Since his last Premier League start, a lot of water has passed under the bridge for AFC Bournemouth defender Chris Mepham.
It was New Year’s Day 2020 when Mepham lined up for the Cherries in their 4-0 defeat against West Ham at London Stadium.
While it was a game to forget for the visitors, injury robbed Mepham of the chance to try to help save the Cherries from relegation following Project Restart.
A second operation to rectify a knee problem restricted him to one brief substitute appearance before wretched luck again struck when a calf injury ruined his excellent start to 2020/21.
Mepham must have been checking his rear view mirror to see if he had run over a black cat after getting sent off in the second leg of the Championship play-off semi-final against Brentford.
However, a change of fortune in 2021/22 saw Mepham play his part in Cherries’ promotion back to the Premier League and helping Wales reach their first World Cup finals since 1958.
With a solid pre-season under his belt, the 24-year-old is hoping to hit the ground running in 2022/23, starting against Aston Villa at Vitality Stadium on Saturday (3pm kick-off).
He told afcb.co.uk: “It’s been a frustrating couple of seasons for me and I haven’t had a clear run of games.
“I had a couple of bad injuries at difficult moments, especially after when the season resumed in the Premier League. Watching the team end up getting relegated was tough.
“You never know when you might get another opportunity in the Premier League or if you will ever get one.
“The Championship is relentless and tough to get out of. We’ve got a full season in the Premier League ahead of us and it’s certainly something I’m looking forward to. I feel l have unfinished business.
“Pre-season has been good and it’s been tough. There has been a lot of focus on the change in formation and taking on new ideas that the gaffer has put across to us.
“The new formation is something I’m used to. With Wales, I’ve had a lot of games in a back five so it’s a set up I feel really comfortable in.
“We know the Premier League is tough but, on a personal level, I’m hoping to have a good season, stay injury-free and see where it takes me.”
Mepham is hoping some familiar faces will not gatecrash the party, the defender having played alongside Villa pair Ezri Konsa and Ollie Watkins during his time at former club Brentford.
Fellow Londoner Konsa, who formed a successful central defensive partnership with Mepham in 2018/19, has netted five times in 90 Premier League games since joining Villa in July 2019.
And striker Watkins, who netted 26 goals for the Bees in 2019/20, has been the Villans’ top marksman in each of the past two seasons, his exploits earning him England recognition.
Mepham said: “Ollie has done really well for himself. When he came to Brentford, he was a big talent but quite inexperienced at that level.
“He was mainly a winger when I played with him. But shortly after I left, he played as more of a number nine and his numbers the year he got his move were amazing.
“He’s someone I’ve always admired with how professional he is. He works hard, spends a lot of time in the gym and focusses a lot on his diet.
“He gives his all to the game and now he’s reaping the rewards. He’s been around the England set-up so I’m really happy for him because he’s a great lad.
“I got on really well with Ezri and we were the centre-half pairing at Brentford. We were both quite inexperienced at that level at the time.
“But we formed a good partnership and both got good moves to the Premier League off the back of that.
“He’s an amazing guy. He’s played a lot of games in the Premier League and I imagine he will be looking to start knocking on the door of the England set-up.
“When you play against people you know, friendships take a back seat until after the final whistle. You’ve got a job to do and that’ll be the case on Saturday. Hopefully, we can get a good result.”
Mepham, who netted his maiden Premier League goal on the opening day of the 2019/20 season against Sheffield United, knows Cherries supporters will have a huge part to play in 2022/23.
He said: “For me, the Nottingham Forest game summed up the importance fans can have. If I’d been a Forest player coming to the Vitality that night, I would have felt massively on the back foot. That’s the effect fans can have.
“We need to replicate that at home games this season. I know it’s a cliche but fans can be the 12th player at times. They are going to play a huge part this season whether we’re winning, losing or drawing. They can more than play their part.
“When you’ve got the fans behind you, you can feel the effect of that as a player and it’s important they are with us every step of the way, which I know they will be.”