Premier League Season Review – AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth: 16th

FA Cup: Round Five

Capital One Cup: Round Four

As Bournemouth came into their first ever season in the English top-flight, there were regular reminders that this particular bow came just six years after narrowly escaping relegation from the Football League itself, amid severe financial difficulties. It is an incredible rise led by the mercurial Eddie Howe, who epitomises the spirit of the club and was always up to the task of preventing an instant return to the Championship.

In a rather better financial position these days, the Cherries decided to prioritise the need to improve the squad rather than improve their stadium and facilities. Promising left-back Tyrone Mings arrived from Ipswich Town and Lee Tomlin came in from Middlesbrough, but the most eye-catching deal saw Max Gradel join from St. Etienne in what was the club’s record transfer.

Aside from that Howe decided to keep faith with many of the players who had helped lift the club into such lofty company. Steve Cook was a hefty presence in a backline that also included long-term Football League campaigners Charlie Daniels and Simon Francis, while Matt Ritchie added a bit of flair to the side on the right of midfield.

There was a unique atmosphere at Dean Court for the opening match against Aston Villa, only for a series of missed chances to prove costly as they lost by a single goal. After suffering another defeat at Liverpool in highly controversial fashion, they were up and running at the third time of asking, and in style. Pacy and predatory striker Callum Wilson gave a glimpse of what he might be capable of at the highest level by scoring a hat-trick in a 4-3 success at West Ham United, and he was also on the mark when they claimed their first home win against Sunderland.

But Wilson’s joy would only last a week as he suffered a long-term injury at Stoke City, an incident that formed part of a plethora of bad luck stories for the Dorset club as the treatment table’s inhabitants seemed to soar overnight. Gradel was struck down for several months, Mings would not play again for the rest of the season, and central defender Tommy Elphick also spent a lengthy period on the sidelines.

With their primary source of goals absent, the responsibility fell on to the shoulders of Josh King and Glenn Murray, and they initially struggled. Indeed, the team was not aided by defensive frailties as they lost successive matches in October by a 5-1 scoreline. But a stunning late comeback against Everton in late November seemed to inspire the confidence they needed to steer clear of the lower reaches of the table, as it was followed by famous victories over Chelsea and Manchester United.

Despite a clear upturn in performance levels – especially away from home, there was still the feeling that the side needed more of a threat going forward to help secure safety. The solution was to break the transfer record again to sign prolific Wolverhampton Wanderers frontman Benik Afobe, and it had the desired effect as he netted twice in a pivotal win over fellow strugglers Norwich City.

The run that really proved the difference as far as achieving their objective was concerned came in early March as three successive games were won to take them on to 38 points. The first of those was a sweet one against local rivals Southampton, before Newcastle United were silkily and incisively swept aside, and then Swansea City were overcome by the odd goal in five. Among the scorers that day was Gradel, upon his return.

Reaching that number of points allowed them the luxury of being able to see out the campaign with relative comfort, although results dipped considerably as the only win came at Villa. It was a sequence that proved that there is work to do over the summer to help the club progress and consolidate their place in the Premier League. Staying up has been a marvellous and well deserved achievement, but defensive reinforcements are needed as 67 goals were shipped overall.

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