Three months on, the question remains much the same as far as Crystal Palace are concerned: how high can Roy Hodgson’s side fly? A comfortable victory at Bournemouth courtesy of superbly taken first-half goals by Luka Milivojevic and Jordan Ayew lifted Palace above Arsenal and to within four points of fifth-placed Manchester United, after carrying on where they left off to earn a fourth successive win.
A remarkably efficient Palace performance made for entertaining primetime viewing – this was the first time the BBC had screened a top-flight game live since 1988 – but a worryingly stale Bournemouth, who remain ensconced in the relegation zone with eight matches to play, were left nursing familiar scars after struggling to adapt to the new normal.
Aside from some early invention by David Brooks, making his comeback from injury following almost a year out after two ankle operations, Bournemouth struggled to puncture Palace’s defence. But Brooks’s eagerness got the better of him when he fouled the advancing Wilfried Zaha, presenting Palace with an inviting opportunity from 20 yards out.
The manner in which Aaron Ramsdale, the Bournemouth goalkeeper, barked at his teammates to hurriedly assemble a wall suggested he knew what was coming. Milivojevic has proved a reliable source from dead balls and here the Palace captain curled the free-kick into a top corner via the underside of the bar.
Zaha flashed a fizzing effort over in the opening stages and, despite being a marked man, he found joy down the Bournemouth right time and again, and it was there Palace exposed some slack marking to double their advantage.
Zaha engaged Harry Wilson and Jack Stacey, before sliding Patrick van Aanholt through on the overlap and the Palace full-back slid a wonderful ball into the box for Ayew to side-foot home across Ramsdale. It was an ice-cool finish, after which the drinks break followed, allowing Bournemouth to start an immediate inquest and for Hodgson to have a swig of water and for his Palace players to enjoy a breather after flying out of the blocks after 105 days away. With a quarter gone, Palace had established a firm foothold.
Results elsewhere, notably Brighton upsetting Arsenal and Watford snatching a late point, meant the onus was on Bournemouth to find something here, while Palace, who started the evening in mid-table, were doubtless encouraged by those around them floundering.
Bournemouth, bereft of Ryan Fraser after the winger declined to sign a short-term contract extension, had to make do with half-chances during a disappointing first half, with Callum Wilson nodding over after meeting a delicious cross from the left by Brooks.
Joshua King was expertly shepherded by Joel Ward but, more often than not, Bournemouth, their hands full with Zaha flitting in from the flank and James McArthur meddling in midfield, found themselves back-pedalling.
This was plain sailing for Palace, though. They did not even need to squeeze too much out of Zaha, whose influence waned, and other than the occasional touchline hairdryer courtesy of Hodgson’s assistant, Ray Lewington, they were not truly troubled.
Another Bournemouth substitute, Junior Stanislas, bent an effort wide late on but, in truth, Palace cruised to victory with the hosts mustering just a single shot on target.
Before kick-off, a montage including motivational messages from former Bournemouth players and supporters across the world played out on the big screens but, arguably most chilling, were the words of Howe.
“I’ve handled this situation before and I can do it again,” he said. That task just got a whole lot harder.