By Tony Leighton
Matt Ritchie is not expecting to make it a hat-trick of Football League Player of the Year awards this season - but it is injury, not form, that has cost the Bournemouth winger the chance of completing what would be a unique treble.
Ritchie was named League 2's top player in 2012, when he helped his previous club Swindon Town to promotion, then last year he collected the League 1 award while playing a key role in the Cherries' rise to the Sky Bet Championship.
Sadly he was then forced to miss the first third of the current campaign through a thigh injury that was sustained during the club's pre-season trip to Switzerland and that kept him out of action until the end of November.
The 24-year-old winger, who began his career at his hometown club Portsmouth, told football-league.co.uk: "I was raring to go when we started pre-season, but then I got injured and the next four months were the toughest time of my career.
"I started my rehab okay, but then I had a recurrence of the injury and ended up having to go to a clinic in Rome for treatment. That worked really well for me, though - the work they did on me kick-started my recovery."
So well did Ritchie recover that, when he began playing again, he hit five goals in his first seven games to show he could make the step up to Championship level just as easily as he had done in moving up from League 2 to League 1.
Like Ritchie himself, the Bournemouth team have adapted well to the demands of the higher division and they currently sit comfortably in mid-table. "We've come on leaps and bounds as a team this season," he said.
"When I came back it certainly helped me to be in a side that was playing well and proving they could become established in the Championship. That was obviously the aim at the start of the season, and it's going well."
Ritchie is enjoying life at the Goldsands Stadium having admitted that, when his move from Swindon took place in January last year, he was more than a little disappointed to leave the club where he had made a name for himself.
"I was sad to leave Swindon," he said, "because I really enjoyed playing for the club. But coming to Bournemouth, who are a progressive club with great ambitions, has turned out to be a tremendous move for me and I love it here.
"The club's ambitions match my own and hopefully, after having the unbelievable experience of picking up back to back 'Player of the Year' awards and getting up to the Championship, I can achieve those ambitions here."
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