As the last few seconds of injury time ticked away, Joshua King placed the ball down on the penalty spot and waited for the referee’s whistle. It blew, and the Bournemouth striker duly dispatched a low, powerful effort penalty beyond Watford goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, a goal that salvaged a 2-2 draw that kept his side in the top half of the table.
It was a strike from a player who clearly isn’t lacking in confidence, and serves to underline the quality he displayed last season which drew attention from Tottenham Hotspur. Indeed, the 2016/17 campaign saw King net 16 Premier League goals, prompting talk of a £30million move to the North London club.
“I was intrigued even being mentioned in the same sentence as Spurs, a big team who play in the Champions League,” the man himself said at the time, with Everton soon joining Mauricio Pochettino’s men in pursuing the former Manchester United youth team player. Both would eventually be put off by Bournemouth’s demands, and with the benefit of hindsight, King’s form this term has made that appear like a wise decision.
The 26-year-old was handed a new four-year contract by the Cherries back in August, but his goal against Watford marked only the fifth time he has been on the score sheet in 2017/18. Only three of those came from open play too, the Norway international struggling to replicate his excellent form in the current campaign.
A major factor in his declining production is of course the arrival of Jermain Defoe from Sunderland, the 35-year-old making 19 appearances and expecting to receive service from those around him. That includes King, who has taken far fewer shots at goal this term, his average of 1.7 per 90 minutes dropping from last year’s mark of 2.2 and it has been his close-range efforts that have suffered, taking 1.1 attempts inside the penalty area after averaging 1.6 in 2016/17.
The accuracy of those efforts has barely suffered however, hitting the target with 56 per cent of his shots this term and 60 percent in the previous campaign. Statistics show that his impact in other areas of play are also largely unaffected, averaging similar amounts of successful take-ons (4.9) and passes (25.3) to last season when he made 4.6 and 23.6 respectively.
One aspect of his play that has improved has been his ability to create chances, making 1.4 key passes per 90 minutes – up from 1.0 last term – largely thanks to playing alongside an accomplished striker like Defoe. Defences also seem more aware of the threat King poses and have looked to neutralise him, resulting in the Oslo native being fouled on 2.1 occasions per 90 minutes, a sharp increase from 1.4 in the previous campaign.
Few would bet against him rediscovering his best under Eddie Howe though, the Bournemouth manager repeatedly proving he can bring the best from unpolished players. He has already done so with King once, a player who failed to convince Sir Alex Ferguson he had a future in the top flight after disappointing loan spells with Preston North End, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hull City.
He also struggled at Blackburn Rovers, which eventually led to him signing on with the South Coast outfit on a cut-price transfer. “I think I have got my childhood confidence back,” King said last term when asked about his sudden emergence. “My mum text me today and said when I am watching you play now it is like watching you on the playground.”
But he is in little doubt that it is the highly respected man on the sidelines – and his attention to detail – that has made the difference. “It is a joy to work under Eddie now and I do feel like I learn a lot,” King told the Daily Star. “I came here because of the gaffer… I just have a big belief in him and I know that he’s the best manager with his staff to improve me as a football player.
“He is asking more of me than what has ever been asked of me by any manager, with how much running we do and the work ethic in every training session. That’s just going to improve every player.”
It certainly improved King, but the question for both men is whether or not he can do it again. “When I first started to work with him, I believed he could be anything he wanted to be,” Howe told The Independent last year. “He has everything that he needs to be a top-level player. I still feel the same way. It’s just a case of trying to work with him every day to get those improvements in his game that we feel he needs.”
The coach went on to say that his goalscorer was fuelled by his failure at Old Trafford, insisting that “you can certainly use disappointments as motivation to inspire the rest of your career.” Hopefully for Josh King and Bournemouth, that still applies today.