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Gary O’Neill should be a candidate for Manager of the Year

As recently as mid-February, Bournemouth found themselves firmly inside the bottom three at the foot of the Premier League table. Only Southampton sat beneath the Cherries as they went seven matches without a win following the World Cup break. At that point, they appeared destined for relegation back to the Championship.

The picture has changed a lot since then. While their survival isn’t yet official, Bournemouth have surely already started planning for next season with Gary O’Neill’s team now up to 13th in the table, nine points above the drop zone. Sunday’s 4-1 demolition of Leeds United showcased just how far Bournemouth have come.

A run of six wins from nine matches has caught many by surprise, but Bournemouth’s uptick in form hasn’t happened by accident. Instead, it is a product of the good work done by O’Neill. If the Cherries stay up and keep their place in the Premier League for next season, the former midfielder should be in the discussion for Manager of the Year.

Of course, Pep Guardiola will likely be the frontrunner for that award should Manchester City finish top of the pile, and certainly if his team win a Treble. Achieving such a consistent level of success over a number of seasons is the mark of a generational coach, but City have the strongest squad in the Premier League – they were favourites to win the title. They have achieved exactly what they were expected to.

O’Neill, on the other hand, has achieved so much more with a squad that looks to be the weakest in England’s top flight. Contrast the talent within the Bournemouth and Chelsea squads, then consider that the two teams are currently tied on the same number of points (39) – the scale of the Cherries’ overachievement is clear.

Jefferson Lerma, Dominic Solanke, Marcus Tavernier and Philip Billing have all thrived in recent matches with O’Neill imposing an attacking, attractive style of play. Bournemouth aren’t playing with their backs to the wall, they are imposing their own game on opponents and earning results doing so. O’Neill has instilled a number of principles that should sustain his team beyond this season.

“I’m just really proud of a group I’ve worked with for quite a while now in different positions,” said O’Neill when asked if he sees himself as a candidate for the Manager of the Year award in the Premier League. “To have had as many questions asked of them as they have, to have been written off by so many people and to get to 39 points with four games still to play is an incredible effort. I’m very proud of the group and that is everyone. Whether you have played one game, 34 games or been in the treatment room, physios, everyone has played a part. It’s been a big effort to get to this point.”

Bournemouth can jump above Chelsea in the Premier League table with a win over Frank Lampard’s team this weekend, and the way both teams are trending the Cherries will fancy their chances of claiming all three points. O’Neill is maximising the talent at his disposal. Chelsea, on the other hand, are wasting the quality within their squad.

After Chelsea on Saturday, Bournemouth fixtures against Crystal Palace, Manchester United and Everton to close out the season. There is still some work to be done, but another season in the Premier League would be a fine reward. Guardiola’s name will be on the Manager of the Year shortlist and O’Neill should be included too. That would also be a worthwhile reward for a job well done.

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