AFC Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe believes his class of 2012/13 “held their nerve” to claim a second promotion in three seasons.
Howe steered the Cherries back into the second tier for only the second time in their history after returning to the club from Burnley in October 2012.
At the time of his arrival, the Cherries were marooned in the League One relegation zone having taken just eight points from their first 11 games.
Discussing those early days in the second series of The Journey, Howe, who replaced Paul Groves, told afcb.co.uk: “Although I was focusing on managing Burnley at the time, the first result I looked for every week was Bournemouth’s.
“From the outside and without having any idea of what was going on, it was a surprise to see where they were because you could see the quality of the squad.
“The club had invested in that squad and had brought in some good players. Like most people, I was fully expecting them to push for promotion and was surprised how they had started the season.”
Howe and assistant Jason Tindall received a heroes’ reception on their return to Vitality Stadium before the pair oversaw a 15-match unbeaten league run which hoisted them to seventh.
League One manager of the month for November, one of Howe’s first moves in the transfer market was to bring back Brett Pitman, the striker drafted in on loan from Bristol City.
Howe said: “The supporters were excellent when we came back ahead of the Leyton Orient game.
“Although the team had been struggling, they gave their vocal support and created a great atmosphere.
“It was a brilliant feeling and the team won. To see the quality of the team and the players filled me with optimism.
“When we saw the squad, we were very pleased. We knew some of the players and others we didn’t know.
“We quickly saw there was a lot of ability within the squad and we felt we could get positive results. We thought the team was good enough for the division and that was quickly shown on the pitch.
“The run we went on surprised us. We didn’t expect it but we built momentum quickly.
“The players started to play with confidence again and we built on that in the early games and never really looked back throughout the season.”
A busy month in the transfer market included wingers Matt Ritchie and Ryan Fraser coming in from Swindon and Aberdeen, respectively, while Ryan Allsop signed from Leyton Orient and Pitman’s loan was made permanent.
And although the 15-match unbeaten run ended after the Cherries went down 3-1 at Walsall, five straight wins took them to the top of the table in early February.
However, just 25 days later, they had slipped to seventh following five defeats on the spin, a worrying run of results with only nine games remaining.
Howe said: “It was a shock because we had played so well and had been so consistent. Suddenly, we hit a difficult patch.
“My overriding memory of that period was just to stay very calm. Sometimes, you need to react emotionally, you need to make a change and you need to do things differently.
“But at that moment, I remember thinking very much stay calm because I knew the team was good enough. I didn’t want to create a problem bigger so we didn’t change anything.
“We stuck to what we had always done. We stuck to how we wanted to play and the players responded. I think that phase of games was a real test of our nerve.”
The Cherries responded in style as a club record run of eight wins on the bounce all but secured promotion.
Pitman was named League One player of the month for March, Howe collected the managerial award for April and goalkeeper Ryan Allsop kept five successive clean sheets in their final five away games.
Despite having the better of a 0-0 draw at Tranmere on the last day, Howe’s team were pipped to the title by Doncaster who netted a dramatic injury-time goal to win 1-0 at Brentford.
Howe said: “We were delighted with how the players reacted following the run of defeats because there was a lot of pressure on them.
“The pressure of going up had built throughout the season. We went from being in a position of no hope to favourites and everyone expected us to go up.
“We needed to be really calm and that’s where I think the players were excellent under big pressure.
"The eight wins came off the back of just sticking to the plan during the difficult moment we had.
“It was such a shame about the title. It was bizarre and I had never experienced anything like that until that moment.
“We’d finished our game at Tranmere and it looked like the title was ours. I wasn’t privy to any facts but we were hearing soundbites and we heard Brentford had won a penalty. Everyone celebrated.
“Then we heard Doncaster had scored. When stuff like that is being relayed to you, you think someone is joking. You think ‘that can’t be real, it can’t be happening’.
“The feeling was almost that we hadn’t won promotion and had lost something. The feeling was such disappointment.
“It was my job to tell the players that we had achieved something truly very special from the position we were in and to try to forget about that last moment of the season.
“We told them to focus on the collective effort they had given to achieve what was a remarkable promotion for Bournemouth who had only been in the Championship once before.”
Ritchie was named League One player of the season with Simon Francis and Charlie Daniels joining him in the League One team of the season.
At the Football League awards, AFC Bournemouth were named League One family club of the year.