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Promotion capped 'perfect season' says Eddie

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Eddie Howe says a chastening start to life in the Championship sowed the seeds for the club’s historic promotion to the Premier League.

Howe guided the Cherries back to the second tier in 2013 and saw them beat Charlton and Wigan in their first two games at Vitality Stadium.

But he believes heavy defeats on their travels at Watford (6-1) and Huddersfield (5-1) probably stood them in better stead for the tough challenge ahead.

The Cherries were just four points above the drop zone at the start of December 2013 but rallied superbly during the second half of the season.

And nine wins and three draws in their final 15 games saw them secure tenth place – then a club record finishing position – just six points shy of the play-offs.

In the third in our series of interviews for The Journey, Howe recalled the start to the Cherries’ first season back in the second tier: “We really struggled when we first went into the Championship.

“I remember the Watford and Huddersfield games being very difficult moments and everyone questioning our ability to compete at that level.

“But we thrived off that feeling of being written off. When you look back on what we have achieved, they were great learning curves for us and they also put people’s expectations in check.

“It actually worked in our favour because we grew stronger as that first season progressed. We played with real swagger and confidence towards the end and that set the marker for what was to come the following season.”

In the summer of 2014, Howe bolstered his squad with the permanent signings of Callum Wilson, Dan Gosling, Junior Stanislas and Andrew Surman and the Cherries embarked on a pre-season training camp to Austria.

Striker Wilson, who joined from Coventry, made an immediate impression by scoring twice – and having a penalty saved – on his debut as the Cherries triumphed 4-0 at Huddersfield on the opening day.

“You always hope a new signing gets off to a good start and Callum was electric that day,” said Howe. “He took his goals really well and it was a great confidence-builder for the team.

“We had sold Lewis Grabban because he had a clause in his contract and that was a big blow at the time because he had been doing really well for us.

“But I think the rest of the lads looked at Callum and thought ‘wow, he’s some player!’

“You need your front players to set the marker for the rest of the team and that was a really important day for Callum and us.”

Although the Cherries won their first two games, three points from their next six matches left them in 15th place before goalkeeper Artur Boruc was drafted in on loan from Southampton.

And a 14-match unbeaten run, which included 11 wins, saw the Cherries reach the end of the year in pole position, a point above Ipswich.

The sequence included a record-breaking 8-0 victory against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s with Marc Pugh leading the way with a hat-trick.

Despite losing two of their first three games of 2015, back-to-back wins against Watford and Wigan saw them top the table in early February, although Derby and Middlesbrough were both breathing down their necks.

And their lengthy stay at the summit came to an end after honours had finished even when the Rams visited Vitality Stadium on February 10th with Boro’s win at Blackpool seeing them go top.

The Cherries regained pole position with ten games remaining but only on goal difference. They were one of four teams on 66 points with fifth-placed Norwich just a point behind.

Howe said: “When you’re involved, you think it seems unique and you think your season is different.

“But the prize is so great and when you watch the Championship, you realise most seasons ebb and flow.

“Ours was quite remarkable and we probably peaked at the right time. I thought we got better towards the end of the season which was the best way to do it.

“Going into that period, any team which puts together a run has a great chance of reaching the Premier League so everyone was thinking the same thing.

“The biggest compliment I can pay the players is that they excelled in those moments of extreme pressure.”

The congested nature of the league saw the Cherries slip out of the automatic promotion places after drawing 1-1 at Cardiff before a clinical 3-0 win over Middlesbrough took them back to the top with seven games remaining.

“I remember some of the games towards the end of the season when I thought we played some of the best football we have ever played,” said Howe. “We were under huge pressure against Middlesbrough and delivered.

“At Fulham, you saw a team playing with real confidence and enjoying their football. Whatever their job was, everyone to a man did it to the best of their ability.

“I remember an incredible save by Artur at Reading. Ultimately, when you win games, you realise it’s moments like that which swing things in your favour.

“We needed the confidence for the final few games which were always going to be the crunch ones.”

Although an incident-packed 2-2 draw with Sheffield Wednesday threatened to spoil the party, the promotion dream finally became a reality when Bolton were beaten 3-0 at Vitality Stadium.

With the title on the line, there was still time for some late drama as Atdhe Nuhiu’s late equaliser for Sheffield Wednesday at Watford ensured Howe’s heroes would be crowned champions following their 3-0 win at Charlton.

“You couldn’t have scripted the Bolton game any better,” said Howe. “Middlesbrough had gone to Fulham on the Saturday before and lost with almost the last kick of the game.

“It meant that if we beat Bolton, we were 99 per cent assured of promotion and I don’t think we would have been without that late goal.

“It was set up perfectly for us. Could we deliver at home in front of our fans on a Monday night and were we good enough to get over the line?

“All the questions were answered with an emphatic ‘yes’ and the lads were brilliant.

“The pressure was off a little when we went to Charlton because we had achieved our goal. We were breathtaking that day. There was so much confidence and belief in what they were doing, it was a great display.

“It’s bizarre how football swings round. We’d had the disappointment of a late goal costing us the League One title a couple of years previously and this time it was reversed.

“News filtered through that Sheffield Wednesday had scored at Watford and it was the perfect end to probably what most Bournemouth fans would say was the perfect season.”

Howe was named League Managers’ Association manager of the year, Championship manager of the year and manager of the decade, while Simon Francis and Matt Ritchie were both named in the PFA Championship team of the season.

On Thursday, we will start a series of features with players involved in the three promotion campaigns.

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