AS FOOTBALL clichés go, “what a difference a year makes” sums up Bridport’s 2023 very nicely.

At the end of 2022, Bridport were languishing in 16th spot in the South West Peninsula League Premier East.

Yet, it was a 3-1 victory at near rivals Axminster Town that hinted at the potential of a Bees squad requiring a big rebuild.

It marked a promising end to 2022, an otherwise dour year which contained three managers and relegation from Step 5.

READ MORE: Bridport 0-0 Axminster Town - report

Fast forward 12 months and Chris Herbst, the boss who oversaw the win at Axminster, now has the Bees cooking on gas.

In 2023, Herbst has taken charge of 39 competitive matches and secured victories in 22 of them, while drawing six and losing the other 11.

Herbst, together with assistant Mark Lock, deserves significant credit for completely transforming the Bees’ fortunes.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: Bridport boss Chris Herbst, left, with assistant Mark LockBridport boss Chris Herbst, left, with assistant Mark Lock (Image: STEPHEN BARRETT)

Using his network of contacts in west Dorset and the surrounding areas, Herbst has constructed a stronger, fitter and more exciting Bridport team.

He has also managed to tempt old faces back to the club, while luring new ones to bolster the Bees in the necessary places.

But key to his success has been stability.

Hitting on the winning formula at the turn of 2022 into 2023, Herbst has managed to keep his Bridport squad together.

Crucially, this has galvanised his players further and, off the back of the Axminster victory, results improved vastly.

Bridport went six games unbeaten around the turn of the year and, after that run was halted by a surprise 2-1 loss to struggling Elburton, the Bees responded by recording three consecutive clean sheets.

That statistic, for a club who up to then had conceded five goals or more in a game on five separate occasions, was arguably the stand-out fact of the 2022/23 campaign.

Bridport later experienced a mixed finish to the season.

They would pick up only four more victories in the final two months, including completing the double over Axminster.

Meanwhile, a devilish run-in saw them lose twice narrowly to eventual champions Brixham, who are currently going well in Step 5.

Okehampton and Bovey Tracey also beat the Bees, who were faced with a punishing schedule of eight games in April due to earlier postponements.

Based on their fixture list alone, it was perhaps no surprise that Bridport’s season ended in mediocre fashion.

However, it might also have been a blessing.

Few, including Bridport themselves, would have expected the Bees to begin the 2023/24 campaign with six consecutive league victories.

The only blot on their copybook in August was a 3-2 FA Vase loss to Hamble, a Step 5 club, before their winning league run was halted by a 1-1 draw at Cullompton.

Bridport’s high was well and truly ended by a 4-3 loss at promoted side Stoke Gabriel & Torbay Police but once again their reaction was superb.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: Bridport fell to a surprise loss at Stoke Gabriel & Torbay Police in SeptemberBridport fell to a surprise loss at Stoke Gabriel & Torbay Police in September (Image: STEPHEN BARRETT)

Herbst’s men went on another tear of form, going five matches unbeaten, including four wins, before coming unstuck at runaway leaders Ivybridge Town.

Readers may not be surprised to hear that Bridport are presently on a five-game unbeaten streak following that loss.

Interestingly, three games in that time have been won in cup competitions, twice in the Dorset Senior Cup and once in the League Cup.

And the Bees stormed back from 4-1 down to beat Teignmouth 6-4 in a scarcely believable match, highlighting that not only is this a majorly improved team but also one with a new-found resilience, too.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: Bridport, in yellow, came back from 4-1 down to beat Teignmouth 6-4Bridport, in yellow, came back from 4-1 down to beat Teignmouth 6-4 (Image: DOM TANCOCK)

Bridport rounded off the year with a 0-0 draw against Axminster to occupy third place going into 2024.

But the Bees, who have moved their targets this season from top eight to top six, can now claim to have genuine hopes of finishing in the top three.

They may even challenge for the title if they can find an extra gear and capitalise on the games in hand they possess on every team in the top eight.

And if you’re looking for an example of the newly restored club togetherness at Bridport, search no further than December when floods swept across St Mary’s Field and the Beehive.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: Receding flood water at St Mary's FieldReceding flood water at St Mary's Field (Image: STEPHEN BARRETT)

A major clean-up operation was needed but, with the help of the Bridport community and club volunteers, the Beehive is back in operation and the playing surface survived the rigours of a Boxing Day derby.

If all these factors don’t add up to a club destined for more success in 2024, we don’t know what does.