AFC Bournemouth were never meant to be a club for the Premier League. It’s journey from the lowest possible echelons of English football makes their current situation seem like a dream- a dream that looked impossible to achieve during their times in the lower divisions.
And the year 2016 was the Cherries’ first full year in the Premier League, something that has never happened before in their history. While the year proved that Bournemouth were, well and truly a club from the first division of England, it also helped them establish themselves as a team that’s not there for the sake of it. The accumulation of 42 points in 2016 suggests that it was a pretty decent year indeed for Eddie Howe’s men.
Bright start to the year
The year started off with a well fought goalless draw against eventual Champions Leicester, that saw the Cherries hold onto a point despite the second-half sending off of Simon Francis at King Power. Although, the 3-1 loss to Slaven Bilic’s impressive West Ham side did disrupt the run of losing just one game in eight outings, which included a win over Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United and a 1-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, but the Cherries managed to rack up another fine run after the defeat at Vitality Stadium.
Bournemouth lost just two games in as many as nine, not losing a single game against mid-table rivals such as Swansea, Newcastle, Watford and arch-rivals Southampton. The convincing 2-0 win over the Saints well and truly proved to the world that there aren’t just two teams from the South Coast of England.
The high-profile captures of Juan Iturbe from Roma (loan) and that of former Arsenal striker Benik Afobe did end up whetting the appetite of Bournemouth fans, but both turned out to be major disappointments.
Poor end to the 2015-16 campaign
The manner in which the side had managed to pick up regular wins throughout the season meant that a lot was expected out of them, heading into the back end of it. Although the Cherries were comfortably clear of the dreaded relegation zone, a poor run of form in the last eight outings of the season meant that Howe’s men did avoid relegation, but only by five points - finishing 16th.
Bournemouth won only a single game in their last eight games, that a 2-1 win over relegated Aston Villa in April. The 1-1 draw at home to West Brom was enough to ensure safety in the end, as the campaign concluded with a underwhelming performance at Old Trafford, a 3-1 loss to United.
Loan signings doing the trick
The summer transfer window saw Bournemouth break their transfer fee record for the acquisition of Liverpool winger Jordan Ibe for a £15million fee. This was followed by the signing of promising Leeds United youngster Lewis Cook for a respectable £6million fee. The captures of Brad Smith from Liverpool and that of Tottenham target Lys Mousset from Ligue 2 side Le Havre made sure that the Cherries had shelled out as much as €35 million on transfers.
The sale of Matt Ritchie, who had been a vital cog in the Cherries’ wheel in their promotion campaign during the 2014-15 season, to Newcastle meant that there was a need to have another player around him Howe could form his side.
But, the loan signings of Nathan Ake from Chelsea and the rather shocking one of Jack Wilshere from Arsenal made many sit up and notice of the revolution that Eddie Howe was undertaking at the Vitality Stadium. Few knew that Ake and Wilshere would be more crucial to the side than any other summer signing.
A solid season so far
If the pre-season friendlies, during which Bournemouth remained unbeaten, were impressive enough, then the start to the 2016-17 season was just as distressing. The failure to win a single game in the first three meant that Howe’s men were languishing in the relegation zone.
A solid 1-0 triumph over West Brom in the fourth game of the campaign was essentially the catalyst for performing better and Bournemouth’s defining run of five games was probably something they needed to kick. The unbeaten run included a 6-1 hammering of Mike Phelan’s Hull City, 1-0 win over Everton and an enthusiastic 0-0 draw against title challenging Spurs, in a game that saw the Cherries troubling Mauricio Pochettino a lot with their high pressing.
Moment of the season?
The five game streak was something that the Cherries fans cherished, but the 4-3 win in December over Liverpool reflected the fighting spirit, hunger and urgency that Bournemouth can muster. Despite going 3-1 down early in the second half, they didn’t give up and resort to damage limitation, but Howe’s decision to bring on Ryan Fraser proved to be a vital one.
The Scotsman’s energy propelled the side into scoring thrice in fifteen minutes and thus, helped Bournemouth win a game that seemed impossible to get anything from at one point of time. But the willingness to defy the odds and prove the detractors wrong, which is something the club has done throughout the last seven years, reignited the fighting spirit that the club has.