CHERRIES’ attacking prowess draws regular praise from fans and pundits up and down the country.

The quartet of Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser, David Brooks and Joshua King dazzled during the 2018-19 campaign, helping the club to a Premier League goals tally of 56, the highest amount the club have managed since promotion to the top flight in 2015. But it is at the opposite end of the pitch where Cherries have impressed most during the early stages of the 2019-20 season.

Eddie Howe’s side have not yet managed to hit their free-flowing best in attacking areas, taking an hour to register a shot on target in the opener against Sheffield United before defender Chris Mepham broke the deadlock.

Cherries then raced into a two-goal lead at Aston Villa on Saturday but only tested goalkeeper Tom Heaton twice after Harry Wilson’s 12th minute strike, having to dig in to hold onto an impressive 2-1 win.

The defensive record of the Dorset club has been, understandably at times, much-criticised in recent years with 70 Premier League goals shipped last season, the third worst tally in the division.

But the early signs this campaign look promising.

Aside from two defensive lapses against the Blades – one in the first minute which goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was on hand to rescue before the last-gasp Billy Sharp equaliser – and a heavy Charlie Daniels touch at Villa Park where Ramsdale was again on hand to make the stop, the defence has looked stable.

It took a stunning long-range Douglas Luiz strike for Villa to get back into the game at the weekend while the whole back four of Adam Smith, Steve Cook, Nathan Ake and Daniels produced a colossal display to temper the hosts’ attacking threat.

It was a similar story in week one where Cherries, who opted for a back five including Mepham and Diego Rico, kept Sheffield United quiet for the majority of the contest.

Achieving victory over a newly-promoted side such as Aston Villa may not seem such a huge feat, but given Cherries had only picked up eight points from a possible 33 on the road against sides coming up from the Championship in the past, it felt like a significant result at a raucous venue.

Speaking after the win at Villa Park, Smith, bloodied following a boot to the face, told the Daily Echo: “I think attacking-wise we couldn’t really do our thing.

“I think we had to battle and defend a lot of crosses and stop a lot of crosses. Especially for Chaz (Daniels), he’s been out for four months so to come back in and it was a hard, physical game and I thought he did really well.”

He added: “It wasn’t an enjoyable game to be honest, it was quite ugly. I think we just had to dig in and battle.

“It wasn’t really a game that we could have our passing game, so we had to battle it out.”

The signs were there during pre-season. The final four friendlies of the summer saw Cherries keep two clean sheets, against West Brom and Lyon, and only concede late on in victory at Brentford. The anomaly was the crazy 4-3 defeat to Lazio where individual errors handed the Italians victory, but the back five that day did include midfielder Matt Butcher and three men under the age of 24, as well as the returning Daniels for his first appearance since kneecap surgery in April.

The back four selected at Villa Park was also telling.

On Ake’s first game for the club as a permanent signing following his big-money move from Chelsea, at West Brom on the opening day of the 2017-18 campaign, he alongside Smith, Cook, and Daniels were the defence which ended the contest, and the same quartet also started the following week against Watford.

Fast forward two years and whilst almost £40million has been spent on new defenders, the same four also started at Villa Park.

That familiarity can only help, and with the protection offered in midfield by Philip Billing and Jefferson Lerma, Cherries are looking to right the wrongs of last season in defence. Whichever formation Howe plumps for on Sunday, the defenders know the step up in test will be huge when free-flowing, high-scoring Manchester City head to Vitality Stadium. But the early performances give encouragement that things could be heading in the right direction at the back.