IN his younger days, Richard Hughes would have been disappointed with two brief substitute appearances.

But coming off the bench during Cherries’ festive clashes against Yeovil and Crawley was cause for a double celebration for the Scotsman.

Not only did it herald his return from a lengthy injury layoff, it also saw Hughes feature for the first time under Eddie Howe, one of his biggest pals, both in football and life.

The pair struck up a close friendship during their playing days together at Dean Court between 1998 and 2002 before being reunited when Hughes followed Howe to Portsmouth.

Once close to being sold as a package to Wigan, they have remained good mates for the past 10 years with Hughes one of Howe’s biggest supporters, particularly during the early days of his managerial career.

Tempted out of retirement by Paul Groves in the summer, one of the last things Hughes would have expected when he headed back to Dean Court would have been another reunion with Howe.

However, as fate would have it, the day came in October when Howe’s unveiling as Groves’s successor coincided with Hughes limping off during the early stages of Cherries’ 2-0 win over Orient.

Hughes, 33, told the Daily Echo: “People will say it sounds a bit far-fetched but there were only two managers I would have come back for – Paul Groves and Eddie Howe. It was surreal when Eddie replaced Paul.

“I have had a lot to thank them for throughout my career. It continues with Eddie and I am delighted to have an opportunity to work under him. Even while I was on the sidelines, I really enjoyed it. He has been good to me and has kept me as involved as he could. That meant a lot to me.”

Hughes, who made the lion’s share of his 154 Cherries appearances alongside Howe under Mel Machin and Sean O’Driscoll, added: “From my point of view, playing for Paul and then Eddie was a seamless transition.

“I am here to help him in any way I can. We have a good relationship, both on and off the pitch, and I enjoy working with him.

“I know how he likes to work and I love being a part of it.

“I know how Eddie thinks, I know how he likes his teams to play and I know what he wants. When you love football and have a keen interest in the game, it is great to have an opportunity to work with someone like Eddie.”

Hughes, whose involvement this season has been restricted by hamstring problems, knows he may only feature sparingly under Howe.

“We both know the situation,” said Hughes. “There are some really good players here and I have been really impressed with the standard.

“If we end up achieving something, which everyone is working hard towards, and I end up watching two or three other midfielders for the rest of the season, nothing would make me happier.

“When you have a spell away from the game, you become less selfish. When I was in my 20s and I was out of the team, I needed someone to have a dip in form to get back my place. One of my responsibilities as an older pro is to try to help the younger lads fulfill their potential.

“We have got some outstanding players and everyone who has played has done well. I want to be involved and I want to play, if I deserve to. I would hope to be ready if called upon but me wanting to play is secondary to what the manager needs.

“When I came on against Crawley, I didn’t want the game to finish. Even though it was only an accumulation of about 15 minutes, the two sub appearances meant a lot to me.

“I want to be available and I want to be able to lend a hand. It will be up to the manager when he needs me.”