AFCB Vital Blogs

2023/24 – Bournemouth Season In Review

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Written by kirsikka

A season that started with the media salivating at the prospect of AFCB’s failure because we had the temerity to get rid of a utilitarian English manager and appoint a foreign one (the first non-British Isles manager in the whole history of the club…) who approached the game with more attacking intent, ended with that same manager being lauded and nominated for Manager of the Year and the club achieving a record points total.

But, as the saying goes, there was an awful lot of Shawshank before we got to the redemption.

And then there were those final games. You could say the season finished in a similar way to last season: zero points from three matches this time rather than four last year. Something for which GON was lambasted and seemed like it influenced the decision to replace him.

Those two season finishes: the same, yet opposite.

This time we went down going for wins and trying to take matches to teams rather than the insipid surrendering we saw twelve months ago. Some poor finishing, some bad luck, and some outrageous reffing/VARing meant we didn’t get any points, but the intent was there.

It leaves me feeling positive about the future rather than looking at it with some trepidation. That’s the difference from this time last year.

—– Match of the Season —–

AFCB and Luton are already bonded by a shared experience of the EFL going after the two of us at the same time. Threatening the very existence of the clubs, and destroying a lifelong passion for the fans, because of something the EFL could have legislated better to prevent and the fans couldn’t have stopped. This added something poetic to the first Premier League meeting between the clubs, a place where the sum of debts that nearly destroyed us both in the past is mere loose change down the back of the sofa.

(I still think matches between us should feature a chant of “You had P&A, we had Begbies Traynor, You had P&A, we had Begbies Traynor”).

Fans of so-called big clubs talk about teams like us not having a history which shows they don’t understand the meaning of the word. It isn’t about cups and titles, it’s about shared experiences. Rivalries over whatever it is you’re battling for at your level. Ding-dong 3-3 or 4-3 matches. Memories of matches abandoned after kick-off due to snow. A player who represented both clubs who tragically passed on way too soon (RIP Mark). And so on.

They’re all history right there, and they’re just as valid, important, and a part of the English football pantheon as a 17th title won because a team happened to be one of richest clubs in the country. So, I think it’s fair to say, given everything, we already had a storied history with Luton.

I don’t need to go over the Lockyer incident too much. Reams have already been written. All I’ll say is that it was horrible to watch from afar, so I can only imagine the feeling in the ground. However, there was a moment of beauty when Edwards and the crowd acknowledged each other and the outcome for TL was about as good as it could have been. Another strand was added to the braided rope of connection between us and Luton that day.

And that was just the aperitif…

Some people are great at remembering matches but, for me, the majority blur into an amorphous mass. I might recall an individual detail here and there but I retain little memory of overall matches six months later without some kind of prompting. But then, occasionally, I see a match that is burned into my hippocampus with UHD clarity. Enter AFCB v Luton.

Lockyer made his comeback in the crowd but was it the best comeback of the day? Well, yes. But it was run unexpectedly close.

3-0 down at half time with that git Barkley scoring (never forgiven him for the pre-goal schoolboy-style celebration for Everton) but there was a strange inkling that it wasn’t over. It felt like we could still get at them and if we scored one, then doubts may start to creep in. Truthfully, it probably came from the same school of thought that has me thinking we might still grab a draw when 2-0 with three minutes left on the clock away to a team that has outplayed us for the prior 87. Only this time I didn’t have to brush it away as a silly thought and forget all about it shortly afterwards.

The way we hunted them down in that second half was a joy. It was like watching a pack of lions pick off gazelles. When I think back on that fourth going in, I still get echoes of the adrenaline rush that flooded my body.

A special day in multiple ways.

—– Nadir of the Season —–

When the fixture list came out, a collective groan rose from the Bournemouth conurbation. The opening to the season looked close to as bad as it could have been with the first eight matches all looking extremely challenging for one reason or another.

Then factoring in the injury list at the start of the season and the new playing system meant most fans understood it was going to be a rough ride. Eyes peered to the future to find a run of games where we might be able to start building up some form and settled on 7th October, away to Everton.

We had some players back. The tactics should have bedded into the team by now. Everton hadn’t won at home and were struggling. Everything was set up for the new era to finally kick off.

Yoiks. We were rubbish. There’s no other word for it as Everton steam rollered us and it wouldn’t be unfair or unkind to say some doubts about AI started to take seed in the minds of some of our fans at that point.

I wasn’t posting at the time so have taken a peek at the post-match comments (taken from one random page, I couldn’t face reading more):

“It is high time that people on this forum start to realise that we are a Championship side, at best, playing in a division that we are not equipped for.

This is what happens when you sign two players that are long term injured and appoint a manager who has no PL experience.”

“I would say we have a PL standard squad but with conference south tactics”

“Cook is one of the main reasons why we are ineffective, and has been for years. He’s not a patch on Surman or a Lerma replacement.”

and so on…

Hindsight is easy and I think it’s unfair to rip people too much for the heartfelt passion and disappointment you can read in their posts after a defeat (hence not including poster names) but it shows just how down many were feeling.

It was a moment when the brave new world of AI looked like it would fail the Premier League Turing Test.

—– The Players (The Good) —–

It’s hard to create a shortlist when a category should be a longlist. So right at the start, I’ll namecheck Solanke, Semenyo, Christie, Cook, Zabarnyi, Kluivert, Smith, and Senesi. For one reason or another, they can all be proud of their contribution this season. However, forcing myself to pick a few:

Christie – The most successful reinvention since someone decided that a tonic for common ailments might do well as a soft drink? He might never have the global recognition of Coca-Cola, but he’s found his football calling.

Solanke – A one in two striker at any level is what any manager wishes to have available to his team. It’s been a long road, but I imagine Dom’s internal TomTom is telling him “You have reached your destination”. Now he needs to do it all again next year.

Semenyo – He makes things happen. He scares defenders. He scores goals. He has fabulous ball control. Looked every inch Premier League class this season. What a bargain!

—– The Players (The Bad) —–

Decent first season and a new long-term contract in the bag. A time to settle into his role, share his experience, and offer solidity to the young players developing in front of him. Instead, he became ever more terrified of a crossed ball the longer the season went on.

I almost felt sorry for him in that Villa appearance after he completely missed the ball and, thereafter, was terrified to step off his line.

An AFCB keeper with a reputation signed from a big club on large wages who has a crisis of confidence? It’s Begovic all over again. Can he follow that same comeback arc and end up as our player of the season in the future? Who knows, but if it happens I hope it isn’t in the Championship.

(I want to point out that the above was written before the bizarre Bego transfer link this evening!)

I’m not saying he was dreadful but I would say his levels weren’t as high as the prior season. Especially his shooting. The workrate was there and he wasn’t terrible, it was just slightly disappointing given the platform he’d created for himself. Although, it says something about the season that a player who did alright-ish makes this list.

I don’t think any of us know what he is just yet, apart from knowing he’s far from the finished article. Some will argue his best performances have been at left-back but I remain to be convinced he has a future there. I think he’s a winger at heart and next season will be pivotal as this season he simply didn’t make an impact when played further forward.

—– The Players (The Ugly) —–

Seeing Brooks pull on that other team’s shirt. Urgh.

—– The Staff (AI) —–

He did alright, didn’t he?

It feels like we’d been on the rebound for three years since the love of our AFCB life departed. A revolving door of managers who, whilst some achieved relative success, never felt like they fitted the club for one reason or another. A litany of unsuitable partners that will later leave you wondering what on earth you were thinking. Not that it matters anymore, because now you’re with someone that feels right.

Football is a strange business and things can turn quickly. Tactics get found out. Bad luck can precipitate a bad run. Even when things are going well, you’re just waiting for the instigators of that to be picked off by someone further up the food chain.

All that’s saying is I don’t know how long AI will be here or how long he will be a success, so be sure to savour it whilst it lasts. This is the memory ambrosia to feast upon and keep us going when we’re back eating a new version of Groves Gruel.

Unfortunately that “small club, different rules” struck us again, only this time from the immigration people. No way would his assistant have been refused a visa if he was going to be employed by certain other clubs. Yet, AI managed to bring it all together. I’ll be honest, I’m kind of hoping he’ll bring in someone else over the summer to add more heft to the first-team coaching staff. However, I trust him to make the right decision as he sees it.

His tactical approach definitely has a place in the English game so we’re over that hurdle. Next season we have a group already primed in the main style which should give us a headstart. The key will be how he tweaks it. The Premier League evolves and, over time, teams find ways to exploit a set-up so you can never simply do what you did before. It’s going to be an interesting ride to see what’s next!

—– The Staff (The rest…) —–

Our injury rate… it wasn’t ideal and left us with a very thin looking bench at times. Jay Mellette was brought in last summer to make a difference, time for him to start earning that keep.

He should now have knowledge of the squad and has a full preseason to ensure our conditioning and recovery work means we have more players available more often. But yeah, all in it didn’t feel like a particularly positive result for the medical department this year, both in terms of short and long-term injuries. Room for improvement.

There’s one other behind-the-scenes name many of you will never have come across before that’s worth a mention. We have a guy who’s been involved in a lot of our transfer activity called Richard Hughes. Used to play for us, in fact. Well, he’s off to a new role somewhere else.

I don’t know if any of you have any opinions on his work for us since it’s never really come up on here but like most things in life I’d imagine there are contrasting views. Time will tell over the next couple of years what his legacy will be.

—– The Owners —–

Bill the Benevolent Billionaire’s Brilliant Bournemouth Backing.

That feels like too many Bs when really his contribution this season should be graded an A-.

There are plenty of people who talk a good game, but a far smaller pool of people who then deliver on that talk. So far, so good. Given the number of shysters out there, I’m pleasantly surprised at who has fallen in our lap (thanks once again Max).

The training complex is something that gives me hope that we can remain more than a punching above our weight League 1 club. Football is cruel so it’s possible we’ll end up back in L1 at some point, yet maybe this time we’ll have the facilities and youth system in place to help us bounce back up rather than all of this becoming like a distant fever dream.

As a person, Bill comes across as an alright sort. Prone to the odd wild prediction but seems like he has a track record there so I can understand him keeping it going.

I would still like to know who he is preparing as his deputy since there’s going to be a lot happening in the years ahead and it would be good to have a family member more hands on and familiar to the fans.

It wasn’t all perfect though. Trying things will be hit and miss and will never please everybody, hence the reaction to some of the initiatives. And price rises will never be well received. Mistakes have been made and more certainly will, especially until we have that new stadium.

It was one of these mistakes that turned that A grade into an A-.

The banning of fans for standing was about as ill-judged a move as I’ve seen the club make down the years. Made even worse by the incorrect accusations levelled at some. Meanwhile, Watford are being told all is good for their fans doing the same things as ours by the body that is apparently threatening us. Sorry, this does not compute.

I don’t care where the safety guy got his degree, situations like this are best served through dialogue and trying to get fans to cooperate, not acting like you’re Judge Dredd. When it comes to AFCB matches, you may be the law but by behaving like a bit of an ****************, you’re also going to be the one that destroys the atmosphere that Bill & Co have said they want to encourage.

Prime foot shooting, right there.

—– The Future —–

A review shouldn’t really include the future but it does feel like we’ve put a lot of pieces in place. Things on my mind:

– When will planning permission for the new stadium go in?
– How will we cope with the boundaries of FFP if no buyer comes in for Dom?
– How will we replace Dom if a buyer does show us the money?
– Whether we can shift the players that don’t fit the AI philosophy
– How far can AI take this team?
– Who do we want to see relegated next season, and why is it Forest?
– Can one of the youth team break into the squad next season?
– And many, many more things… so let’s leave it there for now.

That’s the thing. Right now it feels like we stand on the cusp of potential. Can we fulfil it? There’s so much about which to be excited and hopeful.

Thanks for a fun season to AI, his staff, the players, and everyone else connected with AFCB. Oh, and you lot as well. For when I was here anyway…

Your say…

LewSwimmin said…

Interesting that 27 points was enough to avoid relegation this season, a total we achieved after 22 games on 4th February with the draw against Forest.
Is this the earliest we have ever been safe since we got into the PL? – To join the conversation, click here.

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