Inspirational captain Tommy Elphick has hailed AFC Bournemouth’s Championship-winning class of 2014/15 as “simply the best”.
Elphick was ever present and led from the front as the Cherries secured a place in the Premier League for the first time in their history.
Eddie Howe’s team prevailed following an epic battle for automatic promotion with the race going down to the last kick of a dramatic season.
In the summer of 2014, Howe bolstered his squad with the permanent signings of Callum Wilson, Dan Gosling, Junior Stanislas and Andrew Surman ahead of a pre-season training camp to Austria.
Elphick recalls the events of a memorable campaign in the last in our series of interviews for The Journey which has been looking back at the club’s three promotions in five years.
He told afcb.co.uk: “We had finished the previous season very strongly and there was a bit of disappointment that we hadn’t made the play-offs.
“In the summer, we signed some not only fantastic players but some really good characters who all just slotted in straight away and we had a great pre-season trip to Austria.
“I remember sitting down with a couple of the new lads one day and them telling me how good they thought training was.
“We knew if we could get off to a good start, we would have a chance of getting into the play-offs. There was a lot of anticipation and excitement.
“The manager would always plan things in pre-season and talk about our aims. We were well prepared and there was no reason why we couldn’t knock on the door of the top six.
“We went to Huddersfield on the opening day and hit the ground running. Callum got his first goals for the club and it all snowballed from there.”
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.
“Artur Boruc was a big signing,” said Elphick. “He was the final piece of the jigsaw. We had a great goalkeeper in Lee Camp at the time but I just think Artur’s experience and the confidence he gave us helped the team grow even more.
“I have always said the strength of our starting 11 was the lads behind it. You always knew there was someone waiting in the wings to take your position if you didn’t perform.
“We knew how good the team behind was. When we played, we always trusted the process. Sometimes, the performance meant more than the result and that’s what stood us in good stead because we always stuck to our principles.”
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.
And their lengthy stay at the summit came to an end after honours had finished even when Derby visited Vitality Stadium on February 10th with Middlesbrough’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.
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.
And 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.
“There were a few key games when I thought ‘we can do this’. Brighton and Reading away and a great 1-1 draw at Ipswich where we came back to claim a point.
“We were really tough to play against during that period. We had all the different tools in our kit. We prided ourselves on playing out from the back but we could also go direct if we needed to.
“We could grind out results and blow teams away as well. Our style of play was quick and attacking. Towards the end of the season, we showed so many different sides to our game.
“When we went to Charlton with the title on the line, the lessons of League One two years earlier when we didn’t have a trophy to show off stood us in good stead.
“I don’t care what anyone says, it’s an amazing feeling getting promoted but there is no feeling like winning a title.
“It was a pleasure and a privilege to play in that game. We knew what was at stake and what we wanted to do. It was one of our best performances of the season.
“It was one of the most competitive Championship races ever to be run. When I compare the standard now to what it was then, it was much better.
“You only have to look at the Bolton team we played when we won promotion to see how strong it was. They had some great players and some big characters.
“I would pitch our team against any other which has won the Championship. I know some formidable teams are in there – Reading, Watford, Fulham, Aston Villa and Newcastle – but I still think we were the best.
“We had the balance and blend, we had the flair and the characters. We had everything and never held back. We never worried about going anywhere – it was always on our terms.”