ONE big question surrounds Bridport’s season: Was it successful or not?

Going into the 2023/24 South West Peninsula League Premier East campaign, Bridport were targeting the top eight, perhaps top six if everything went to plan.

But the Bees quickly screwed up their blueprint for the season and threw it out of the window when they won their first six league matches.

Apart from an FA Vase exit to Hamble, who play one tier higher, it had been the perfect start.

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Although Bridport then stuttered in their next two games, drawing with Cullompton and losing to promoted side Stoke Gabriel, the Bees were firmly in the title mix.

Aims had to be readdressed with silverware in sight.

Suddenly, the Bees were being told by boss Chris Herbst that wins would only do in certain games.

They responded with 10 points from a possible 12 in their next four matches, ahead of a meeting with title rivals Ivybridge.

The Ivies had finished fourth last season but started the new term like a train. They duly prevailed 2-0 against the Bees.

So, work was still to be done at St Mary’s Field and not least in literal terms on the pitch as torrential rain caused the pitch to flood twice before Christmas.

It took a massive effort from volunteers to clean up the Beehive and undertake work on the playing surface, even making national headlines.

As a result, Bridport missed numerous home games and lost a little fluency mid-season.

The Bees were lucky to come away unscathed from Teignmouth, turning on the ignition boosters to win 6-4 after trailing 3-0 and 4-2.

However, it would be a full three months before Bridport won again in the league, despite making progress in the league cup.

They also came unstuck 2-1 at the unbeaten Hamworthy Rec in the Dorset Senior Cup semis, despite leading 1-0.

And a 3-1 home loss to Ivybridge all but confirmed that the title was done and dusted, with second place and an FA Cup spot for 2024/25 the next prize on the agenda.

However, there was another heartbreaking semi-final loss, this time to Okehampton in the league cup.

Riley Weedon’s brace had given Bridport a 2-0 lead but a red card for goalkeeper Jordon Scadding changed the game.

Fred Parsons in an emergency role did superbly to keep Argyle at bay with a string of top saves, but ultimately his fumble allowed Okey to go through to the final.

The loss undoubtedly affected the Bees in a congested remainder of the season, with second slipping out of their clutches.

They did end on a high at home, thrashing Dartmouth 6-2, but another case of wasting a lead emerged in the finale at Axminster as the Tigers hit back to win 2-1 late on.

At the time of writing, Bridport are fourth but could slip to fifth if Crediton win their final game this evening.

Based on last season’s finish of 11th, purely in results terms, this season is a drastic step up.

However, the goals conceded tally of 56 is by far the highest of the top five teams, while discipline was also a huge problem with a spate of red cards for players and management alike.

There is much for Herbst to ponder, then.

“When I first started the season, I wanted to be sixth and above,” he told the Bridport News.

“When we got into a title charge, that changed. You obviously set your sights on winning.

“As a whole, the group of players have been really good. On the field, we could’ve done a bit more.

“Being in two semi-finals and the bigger games, we should probably have got something out of it, looking back on it.

“Unavailability and injuries have played a part, but that plays a part for everyone. It’s just taking that next step now.

“We’ve got to get the right players in, a bit more experience in our side. That’s what we’ll be doing in the summer.

“The group of lads have been brilliant and the following we’ve got now, I’ve been associated with Bridport for a long time, I’ve never known it to be as much as it is now.

“It’s on everyone’s lips now. Everyone’s talking about Bridport, what’s the score? Who have we got next week?

“I feel on that front we’ve definitely overachieved because we’d never have been able to get Bridport buzzing again.

“We need to get a bit more savvy on the pitch but I don’t think we’re too far away.”

And Bridport’s rise this season has left Herbst in no doubt as to next season’s targets.

“The title has to be the aim,” he insisted.

“We’ve had a little taste of it. I don’t want to be competing for third or fourth, I want to try and have a proper go at it.

“I want to get everything in place for that. The league’s going to be strong. You look at second to sixth and it’s difficult.

“We’ve got to have the right recruitment, the right pre-season and we’ll do our best to make it happen.

“A lot of it is down to the lads we’ve got at the moment. It’s just things like seeing games out and nicking goals. It’s all a learning curve.

“Our pre-season will be solely on putting the wrongs right. There’s a lot of things I’ve learned on the way, and the players have learned.

“Now, we can work on those things. The younger players will have another year of experience and they’re playing a good level of football, so it’s only going to be a bonus on that front.

“I’m not going to say we’re going to win the league, but I feel we should be in with a shout for it, definitely.

“We can’t be happy with mid-table, otherwise I wouldn’t do the job. I want to be higher, I want to be ambitious, so we’ve got to be in with a shout for it at least.”

So, was Bridport’s season a success?

Purely in finishing position terms, it’s a resounding ‘yes’.

Aspirationally, though, is where Bridport have dropped the ball slightly.

Two semi-final losses, both coming after squandering leads and going down to 10 men, is a major concern for the future.

Bridport will need to rid themselves of any ‘bottler’ or ‘loser’ tags that other clubs might place on them should they lose at that stage again.

And, after working themselves into a position of second for much of the season, to potentially only claim fifth will be seen as a little underwhelming, particularly by Herbst.

Some managers in the league will say reaching two semis and clinching fifth is not to be moaned at.

But this is Bridport, one of the biggest clubs in the league, if not the biggest.

The saving grace for the Bees is that while they might feel a touch deflated by how the season has panned out, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Like all good bees, their beehive is constantly being improved and worked upon.

If the human Bees can follow suit, they might swarm over their opponents in 2024/25.