LINCHPIN defender Elliott Ward insisted Cherries’ assault on the Championship play-offs had come as no surprise to him.

Ward had played a key role in Cherries establishing themselves in the second flight until his debut campaign with the club had been interrupted by injury.

The 29-year-old damaged his right knee when he collided with an advertising hoarding during Cherries’ 1-0 defeat by Leicester at the start of February.

And although he regained his fitness fairly quickly, his return coincided with Cherries’ purple patch, restricting Ward to one brief substitute appearance.

Ward, rewarded with a new two-and-a-half year contract in January, earned a recall to the starting line-up for Cherries’ 2-2 draw at Ipswich on Easter Monday.

He said: “I joined this club because it is ambitious and going places. Whether it is this season, next season or the one after, I expect us to go up.

“I think the supporters are probably more surprised at what we have done this season but, with the quality we have in the squad, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be up there.

“There are teams above us in the table that aren’t as good as us and I would fancy our chances against one of the two promoted teams any day of the week.

“We should have beaten Ipswich because we were the better team throughout. We were quite comfortable and then found ourselves losing. We did well to get back in it with a great goal from Cookie (Steve Cook) and were the better team in the second half.

“I hadn’t played since the start of February and, although I came back quite quickly after my injury, the lads were brilliant so I had to bide my time. I just had to stay patient because the lads had done so well.

“It was a shame and I was gutted to miss all the games but I was very proud of how the lads carried on and got a lot of points from the games.

"I suppose people might look at this as a slight dip in form but we have lost one in eight so it is not too bad.”

Ward will be hoping to keep his place when Cherries host Nottingham Forest, the club he had been widely tipped to join last summer after impressing during two loan spells last season when he netted three times in 31 appearances.

Signed initially by Sean O’Driscoll, Ward played a starring role in Forest’s revival under Billy Davies with defeat by Leicester on the final day of the season seeing Forest pipped for a play-off place by a solitary point.

Both Cherries and Forest, who sacked Davies earlier this season, harbour faint hopes of reaching the play-offs and Ward added: “Hopefully, there will be something to play for.

“I thought Forest would be up there but, unfortunately, with the club comes a lot of baggage. I do think it has affected the squad, the team and the staff because they have a really good squad.”