BACK-to-back defeats were hardly a ringing endorsement for Eddie Howe’s curriculum vitae.
Handed the Cherries management reins on a caretaker basis on New Year’s Eve 2008, Howe made an inauspicious start by presiding over losses at Darlington and Rotherham.
And with Cherries 10 points adrift of safety in League Two and just 17 days of experience behind him, Howe was as surprised as anybody to be offered the job permanently.
At 31, he became the youngest manager in the Football League and was tasked with arguably the hardest job in the country – keeping Cherries up.
Hamstrung by a points deduction, predecessor Jimmy Quinn, who had appointed Howe as the club’s centre of excellence manager, had been shown the door after just 121 days.
“I always remember the New Year’s Eve situation,” said Howe. “I was at a party, nothing too raucous, and took a phone call which rocked my world. I was enjoying my job in the centre of excellence and was quite happy with what I was doing.
“I immediately spoke to my wife – I think I may have sworn a few times – and said we had a decision to make. I told her that if I took the job, it would change our lives forever because she would never see me. I couldn’t have been more accurate with that statement!
“I decided to give it a go.
“I thought the two defeats had been fatal to my chances of getting the job permanently and was almost looking forward to going back to the centre of excellence and getting out of the firing line.
“When Adam Murry phoned me to offer me the job on the way back from Rotherham, I thought he was joking. Things weren’t looking good and I was very aware of the pressure on us.
“There wasn’t a huge desire to take the job and the challenge but I felt I couldn’t turn it down. In my view, it would have been cowardly and I would have been letting down the people who had showed so much faith in me.
“I wasn’t sure I had enough experience to help keep the club up and I knew how important that was for everybody. It was future-defining to remain in the league. I don’t take decisions like that lightly and I don’t like letting down people. It was an incredibly tough decision to make.”
Howe’s first masterstroke was to re-sign club legend Steve Fletcher, the striker inspiring Cherries to a 3-1 triumph over table-toppers Wycombe on his debut. Despite the victory, the gap remained at 10 points.
However, the win sparked a run of 13 games, which yielded eight wins and three draws, lifting Cherries seven points clear by the middle of March. But four defeats in five reduced the deficit to one point ahead of a trip to second-bottom Chester.
Goals from Brett Pitman and Anton Robinson sealed a crucial win at the Deva Stadium before Fletcher took centre stage as the Greatest Escape was completed with a memorable home victory over Grimsby in front of 9,008 at Dean Court.
Howe said: “We dropped points in certain games and the doubt was always there. We weren’t getting any closer to the teams above us and it looked bleak for us. From somewhere, a spirit and determination grew and I saw a new-found resolve and a real belief in the players. Steve Fletcher was the catalyst. His signing, his presence and leadership were key.
“I am not downplaying any of the other players and I would call them all heroes. They were magnificent and should be applauded and fondly remembered for what they did for the club in its darkest days.”