button to produce a brilliant one-handed tip over the bar.

But the hosts eventually got the second goal their pressure warranted when Feeney registered his second league strike of the campaign, seven minutes before the interval.

After both Robinson and Jason Pearce had seen efforts blocked in a frantic scramble, sparked by Pugh’s cross, Feeney’s sizzling shot somehow squeezed past the defender guarding the near post.

Argyle, who offered virtually nothing to trouble the Cherries defence in the opening period, started brighter after the break.

And they could have found themselves on level terms but for a sharp save from Dean Court number one Jalal.

Yannick Bolasie was the man to go close, roaring clear of Marvin Bartley and the covering Pugh to put himself in space 20 yards from goal. With little options around him, he went for goal and saw his powerful right-footer well saved by Jalal.

But the signs of a fightback were brief as Cherries made it 3-0 on 55 minutes.

Robinson’s slaloming run saw him arrive in the penalty area in a promising position, where Onisimor Bhasera felled the Cherries midfielder.

Referee Kevin Wright pointed to the spot and Pugh did the rest, the wing wizard’s 11th third tier goal of the season coming from a delightful chip past Button, who dived the wrong way.

Pugh almost got his second moments later after Button had fumbled a Feeney shot, but the keeper recovered excellently to save with an outstretched leg.

The former Hereford United playmaker was now involved in most of Cherries’ best work and he saw another effort beat Button, only to clip the far post and roll agonisingly the wrong side of the upright.

Substitute Lee Bradbury, on in place of Fletcher, was also left to rue the woodwork when the same post kept out his close range effort.

There was still time for the woodwork to deny Michael Symes, whose looping header bounced to safety.

Cherries: (4-4-2) Jalal; Smith, Bartley, Pearce, Cummings; Feeney (Symes, 84), Robinson, Hollands, Pugh; Fletcher (Bradbury, 65), Ings (Taylor, 88). Unused subs: Arter, Purches, Partington, Thomas (g/k).

Booked: Pearce

Argyle: (4-2-3-1) Button; Zubar, Nelson, N’Gala, Bhasera; Fletcher, Arnason (Duguid, 60); Clark, Mason (Paterson, 62), Bolasie; Patterson. Unused subs: Stephens, Peterlin, Timar, Larrieu (g/k).

Booked: Patterson

Referee: Kevin Wright (Cambridgeshire)

Attendance: 7,589 (including 988 visiting supporters)