WHEN it was announced that the season was over for Charlie Daniels as early as August, the same question reared its head again among the Cherries fanbase – 'who is going to be our long-term left-back?'

It’s a dilemma which Cherries boss Eddie Howe has been attempting to solve for far longer than the six weeks since club stalwart Daniels went down clutching his right knee after delivering a cross against Manchester City.

The former Leyton Orient defender, who won’t play again this season after surgery to repair a dislocated patella, has never let Howe down, nor previous bosses Lee Bradbury and Paul Groves, during his eight-year stay at Cherries.

But at 33 and with fewer than nine months remaining on his contract, eyes naturally wander towards the future make-up of the side.

Howe moved swiftly in the summer to recruit one of the hottest young English left-backs in the country, fighting off reported interest from Liverpool to sign Lloyd Kelly from Bristol City for £13million.

And the 20-year-old looked to be the perfect man to become the long-term successor to Daniels.

However, after picking up an ankle injury in pre-season, Kelly was not available to step in when Daniels suffered his latest setback.

Kelly follows a recent trend of left-back signings at Cherries with Tyrone Mings, who used to ply his trade out wide before moving centrally, arriving from Ipswich Town in 2015, Liverpool’s Brad Smith joining in 2016 and the £10.7million addition of Spaniard Diego Rico in 2018.

Mings left the club in the summer while Smith is currently on loan at MLS outfit Seattle Sounders.

With both Daniels and Kelly out, Rico remained the only senior left-back available to Howe. But by both Rico and Howe’s admission, the former Leganes man has taken some time to adapt to life in England following his arrival. He started just five Premier League games last season.

As such, Rico was not selected for the clash immediately after Daniels’ injury, with Nathan Ake instead shifted from his position at centre-back to plug the gap at Leicester City.

Since that defeat at King Power Stadium, it has been a different story.

With Kelly closing in on a return to fitness, he admitted he had his eyes on the left-back spot and laid out his ambition to the Daily Echo, saying: “I’m just looking forward to making that my position.”

The presence of Kelly back in full training must have served only as motivation for Rico to produce the most impressive spell of his Cherries career to date.

The 26-year-old has now started the past three Premier League fixtures, playing a big role in the club’s rise up the table. He provided his first assist in England during victory over Everton at Vitality Stadium, clipping a ball through for Callum Wilson to score, before adding a second five days later, whipping a corner in for Nathan Ake to head home at Southampton.

There are undoubtedly still issues to iron out defensively for Rico, but his delivery in the final third and from set pieces cannot be questioned in recent weeks, with Wilson recently describing his left-foot as a “wand”.

And it is fair to say Howe has also been impressed by Rico’s improved displays.

Speaking to afcbTV after Saturday’s 2-2 draw with West Ham, Howe said of his new-look full-back pair Jack Stacey and Rico: “Jack did really well and I think Diego the same.

“I think both players have really grown from the responsibility and the challenge they’ve had. There were some really positive moments from both, so I’m delighted with their contributions.”

Rico is also in the running for the club’s player of the month award for September, alongside Wilson, Joshua King and Ake, quite the accolade given he was not even selected at Leicester despite being the only fit left-back in the squad.

Kelly’s only Cherries first-team appearance to date came during the limp performance against Burton Albion in the Carabao Cup, where the League One side cruised through 2-0 with Kelly one of many who struggled to make an impact.

Whether or not the England under-21 ace does indeed make the left back spot his own in the coming months, Cherries appear to be moving towards a position they have not been in for a number of years – having a genuine and healthy battle for the starting left-back spot.