Season preview piece for Huddersfield Town blog HTAFC.net

Jamie from HTAFC.net asked me for short responses to the following questions, but, being a windy so-and-so, I ended up banging on for over 1,000 words.

Jamie can have an edited version - the full text follows here…

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How do you feel about your performance in the league last season?

We made a fantastic start and although we couldn’t sustain it, our mid-table finish was a considerable improvement on the previous four seasons.  The Rams managed some bursts of good form, including some memorable victories – not least a 2-1 away win against our arch-rivals Notts Forest, despite having our goalkeeper sent off in the second minute.  However, our squad wasn’t strong enough to genuinely contend for the play-offs.

Give a summary of the signings you’ve made – and how they will improve the team.

Former Coventry City skipper Richard Keogh has come in to marshal the back four, taking the armband in the absence of injured club captain Shaun Barker.  He effectively replaces both Barker and Jason Shackell, who was sold to Burnley early in the window.  Keogh was the major signing of the summer and we had to fend off Cardiff City to get him.

James O’Connor, a steady, seasoned pro, has come in from Doncaster Rovers as an auxiliary defender.  Although predominantly a right back, he will also be expected to provide cover for veteran left back Gareth Roberts.

The midfield unit has been strengthened through the acquisition of Paul Coutts from Preston North End and young winger Michael Jacobs from Northampton Town.  With these two on board, we now have options to play 4-4-2 with two genuine wide midfielders, or with Coutts in a midfield three and Jacobs further up the field.

What has changed to help you improve on last season’s position?

Ha!  Good question.

We already knew that Barker would miss the season due to his horrendous knee injury, then vice captain Jason Shackell was sold to Burnley for a fee reportedly only just over £1m.

Keogh’s subsequent arrival means we still have at least one established Championship centre back, but nevertheless, one in and two out means that on paper, the defence is weaker than it was last season.  The committed but limited Jake Buxton is in line to be Keogh’s first-choice partner.

On the plus side, the return to fitness of John Brayford, one of the best right backs in the division, simultaneously strengthens the team defensively and going forward.

Elsewhere, we have problems up-front.  Last year’s joint top scorer Steve Davies turned down a contract extension and is probably going to move to Ipswich Town, once the clubs stop posturing and finally agree a transfer fee.  There isn’t much money available and the most plausible replacement for Davies seems to be Wigan Athletic striker Conor Sammon, on a season loan.

On the bright side, the new midfielders Coutts and Jacobs are both ball players who like to run at defenders.  With those two in the side, plus cultured central midfielder Jeff Hendrick and the tricky little forward Jamie Ward, we may well see some decent football played on the Pride Park turf this season.

Meanwhile, the youth team production line is working nicely.  Creative midfielder Will Hughes (17) and the prodigious forward Mason Bennett (just 16) have both played for England U’17s and will step up to the first-team squad this season.

Nevertheless, as it stands, it’s hard to see us mounting a play-off push, so realistically, another season of bobbing along in mid-table is probably as much as we can expect at the time of writing.

What is your opinion on the management team in place?

Nigel Clough is, in his own way, as eccentric and single-minded as his father was.  Like Brian Clough, he doesn’t suffer fools or dissent gladly and certain players have been moved on after incurring the manager’s wrath.

Clough doesn’t have an orthodox assistant manager, instead taking the advice of a ‘boot room’ committee of coaches – Johnny Metgod, Gary Crosby, Andy Garner and goalkeeping coach Martin Taylor.  They do their own scouting wherever possible and without the cash to sign Premier League cast-offs, expensive foreign imports or established Championship ‘names’, have determinedly mined the lower leagues and Scottish Premier League, unearthing budget gems like Brayford and midfielder Craig Bryson in the process.

Given that they have never been given much money to work with, the management have done a pretty good job and the club’s determination to focus on long-term youth development gives fans the opportunity to see Academy products like Hendrick, Hughes and Bennett work their way into the first-team reckoning.  All three have the potential to mature into multi-million pound players.

Who will be your most influential player this season?

Keogh has big, big shoes to fill, given that Barker and Shackell are both excellent defenders at this level and were hugely popular with the fans.  We need him to be as effective a leader as his predecessors – and to defend as strongly, as well.

The most influential player could well be one who hasn’t arrived at the time of writing – the new striker.  Derby desperately need a real goalscorer and if we could somehow find one, it would energise the home fans, keep the turnstiles clacking and could just turn a mid-table side into one challenging for the play-offs.

What does this season have in store?

I think it should be really entertaining and could well be the most exciting season for some years.  More than half of the clubs will be aiming to at least reach the play-offs and, looking through the division, there are barely any clubs you would call genuine stragglers.  So even the fight to stay up should be really interesting.

Of the obvious promotion favourites, all have potential problems to overcome.  Blackburn Rovers could well wilt in the face of the fans’ hostility towards the owners and manager – and it’s entirely probable that said manager, Steve Kean, is an incompetent buffoon.  Cardiff City are another club who have enraged their fans, by agreeing to owner Vincent Tan’s ‘Indecent Proposal’ – a change in kit colour in return for continued financial support to keep the club from possible collapse.

Leicester City are also under real pressure to get promotion this season, as their reckless spending is unsustainable and will leave them in Financial Fair Play trouble if they can’t escape the Championship.  Relegated Wolves have a big financial advantage, with parachute payments and probably big fees for some of their best players, but they have gambled on a foreign manager who hasn’t worked in this country before.

What do you think of Huddersfield’s chances? (be honest!)

At the moment, I’ve got you guys down to finish in mid-table.  However, in this division, an outstanding striker can turn an otherwise average team into promotion candidates.  Step forward, Jordan Rhodes.  Keep him and you could well find yourself in the upper reaches.  Lose him and it will be all about how he is replaced…

 

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