EDDIE Howe has offered a public vote of thanks to Tommy Elphick, hailing his former captain as “an inspiration” and a “fierce protector” of the club’s ethos.

Defender Elphick this week completed a £3.25million move to Championship newcomers Aston Villa following four memorable years with Cherries.

Appointed captain by Howe towards the end of the 2012-13 season, Elphick led Cherries to two promotions in three years and will be remembered as the most successful skipper in the club’s history.

A hugely popular figure at Vitality Stadium, he was ever present as Cherries won the Championship in 2014-15, although injury restricted him to just 12 appearances in the Premier League last season.

Howe, whose second spell as Cherries manager started two months after Elphick had signed from Brighton for £175,000, told the Daily Echo: “I want to publicly thank Tommy for the four years he gave the football club.

“He has been an incredible servant and the most successful captain in the club’s history.

"He led the club and the team with real distinction, both on and off the pitch. He was also a great ambassador and someone I really enjoyed working with.

“Tommy has a real winner’s mentality and that was very evident to me as soon as I started working with him. He never lost it for a second and was always fiercely determined to do his best at all times. He is a person of great character and an inspiration to all, especially his team-mates.

“He has played a key role in the incredible journey we have been on and has been a big part of a team which has created some wonderful memories for a lot of people and everyone connected with the club would like to thank him for his efforts.

“Apart from people within the club, nobody really sees what goes on day to day and everyone just sees the output on the pitch.

“Tommy performed very well on the pitch for us. In our Championship-winning season, he was outstanding and, with Steve Cooke, formed a formidable partnership in the middle of our defence. Our goals against record was very good and that, in part, was down to how solid they were as a pair.

“A lot of what Tommy did our supporters didn’t see. The way he was with his team-mates in training and the way he communicated with the squad away from the pitch were top class.

“You need players to set the standard and the culture of the football club and Tommy was a fierce protector of everything we did. That is why I think him and I had such a good relationship and why everyone in the squad respected him so much.”

Asked whether he felt Elphick could have a future in management, Howe replied: “I think he has the potential to do whatever he wants in life. Whatever he turns his mind to, he will give it his best and will be successful in whichever path his chooses.

“I do see a potential manager or coach in him because he has a good football brain. He has the appetite to work hard and to develop himself so I could see him turn his hand to that in the future.”