For some clubs and their supporters, a 3-1 opening day defeat could be set alarm bells ringing, although there was no such panic around a sun drenched Dean Court when Andre Marriner brought AFC Bournemouth’s first match of their second Premier League season to a close.
Manchester United, with a new manager and two of world football’s biggest superstars arriving at Old Trafford over the summer were always going to prove tough opponents first up for Eddie Howe’s Cherries, but for long periods, especially in the first-half, Jose Mourinho was the manager who would have been concerned with his side’s performance as Bournemouth were excellent.
The home side’s midfield axis of Andrew Surman, Harry Arter and new signing Lewis Cook dominated the ball and harried United’s engine room into uncharacteristic mistakes, which in turn starved the supply line to one of their marquee signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic – although the Swede, a free signing from Paris Saint-Germain, would have his moment during the second half.
Out of the Cherries central trio, it was without doubt Cook that impressed the most. Busy, industrious, it was hard to believe that this was his first match at Premier League level.
Although it’s hard to judge a player after just one game, the performance of the former Leeds United man and current Football League Young Player of the Year was highly encouraging.
Cook was one of many new signings as manager Howe spent big, but sensibly, over the summer as he looks to improve on a 16th position in 2015/16, with many pundits predicting a season of struggle for the Cherries.
Obviously the signature which really got tongues wagging was that of Jordon Ibe. Fifteen million pounds (£15m) is an awful lot of money to pay for a player who wasn’t a regular starter at his previous club Liverpool, inconceivable for a club like Bournemouth with the smallest ground in the Premier League and, just five years ago, even £15,000 would been a monumental amount to pay for any player as the club were still mere paupers after another near brush with oblivion.
But with the new megabucks TV deal, Bournemouth have demonstrated an ability to mix it with the big boys on and off the pitch and Ibe, the club’s record signing, also showed glimpses of his undoubted promise against United and with a regular run of games under his belt, the one-time Wycombe Wanderers wonder-kid will come good.
So with Ibe and Cook both looking like they could prove very shrewd additions indeed offensively, it’s perhaps the opposite end of the pitch that is still concerning Cherries fans, with Sunday’s loss doing nothing to ease those fears.
Departures during the off-season of former club captain Tommy Elphick and experienced campaigner Sylvain Distin have left Bournemouth looking potentially weak and vulnerable at the back. Last season, Howe’s side were on the wrong end of some big defeats and only Aston Villa conceded more, although the Cherries’ best spell coincided when right-back Simon Francis moved into the centre-half role alongside regular incumbent Steve Cook.
The new pair struck up a terrific partnership, although an injury to Francis’ replacement at full-back Adam Smith meant the former was pushed back into his more familiar role and Bournemouth’s defence once again leaked like a sieve.
Given this, some have questioned Howe’s logic in letting Elphick and Distin leave without finding a suitable replacement for either and would the makeshift pair of Cook and Francis stand up to rigours once more? Well, for 41 minutes against United, it looked like the gamble was paying off.
Artur Boruc in the home goal didn’t have a save of note to make and the Red Devils frontline of Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and Ibrahimovic hardly had a kick.
Then; an error that changed the game, Francis hit a weak back pass which was intercepted by Juan Mata, his shot was saved by Boruc only for the ball to bounce back into the Spaniard’s path, he rolled into an empty net. One-nil United and “if only we had signed a centre-half” could be heard groaning from the mouths of the Dean Court faithful.
After the break United, through Rooney, scored another fortuitous goal before Ibrahimovic made it three with a long distance strike that maybe Boruc could have done better with. Smith grabbed a consolation for the hosts to potentially make it an interesting final 20 minutes, but United, despite a sustained late barrage from Bournemouth, held on comfortably.
A defeat, but certainly this result shouldn’t be viewed as a disaster for Howe and his Bournemouth side. After all, Manchester United isn’t the benchmark to which the Cherries will be judged, their marker will be teams like Watford, Swansea City and newly promoted Hull City for example.
Defensive reinforcements have also arrived in the past 48 hours too as Stoke City and Ireland international Marc Wilson has become Howe’s latest acquisition as his defensive numbers, or lack of them, seem to be improving somewhat.
Another centre-half before the transfer window shuts would be welcome but not a bona fide necessity as it would appear though, on the evidence an intriguing opening 90 minutes, in which Mourinho stole all the headlines, his counterpart in the home dugout would have been more than happy with what he saw as Bournemouth look more than capable at going under the radar and defying the odds second time round too.