by Liam Grace (@GraceyMedia)
Eddie Howe believes AFC Bournemouth are “returning to their best” as a 3-1 win over Championship side Middlesbrough on Tuesday secured only their second Carabao Cup quarter-final spot in the club’s 118-year history.
It was a special night for Cherries duo Callum Wilson and 20-year-old debutant Jack Simpson as Howe made seven changes to the side that beat Stoke in the Premier League on Saturday.
Wilson, making his first appearance in almost 11 months after a lengthy knee injury, bagged a goal and assist as the Cherries cruised into the last eight and recorded back-to-back wins in all competitions after a poor start to the season.
The 25-year-old Wilson, who scored 20 Championship goals in 2014-15 to help Bournemouth reach the Premier League, recently returned to the club’s development team after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament for the second time in two years at Crystal Palace in January.
“The biggest compliment I can pay Callum is that he played 90 minutes and it didn’t really look hard for him physically,” said Howe after the game.
“Physically he was good, his touch was good, I thought he was excellent tonight.
“All strikers thrive on scoring goals and he’s taken his penalty very well. I was very pleased with his assist for the third goal, too.”
Simpson, a product of the club’s youth academy, scored the first goal and won the penalty for the second after being brought down in the box by Middlesbrough’s Dael Fry.
The centre-back looked calm and focused in the heart of Bournemouth’s defence, playing alongside the experienced Steve Cook, making a number of key tackles and interceptions.
“It’s great for Jack. He’s got a really nice mentality and a good attitude. He wasn’t fazed by tonight at all, you could see that in the build up and also when we played Napoli in pre-season.
“He did really well that night so I had no hesitation in playing him. He was very composed on the ball and defended well. He was around some experienced players and I think that helped him.
“It’s a great story, he scored and got the penalty for us so it’s a great night for him and one that he will remember with his family I’m sure.”
Bournemouth progressed to the last 16 after defeating Birmingham and Brighton in the second and third rounds respectively, and now make the quarter-finals for only the second time after achieving the same feat in the 2014-15 season, losing out to Liverpool 3-1 at the Vitality Stadium.
The Cherries could face Arsenal, Bristol City, Leicester, Manchester United, Manchester City or the winners of Chelsea vs. Everton and Tottenham vs. West Ham in the last eight as Howe looks to make more history on the south coast.
“It was great when we got to the quarter-finals before. We went on a really nice run, we were in the Championship at the time so to do that again is great and we’re looking to beat that now.
“The last eight you just don’t know what is going to happen. Obviously a lot will depend on the draw, but we’re excited to be there.”
The Carabao Cup quarter-final draw will be made on Thursday at 4pm, with the final two fourth round ties being played on Wednesday night as Chelsea host Everton and West Ham travel to Tottenham.