As Eddie Howe huddled up with his deflated troops during the first half drinks break, a resignation was written all over their faces. Bournemouth were doomed.
The Cherries had just been ripped limb from limb by a wonderfully-crafted Crystal Palace attack, finding themselves two goals down inside the opening 25 minutes. As far as returns to action go, this was up there with one of the worst.
Howe has looked a beaten man on several occasions this season, openly admitting that he isn’t sure where to go at certain points. That insecurity shows – painfully so. But deep within each and every one one of us, we know exactly where Bournemouth are going.
And it’s been coming. The signs have been there, the cracks have appeared, but they’ve been papered over as hastily as possible, mainly by the genuine quality this squad does boast on occasion.
But those gaps in the side have not been filled adequately in the long-term, and the once tough Cherry has lost its stone. They’re now soft at their centre, and their slide into the second tier is beginning to look inevitable.
One major factor for Bournemouth’s demise is their spending record. Recruitment has proved to be a major issue at the club, and that can be seen by the presence of a number of players who represented them at Championship level (or lower) who still make the squad.
Money has been thrown away on hopeful punts in the market, with the likes of Jordon Ibe, Dominic Solanke and Philip Billing costing a small fortune, and coming up short whenever called upon. Solanke joined for a fee of around £19m two years ago and is still yet to score in the Premier League.
That’s the sort of record which gets you relegated.
The free-spirited, creative fountains have dried up, and the stalwarts who helped carry Bournemouth up the football pyramid are now showing their age. Without contract rebel Ryan Fraser flying down the wing and supplying the ammunition for Josh King and Callum Wilson, there is no drive or tempo whatsoever to this team.
Even when chasing the game during a dour second half, Bournemouth struggled to create any clear-cut chances against the Eagles, being restricted to one meaningful effort on target all match. The predictability and lack of imagination in their play meant that the only viable option was a high, aimless ball towards Solanke, who battled to try and bring it out of the sky for his teammates, all standing thousands of kilometres away from him.
It was the performance of a team destined for the drop. Bournemouth are still in the fight, and are only sitting in the bottom three on goal difference. But all signs point to the end of the road. Their Premier League adventure has hit a cul-de-sac, and they simply can’t manoeuvre a way out.
The form book makes for damning reading for Howe and his loyal followers, but their faith must be wavering as they enter the final eight matches of the campaign.
There’s no time for the faint-hearted, and for this Bournemouth team, that just may be their undoing.