BOURNEMOUTH midfielder Eunan O’Kane has admitted that the Cherries began the season with an inferiority complex.
Promoted from League One last term, the south coast side were thumped 6-1 at Watford and 5-1 by Huddersfield in their first two away games and by early December lay just four points above the relegation zone.
But a goal-laden run of eight wins in ten games since the start of March has seen Eddie Howe’s men climb to within touching distance of a play-off place – and O’Kane says it’s all down to their new found confidence.
“The Championship is a bit intimidating,” said the 23-year-old, who started out at Coleraine in his native Northern Ireland before joining Torquay in 2010.
“Although you want to be there, there’s also an element of doubt.
“You play in those games where you get beat four, five, six and you go home and ask yourself ‘Am I good enough to be at this level? Can I really do this?’
“But in the end, you have to answer those questions yourself. You’re not there by chance or because somebody is doing you a favour. You’re there because your performances earned you the right to play in this division.
“At first, it’s intimidating going to places like Watford, who are a huge club. Going to Reading, to Leeds. The names alone are enough to make you stop and think.
“But you have to get past that. You have to think ‘Yeah, they’re a massive club. But they’re in the Championship because they deserve to be here, just like us’.
“Once you get past the history and the reputation, you realise that on the pitch, you’re as good as they are. I think that’s the reason we’ve picked up so many points since Christmas – we’ve stopped playing the name and started playing the game.”
O’Kane also hailed the Cherries’ back four, which has finally stopped shipping goals for fun.
At the turn of the year only Millwall had conceded more goals than the Cherries, who had been breached 46 times in 27 games.
However, after a few home truths in the dressing room and some astute coaching from Eddie Howe, O’Kane and his comrades have conceded just ten goals in the 14 games since.
“The first few months of the season, we got handed some harsh lessons,” says the Ireland Under-21 international. “And it was obvious why – we just weren’t tight enough.
“So we sat down and had conversations, highlighted exactly where we went wrong when we got those beatings.
“Over a period of time that’s given people a better understanding of their own jobs and made us all feel more responsible for keeping the goals out. We all work tremendously hard when we don’t have the ball and that’s been a big part of it, definitely over the last month.
“At the start of the season, we’d go behind early then lose four and five on quite a few occasions.
“But since the turn of the year, those kind of performances have completely gone out of the window.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that we’ve cracked it. But we are a lot more mature and we are a lot more solid.
“We’re still trying to play the free-flowing football that the manager and the fans here expect, but no longer at the expense of clean sheets.”