The start to Bournemouth’s maiden Championship season has been anything but dull. Things started off well with a home win to Charlton, followed by conceding 11 goals in consecutive away games with another home win against Wigan sandwiched between. Thankfully though the team seems to be learning as it goes, curing the away day illnesses last weekend with a well earned 1-0 win at Doncaster. Despite also losing 2-1 to Watford in the first round of the Capital One Cup, the performance was vastly improved compared to the 6-1 drubbing handed to Bournemouth by the same club only a week earlier.
The first month back in the second flight of English football has been a mixed one then, but the cautious optimism that many Cherries’ fans had at the beginning of the season is continuing. Going into the international break, Bournemouth currently sit 6th in the league, a position which the club can only be ecstatic with. At the beginning of the season if you had offered manager Eddie Howe a finish of 21st by virtue of 1 goal better goal difference than 22nd, he and the majority of fans would have bitten your hand off. This is probably still the case for many associated with the club, but the first month of the campaign has given many reasons to believe that a higher finish in the table is more than attainable.
The Championship is a notoriously tight league, demonstrated by the fact that only 14 points separated Leicester in 6th and Peterborough in 22nd last year. Compare this to the Premier League a season ago, where Arsenal in 4th finished a massive 37 points above Wigan in the final relegation spot. What this all means is that Bournemouth can set their sights higher than merely scraping survival by the skin of their teeth, with a solid mid-table finish still a realistic goal. Late season surges from Bolton and Charlton last season saw them finish much higher up than it looked like they may at one point and Bournemouth can take inspiration particularly from the latter as it was also their first year back in the Championship after promotion from League 1.
Events off the pitch will have also boosted expectations for the south coast club this year because the cash has well and truly been splashed since the end of the promotion campaign. The fourth stand of the Dean Court stadium has finally been completed, giving Bournemouth a home with four stands for the first time in 12 years and boosting the capacity by around 2,000 to allow for the increased crowds that playing in the Championship will bring. The stand was completed during pre-season just in time for a match for against a little old club known as Real Madrid. Bournemouth paid the Spanish giants a cool £1,000,000 for the privilege of playing against them in the hope that it could be the start of a relationship between the two clubs. Admittedly, over £600,000 was recouped from match day revenues but the willingness to spend such enormous amounts of money on one match shows ambition from the owners.
Although no bright, young Real Madrid prospects have moved to Bournemouth (maybe that’s too optimistic?), money has not been spared on the pitch either. Last week the transfer record of the club was meteorically smashed, being almost tripled to bring in striker Tokelo Rantie for nearly £2.5m from Malmo in Sweden. To put this investment further in to perspective, the club was on its knees only 5 years ago and was on the point of liquidation with a point deduction going into a season in League 2. If you had told fans of the club that in 5 years time they would be in the Championship and spending £2.5m on a player they would have laughed in your face claiming madness. Rantie has not featured for the first team yet, but will hope to make his debut after the international break with fans keen to see what he will bring to the team.
Further investment in the club will now be expected from fans, after Eddie Mitchell stepped down from his role as chairman and sold his 50% stake to co-owner (now sole owner) Maxim Demin. Demin, a Russian petrochemical businessman, has been the money behind Mitchell’s mouth in the last couple of years, funding the majority of new signings and the building of a new state of the art training ground adjacent to the stadium. Having spent heavily with a net loss of nearly £4m since he began his association with the club two years ago, Denim will now be expecting his investments to bear fruition. However, his commitment in buying Mitchell’s stake and his already sizeable investments suggest he is with the club for the long run.
Manager Eddie Howe will now be looking to repay Demin’s investment with results on the pitch, but 9 points from a possible opening 15 will have pleased both manager and owner. With Howe nominated for manager of the month for August, the opening month of the season has overall been more than satisfying for Bournemouth and allowed the cautious optimism held at the beginning of the year to remain.
Written by Cort Robson, We Are Going Up’s AFC Bournemouth blogger
Cort tweets at @cort_robson