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Monday, April 26, 2010

Cherries on top

After they seal promotion from League Two, Nobes salutes the achievements of Bournemouth and their boss Eddie Howe.

Bournemouth players and management celebrate winning promotion

You could forgive Bournemouth fans waking up on Sunday morning, feeling slightly worse for wear, for thinking the past 18 months have all been a dream.

As 2009 dawned, and hampered by a 17-point deduction, their team were staring relegation to the Conference in the face.

The club had just parted services with Jimmy Quinn, their second manager of the season, and had placed their fortunes in the hands of former player and Quinn's assistant - Eddie Howe.

At just 31, to have described the job at Dean Court as a baptism of fire for the youngest manager in the Football League would have been a massive understatement.

His first two games in caretaker charge were both lost, leaving the club a full ten points adrift of safety. However, the board gave him the full time position.

What followed was one of the greatest escapes in history. Bournemouth collected 39 points from their remaining 21 games - eventually finishing seven points above the bottom two.

Howe had pulled off a miracle. Those who doubted his ability to follow that achievement though have, understandably, watched with awe as the Cherries have fought their way to promotion to League One.

It was an elevation in status sealed - with two games to spare - after a 2-0 win at Burton Albion's Pirelli Stadium at the weekend, amid emotional scenes.

Twelve months ago, they seemed destined to be replaced by the Brewers in the Football League. To everybody's surprise though, Bournemouth's escape from the basement tier has been an upwards one.

That's despite the club having been under a transfer embargo for the majority of the campaign, with Howe unable to strengthen his team as rivals did.

It's often led to the situation where Bournemouth's bench has been a few players shy of their allotted seven substitutes.

To have led his team to promotion under such circumstances emphasises what a tremendous achievement it's been by everyone on the South Coast this term.

They have been in the chase for promotion from the very start - setting a new club record by winning eight of their opening nine league games.

They haven't dropped lower than 4th all term - and haven't been out of the top three automatic promotion positions since August.

Time after time, critics and promotion rivals have expected their form to tail off - unable to believe that such a small squad could sustain a 46-game season.

Howe and his players have continually risen to the challenge and proved them wrong. If there was any fairness, the race for Manager of the Season would be an open and shut case.

Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe must be a contender for Manager of the Season

Now the focus must be on their return to the third tier - and hopefully building on their success.

Keeping them up in League One under the same set of circumstances would, arguably, be an even great accomplishment than his previous two.

The Cherries have traditionally been a solid club at that level - only relegated to the basement tier in 2008 due to a 10-point deduction for entering administration.

Their average attendances this season have been around the 5,500 mark - more than respectable for the division they're going into.

While survival - and hopefully a more sound financial footing with the manager being able to bring in players - must be the short term aim, the future looks a lot brighter for Bournemouth.

In 2004, they finished 9th in League One. That was under the management of Sean O'Driscoll - who Howe played under - as a young team playing attractive football impressed in the lower divisions.

That was part of a six year spell as manager for O'Driscoll who, in total, spent 22 years with the Cherries. Like his former manager, Howe, having played over 250 times for the club, has similarly strong links.

His success will undoubtedly lead to him being linked with other positions, however, his rejection of the Peterborough job in November shows a man who has a deep passion for Bournemouth.

The club will hope he can be persuaded to stay and keep the kind of continuity enjoyed under O'Driscoll before the Irishman's departure to Doncaster.

They are a club in desperate need of solidity as they look to properly establish themselves back at the level they've spent more years in than any other team.

You get the feeling though when the time does come for Howe, like O'Driscoll, to leave, he won't be short on thanks and well wishes.

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