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First team

“I’ve never been so happy to lose a header in my life!”

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Every picture tells a story. Just ask Nat Phillips.

The defender, who is currently starring for AFC Bournemouth during a loan spell from Liverpool, prides himself on winning headers, except perhaps one.

On Wednesday, he returns to the scene of one of the most surreal moments of his career – The Hawthorns, the home of West Bromwich Albion.

With Liverpool’s Champions League place in the balance last season, they were being held 1-1 by the Baggies as the clock ticked deep into added time.

Phillips darted towards the near post in an attempt to meet Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner, only to be outjumped by Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson who headed home a dramatic winner.

“I’ve never been so happy to lose a header in my life!” joked the 25-year-old, who featured twice for Jurgen Klopp’s team in the Champions League this season.

“My memories of the game are mixed. I didn’t have a great game and, as a team, we had chances but couldn’t put them away so it was a frustrating game for the most part.

“But the last few minutes are still surreal. When you look back at what happened, it was probably a huge turning point in our season trying to regain our spot in the Champions League places.

“It was a season when so much went against us but that was a moment where it felt luck was back on our side.”

Phillips has forged an excellent partnership with Cherries skipper Lloyd Kelly since they were paired together for the first time for the 3-1 win over Birmingham in February.

Scott Parker’s team has suffered just one league defeat with Phillips in the starting line-up, his eight appearances yielding five wins and two draws.

He moved to Vitality Stadium in January having been restricted to just four games for Liverpool this season, two in the Champions League, one in the Carabao Cup and one for the under-21s in the Papa John’s Trophy.

“I’ve loved having the opportunity to play regularly and being able to build that consistency in terms of games,” said Phillips.

“Within myself, I feel I’ve done well so far but I want to try to improve my consistency and that is something that comes with playing regularly.

“Sometimes, if a player hasn’t played for a long time and goes into a game, you can do some good things and some shaky things.

“As you play more, the shaky moments get eliminated and that’s what I want to do now. I want to develop that consistency and fine-tune my game and the finer details.

“The staff have been good. We have meetings about the way we’ve played and the way we want to play and we discuss the fine details. That’s the stuff I need and want to add to my game so that I can become the best player I possibly can.”

Phillips, who was denied a goal by a stunning save from Daniel Iversen during the Cherries’ defeat at Preston last month, celebrated with a knee-slide after Siriki Dembele had netted a dramatic late winner at Blackpool.

Asked whether he had sensed a special bond developing between him and supporters, Phillips replied: “Yes, I’d say so.

“In those moments, it’s hard to describe the emotions when your team scores. Every goal we score is so important to pursuing our end goal of promotion. It means a great deal to me when we score.

“I’ve had a few close calls and I’m still in disbelief the one at Preston didn’t go in. I’m hoping I can get at least one goal before the end of the season.”

Despite being six points clear in second place, Phillips, in common with his team-mates, is not getting ahead of himself regarding the final nine games, starting with the visit to West Brom.

He added: “We’re trying to view it one game at a time. If you look at each fixture, there are no games that you’d say we are not capable of winning.

“We were over the moon with the Huddersfield performance for a number of reasons and the international break came at the wrong time.

“I wanted to play the next game as soon as possible to keep the momentum going. We were all glad we did that against Bristol City on Saturday. We want to continue to build that momentum going into the end of the season.

“West Brom have a great squad of players with real experience and quality. But so have we. We feel we’re capable of winning it and those are the standards we set ourselves.

“But, at the same time, we’ve got to recognise that they have ability and experience within their side and we need to be prepared for that.”

Asked how he was settling in Dorset, Phillips said: “It’s a lovely area and I’m really enjoying being able to have a look round in my spare time.

“We’ve been to a few different places like Durdle Door and seeing the ponies in the New Forest. We’ve booked to go to Limewood and I got a voucher for my birthday for The Pig.

“There are a few extra places still to visit but I’m enjoying living here and, hopefully, when the weather picks up again, it will be even better!”

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