Six years ago, going into the 2008-2009 season everyone associated with AFC Bournemouth was fearing the worst for the upcoming campaign. How things change. Relegation to League 2 and facing a seventeen point deduction from the start of the season had left the club clinging on for life. By Christmas the scenes were not much better and with Jimmy Quinn sacked as manager on New Year’s Eve it was left to former player Eddie Howe to steer the Bournemouth ship to its rest. Going into this season there is a sense of anticipation among fans that I have never seen before in my 10 years supporting the club.
A line can be drawn in the sand from the day Howe was appointed at the helm. A man who stood on the terraces and went on to play for the club was now trying to save them from extinction. Since the great escape of 2009 the Bournemouth story is without doubt something suited to the cinema screens. The promotion that came the following season catapulted Howe into the Football League management window and his eighteen month stint at Burnley plays a huge part in the manager that will stand on the touchline this season at the Goldsands.
Howe’s return acted as a catalyst for a further uplifting at BH7 and a stunning seven months saw the Cherries go from 20th to 2nd narrowly missing out on the league title. Nevertheless, Howe was not content with this and initiated his plan to cement Bournemouth as a Championship force. The top 10 finish of last season somewhat changed the time-scale of the plan and the continued support of owner Maxim Demin has allowed Howe to bring in further recruits as sights are firmly set on mixing it with the big boys of the Football League and achieving a promotion that would out-rank any of Howe’s long list of achievements to date.
Early rumours this summer made some fans fear that the dream may be over. Reports of interest in a number of the players that took to Championship football like ducks to water last season unsettled many. Had they seen the best already? Credit needs to go to Howe and the staff behind the scenes at Bournemouth. Lewis Grabban has been the only player who featured prominently last season. Despite the loss of the 22 goal striker to Norwich this has to be seen as good business as in January he almost left for Brighton at a fraction of the cost. Add to that the renewal of Steve Cook’s contract and reports from the Bournemouth Echo that no player has a buy-out clause in his contract, the squad is in a good place. Three additions to the first team squad in Junior Stanislas, Dan Gosling and Callum Wilson have both filled the gap left by Grabban and provided a fierce competition for places throughout the midfield.
Is Howe satisfied with what he has got? It is impossible to say as he remains tight lipped when asked on any matters regarding transfers, but it is his nature to always be on the lookout for further talent. There are no major areas that fans are crying out for a new signing, possibly a further striker as Pitman and Rantie both struggled last season.
From the players pre-season interviews the mission is clear. Improving on next season is not enough. Neither is ensuring the attractive style of play continues. There is a undercurrent of self-belief and confidence from the playing staff that they really can fight for promotion. The finish to last season supports this, taking thirty points from the final fifth-teen league games and tightening up a defence that conceded fourteen goals in the first four away games of the season.
As always with the Championship the battle for the top six is a pressure cooker environment and the key remains avoiding strings of bad results. The league of bouncebackability some might say. It would not be out of the question for Bournemouth to under perform this year in a case of second year syndrome, but this would go against all that Eddie Howe has done in his 189 games in charge of the side over two spells. What is clear is the following: Bournemouth plan to continue their saga and weave another chapter of success into their recent history. We all know the man that can achieve it and fortunately for the Cherries his name hangs from the manger’s office door.