What a result - but more importantly, what a performance. Our goalless draw against Tottenham Hotspur this weekend may seem like no big deal from those outside the club looking in - but for AFC Bournemouth fans it was another excellent example of our team’s growing maturity.
In our two meetings with Spurs last season we shipped eight goals, offering only one in reply - and were thoroughly outclassed in both encounters. Our 3-0 defeat at White Hart Lane - which saw us look ridiculously out of our depth - was just over seven months ago, yet this Saturday we looked the equal of the North London side.
Yes, there were some extenuating circumstances for Tottenham - having to play an away fixture midweek in the Champions League and missing Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane - but to play our natural attacking game against such top quality opposition and actually get away with it shows how quickly we are growing as a team. We now look like we properly belong at this level, and should no longer be treated like mere tourists in the top flight.
There are several reasons for this. The first and most important is Eddie Howe, who - quite frankly - is the best manager AFC Bournemouth has ever had, and I will likely never see a better coach at the club in my lifetime. The way he has managed to coach this group of players to put in a performance like this weekend’s is testament to the hard work he puts in on and off the training ground.
Another factor is that we’ve managed to retain a core of players that have been with us in League One and the Championship - but instead of being mere trinkets to evoke wistful nostalgia of past successes, these players are constantly growing and look at home at this level.
If anyone had said just three years ago that a back four of Steve Cook, Simon Francis, Adam Smith, and Charlie Daniels could become a rock solid back four in the Premier League you would have been laughed out of town. All four of them have played for us in League One remember, and yet they’ve now conceded just one goal in four home games this season - and that was a lucky deflected effort in our mauling of Hull City.
Another element is the average age of our team. We had just three players under the age of 26 in our first eleven on Saturday for instance - with Simon Francis (30), Artur Boruc (36), and Charlie Daniels (30) as the elder statesmen of the side. This means that many of the team are in the best form of their careers, and some look like they’ll simply keep improving, and we’re set to reap the benefits of that in the years to come (whether it’s via performing for us or receiving hefty transfer fees for them).
Finally, we now seem to have significant strength in depth. Last season when we played Spurs at home we were missing Callum Wilson and Harry Arter - and looked significantly weaker because of it. The men put in their place offered nothing close to the players they were replacing - Glenn Murray lacking the pace of Wilson, and Dan Gosling lacking the sharpness of Arter.
Just compare that to this Saturday though, where Andrew Surman (who had played every minute in the Premier League for us up to that point) and Junior Stanislas (who has been in great form) both pulled out with injuries/illness shortly before kick off - but their replacements (Dan Gosling and Josh King respectively) were arguably just as good, if not better than the men they were stepping in for.
King was a genuine thorn in Danny Rose’s side all afternoon, whereas Dan Gosling arguably put in his best ever performance in an AFCB shirt - putting in tackles all over the pitch, but also showing an increased composure in his passing. Both players will be giving Eddie Howe some real selection dilemmas, and that’s not something we really had for much of the last campaign.
So as it stands, it’s not too bad a time to be an AFC Bournemouth fan - we’ve actually gone toe to toe with one of the best sides in the Premier League and looked like we’re almost their equal. And those are words I thought I’d never type.