STEVE Fletcher is backing Richard Hughes to provide a huge boost to Cherries’ promotion push – both on and off the pitch.

The club legend says his experienced team-mate will emerge as an invaluable asset as Eddie Howe’s men crank up their bid for League One glory.

Ex-Portsmouth star Hughes made a timely return following a hamstring problem when he was introduced as a late substitute in the Boxing Day victory over Yeovil Town.

Having previously been sidelined since sustaining the injury against Leyton Orient in October, the 33-year-old could now come into contention to face Crawley Town at Dean Court tomorrow (3pm).

And Fletcher believes the former Scotland international is a key character and player for Cherries.

He told the Daily Echo: “Richard brings a wealth of experience from a much higher level and that is invaluable to a team like us.

“He has been there, seen it and done it with Portsmouth.

“He is a good talker and he says the right things all the time. One hundred per cent of the time, he always says the right thing.

“He understands football and he understands what is expected. To have him in and around the changing room, going through what we are at the moment, will be invaluable. He is going to be a great asset to the squad.”

Ex-boss Paul Groves persuaded Hughes to come out of retirement to rejoin Cherries in the summer – 10 years after he had left Dean Court to sign for Pompey. Having hung up his boots 12 months earlier, the cultured midfielder was snapped up by Cherries on a two-year deal.

His first-team comeback during the hectic festive period came at a particularly good time for Cherries – with Shaun MacDonald facing eight to 10 weeks out after suffering ankle ligament damage.

And Fletcher is adamant that Hughes has plenty to offer as one of the leading midfielders in English football’s third tier.

Fletcher added: “Regardless of whether or not we have got injuries, Richard is a more than capable player anyway.

“Richard will be in and around the first team whether we have got everybody fit or whether we have a few injuries or suspensions. He is a quality player.

“He has played in the top flight for the majority of his career and a fully-fit Richard Hughes will be as good as anyone in the league at what he does.”

Since returning to Dean Court, Hughes has made seven appearances, netting once with a superb free-kick in the 1-0 win at Yeovil in September.

Manager Eddie Howe added: “It was great to see Richard back.

“We just hope that he can stay fit and maintain his level of fitness because, if he can, we have got a great player on our hands and someone who has got a wealth of experience.”