Coming back after rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament in the knee can be a long and lonely road. Spare a thought for Callum Wilson, then: has done it twice. After suffering the dreaded injury in September 2015, Wilson missed seven months of his debut Premier League season with Bournemouth.
Having scored 20 Championship goals to lift the Cherries to the top flight, it was a crushing blow, especially as he wasted no time making his mark in this division with five goals in seven games.
In February, Wilson ruptured his ACL again, only this time it was his left knee.
Commenting on the devastating second blow, Cherries boss Eddie Howe said: “Callum showed incredible character and determination to come back from a similar set-back last season and we know he has the same strength and will to do the same again.”
At a glance, Howe’s words are the natural response to such a development. However, given the events of last weekend, they now seem oddly prescient.
Wilson, who has been steadily coaxed back into first-team duties after completing his rehabilitation, was unleashed in blistering fashion as he scored a superb hat-trick in the 4-0 hammering of Huddersfield Town.
The 25-year-old striker made his comeback three weeks ago, scoring in the EFL Cup victory over Middlesbrough. He was a late substitute against Chelsea and, although he started the defeat to Newcastle United, this felt like his return in earnest, netting a treble to catapult himself back into the league’s wider consciousness.
Howe even backed Wilson to give England manager Gareth Southgate something to ponder should he continue his rich vein of form. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, especially when you consider Southgate has shown a willingness to experiment with Tammy Abraham and Dominic Solanke in recent friendlies.
If Wilson keeps scoring, the beep on Southgate’s radar will become increasingly difficult to ignore.
Equally hard to ignore is the impact Wilson has on this Bournemouth side. In the space of 58 minutes, the former Coventry City frontman scored more than Jermain Defoe, Josh King and Benik Afobe have managed in the entire season. With that trio finding the net twice, that stat is as much a damning reflection of their own contributions as a reminder of Wilson’s predatory instinct.
For his first against the Terriers, he wriggled away from his marker to head home Jordon Ibe‘s corner. Five minutes later, he made an intelligent dash to meet Andrew Surman’s free-kick and convert past Jonas Lössl.
His third, however, offered Bournemouth fans an exciting snapshot of his rapidly blossoming understanding with King. The Norwegian was instrumental in Wilson completing his hat-trick. Playing a one-two with his strike partner, King bombed down the left. Then, some dazzling footwork held off three Huddersfield players before he laid it back to Wilson, who smashed the ball into the bottom corner.
It was a beautiful goal and one that thrillingly demonstrated what a King-Wilson partnership can produce. With a combination of pace, presence of mind and clinical finishing, the duo encapsulated all the positivity of playing with two up top.
It was very much in stark contrast to the utterly ineffectual display of Afobe and Defoe against Chelsea when the latter was subbed at half-time and the former didn’t last much longer.
It’s clear Howe can place the utmost trust in a King-Wilson axis up top. The key is Wilson staying fit. If he does so, Bournemouth can afford to smile. Wilson has missed 449 days thanks to his two injuries but, as Saturday showed, he’s determined to make up for lost time all over again.