Eddie Howe believes a flying start to 2009/10 proved the catalyst to AFC Bournemouth’s first promotion on their way to the Premier League.
Despite being hamstrung by an ongoing transfer embargo, Howe’s team registered eight wins from their first nine games, propelling them to the top of League Two by the end of September.
Although it was thought that following the previous season’s Greatest Escape exploits promotion would be a tough ask for the Cherries, it was a challenge the players took in their stride.
Recalling the events of the season in the first of our series of interviews in The Journey, Howe told afcb.co.uk: “The transfer embargo really worried me. We couldn’t strengthen the group and I had a feeling we needed to. That was my feeling going into the summer.
“We kept trying to strengthen ahead of the new season but kept getting nowhere and the focus very quickly turned to pre-season.
“We used the help of Jon Dalzell to put together a plan for our work and, physically, we did some great work with the players.
“At the time, I’d say it was probably ahead of our competitors and it gave us a platform to start the season the way we did.
“We were in great shape and that’s why we hit the ground running and did so well in the early stages of that season. We built real momentum.”
Howe immediately saw the fruits of their labours when goals from Brett Pitman, Anton Robinson and Mark Molesley earned them a resounding 3-0 win at Bury on the opening day, the Shakers having reached the previous season’s play-off semi-finals.
“We knew it was going to be a really tough start because of how Bury had done the previous season,” said Howe.
“We won the game in great style and I was delighted with the way the team looked that day.
“I know one game doesn’t make a season but it gave us the momentum to take into the next games and we wanted them to keep coming thick and fast.
“When you are playing like that and getting the results, you just want game after game after game.
“It’s funny how games stick in your mind and I don’t really remember specific wins. I just remember the feeling of being in a great place, the lads playing with confidence and everything looking very positive.”
The Cherries reached the turn of the year in second place, five points behind Rochdale and nine clear of fourth-placed Notts County.
But three defeats in succession at the start of January against Northampton, Bury and Aldershot widened the gap on the leaders to ten points and narrowed it to four on fourth-placed Rotherham who had three games in hand.
While Anthony Straker’s late winner for Aldershot was a bitter pill to swallow, a red card for Warren Cummings for volleying the ball into the hosts’ dugout further weakened a squad already threadbare due to the embargo.
The ship was steadied by five wins and three draws in their next ten games with promotion rivals Notts County failing to beat the Cherries in keenly-contested clashes at Dean Court and Meadow Lane.
Howe said: “Aldershot didn’t feel good and it was a third defeat in a row. But during a 46-game season, you are always going to have moments when things ebb and flow and times where results go against you.
“In any promotion campaign, you can’t underestimate the importance of bouncing back and we did that.
“I remember going into the away game at Notts County knowing it was a massive game for both teams and it was on Sky.
“Although perhaps we didn’t play at our best, we underlined our quality as a team where we found a way to get a positive result when it didn’t look like we would.
“There are always moments you look back on in every season and think it was a turning point. Although it wasn’t a win, it felt like a big shift for us because we dug out a point when we didn’t play well.”
A fifth promotion since the club joined the Football League in 1923 was eventually guaranteed thanks to a 2-0 win at Burton Albion where Pitman and Alan Connell were on target.
Victory at the Pirelli Stadium took them eight points clear of fourth-placed Rotherham with two games remaining.
The Cherries ended the season as runners-up to Notts County with Rochdale and Dagenham & Redbridge also promoted.
“Burton was an incredible day,” said Howe. “There was a lot of pressure on the team to get over the line. We could feel how close we were and to seal it in the way we did was fitting of the season.
“Our final home game against Port Vale was brilliant. Those days are just the best because you’ve done what you needed to and then you want the team to express itself in a way that shows you are superior to who you are playing against.
“I felt we did that against Port Vale. Moments like that are very rare in football when you can sit back and enjoy the team playing and that was one of those days.”
Summarising the season, Howe said: “The Greatest Escape had been built on team spirit and determination to not let the club die.
“The next season was about the players expressing themselves in a totally different way.
"It was about the pressure of achieving and the pressure of getting the club back where it belonged which for me was in League One at that time.
“I really enjoyed watching the team achieve something very special although it probably isn’t talked about as much as the Greatest Escape.
"For me, it was a sense that we were good enough to move up a division and it was a great thing to see.”
The next edition of The Journey will be on afcb.co.uk on Sunday when Eddie Howe looks back on the 2012/13 promotion campaign.