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Playoff Countdown – Huddersfield Town In Preview

It’s not long now. The wait is almost over. On Saturday 14th of May the League One playoffs commence. The first of these games is Huddersfield vs Bournemouth. After catching up with Cherries fan, Chris Lines we thought it was time to get a ‘Terriers’ point-of-view. Thankfully for us was able to provide it:

Huddersfield Town is embarking on its seventh Play-Off campaign looking for a third promotion via this method, the second at this level.  It comes on the back of a record breaking season that saw the club push Southampton all the way for that second automatic promotion place, only for the relentless final push by the Saints pushing them up in the final week of the season.  For Town the 2010/2011 will go down in Club Records for the highest number of points (87), the longest unbeaten League sequence (25 matches) and the highest number of consecutive away victories (6) – which blends nicely with the 13 away wins we secured, the most in League One, and a Club record for the Terriers.

Lee Clark, since becoming the Town manager in December 2008, has built up a team capable of pushing for promotion in both of his full seasons in charge, last season missing out in the Play-Offs to Millwall at the Semi-Final stage.  Granted, Clark has been remarkably backed by Chairman and Owner Dean Hoyle in rebuilding in summer, when the Terriers blended together its younger talent with some highly experienced older heads.  Clark managed to persuade the likes of Joey Gudjonsson, Gary Naysmith and Jamie McCombe to join the squad in summer – all of which have played at a higher level.  Whilst through the loan market he has brought in some exciting young talent in Benik Afobe and Danny Ward and made the strewed January signing of the talented Republic of Ireland International Kevin Kilbane – who has been excellent since his move from Hull City.

Although some of the Town support had doubts over the manager and some of his tactics, Lee Clark, is an excellent developing young manager and someone the Chairman is keen to tie up an extended deal with in summer.  Over recent months, he has changed the system away from home to allow our experienced midfield to put their mark on games and really help Town to dominate from the midfield area.  Town’s solid midfield trio of Kilbane, Gudjonsson and Scottish Under 21 star Scott Arfield have really helped to shore up defence whilst supporting the attacking options.

Last season in all competitions the Terriers scored over 100 goals, and despite this season not being as fluid with the goals scored count the club has certainly been more stable in defence. Since the injury to number 1 ‘keeper Alex Smithies, the experienced and dependable Ian Bennett has really shown his worth in goal, and fully deserved his extra 12 months on his current contract.  That said I still feel that our defence at times can look shaky, especially when teams attack with purpose and speed.  We are quite slow in defence.  Our central pair of captain Peter ‘The Rock’ Clarke and Jamie McCombe is not the quickest, but they work hard and win balls in the air.  They are also a pair that would run through a brick wall for the club, and continue running at the other side.  Yes the wall would come off worse!

At full back, we have the experienced Gary Naysmith, who I don’t think we have seen the best of.  He has had a number of injuries this season, but at times his lack of pace can look risky in our defence.  On the right flank, we have sheer quality in Lee Peltier.  He is a fantastic talent who is as happy going forward as he is in defence, rarely does he get ‘skinned’ by an opposing player.

At times our defence can cause a few hearts to flutter, as was seen during the final League match of the season, but since it has become more stable in positions etc and confidence of the unbeaten run has grown, they have helped to produce the strong foundations for the unbeaten League run with a series of clean sheets.

Let me say a few lines about a man, who is Huddersfield Town through and through and a man who is a great asset to the on field and off field branding of the Terriers, a true gentleman.  That man is the Captain, who I dub ‘The Rock’, he is also known as ‘Captain Fantastic’.  Peter Clarke is a true leader of the team on the field, he works effortlessly for the team, and he often puts his body on the line making a string of fine blocks.  I don’t believe I have ever seen a defender make as many blocks as ‘The Rock’ ever throughout my life watching my beloved Huddersfield Town.  Now in his second year with Town he’s been named the Player of the Year for the second time and the Players Player this year.  Recently he was awarded the ESPN League One Fans Player of the year, awards all very justified.  However, I’m sure Clarke would give all them awards back to hold aloft the League One Play-Off winning trophy across the M62 at Old Trafford on May 29th.  He is committed to making the team and club a success rather than himself and he works hard to push Town all the way.

 CAPTAIN FANTASTIC: Peter Clark is dreaming of leading ‘The Terriers’ to promotion.

Although in attack we have not scored as many goals as last season and at times we have not been as exciting going forward as last season, we still hold plenty of goals in attack.  Once again young Jordan Rhodes is top scorer with bags of goals, despite not featuring many times for the full 90 minutes. In Benik Afobe we have a fine young man with the pedigree evident of where he learnt his football trade.  A terrific prospect on loan from Arsenal, his pace, skill, judgement and sheer pleasure of playing the game he clearly loves is an handful for any defence.  Through injury Lee ‘Super’ Novak hasn’t played as many games as he would have liked this season, but he is still a great exciting player, who gives everything when he wears the famous colours of the club.

Injury robbed us of our star player in Anthony Pilkington who is recovering well from a horrific injury, but in Gary Roberts and Danny Ward (on loan from Bolton) we have talent on the wings, I expect them to start both Play-Off fixtures (and hopefully the third at Old Trafford).  Danny Cadamarteri and young right back Jack Hunt, can also offer excellent options on the wing.  The loss of the exciting talented ‘Pilks’ appears to have helped spur the team on and the fans have become more galvanised to push Town into the Championship next season.

A feature of the side that is an improvement on last season is, we now have a team that plays as a team.  They are conditioned and programmed to keep going to the very end and they have lost the knowledge of how to lose.  The partnerships throughout the squad and the belief in them is fantastic to see, which has put the club in a great shape going into the Play-Offs.  It will use the experience of last season’s failure, to their benefit this season, and despite missing out on automatic promotion, it wasn’t through the club messing up but Southampton’s desire to continue winning!

We have the ability.

We have the desire.

We have the team.

We have the players.

… and we have a united set of supporters who have travelled in their numbers this season in remarkable numbers. All the right components to push us onto promotion.  Personally I’m nervous about the Play-Offs, have been since May 1992 (the first taste of Play-Off action for both myself and the club), but I think on our day, on our form, we are more than capable of beating all the three other clubs in this season’s Play-Offs.  That’s no disrespect to the likes of Peterborough, Milton Keynes and Bournemouth, but I think we have the blend of talented young players and experienced ‘been there, done that’ players to drive us forward and deal well with the pressure.

We just missed out on automatic promotion, but I think we will do it in the Play-Offs, we need that, I’d even say deserve that.  With 87 points most other seasons that would have seen us go up automatically, but credit Southampton for making sure they gain even more victories to send us into the Play-Offs.  We couldn’t have done any more than we have done, to give us the chance.  Yes, earlier in the season we could have done with more wins than draws, and our home record could be said to have cost us, since we had the finest away record in League One.

Everybody has a chance in the Play-Offs. The previous 46 matches count for nothing now, it’s how confident the squad is during the next two or three matches and how much everyone connected with the four clubs believe.  They are three cup finals, and the Town need to play as they have been doing with confidence, with desire, with belief and lacking fear.  They have been a delight at times to watch this season.  Some might claim we have a bigger wage budget, a bigger squad than the rest but that doesn’t matter in the Play-Off situation.  It’s about how the team gel together, it’s about the support they gain from the fans, and it’s how the nerves and the passion can be nurtured to success on the football pitch.

Our semi-final opponents Bournemouth are one of the best sides I saw play at the Galpharm Stadium this season and they deserved their point.  They pressured the Town players all game and enjoyed playing football the ‘Brian Clough’ way – on the deck!  I think it’s fair to say the Cherries have over achieved this season, the most ardent of Bournemouth fan would surely agree, but they have gained the right to have a final shot at promotion and go into the semi-final stage on a truly level playing field with Town.  They will work hard to cause an upset and relish the ‘underdog’ status they will be given, continuing their quest for back to back promotions.  Can they do it?  As a Huddersfield fan I hope not, but this is the wonderful world of non scripted football.  Anything is possible and Lee Bradbury will be ensuring that this is drilled into his well managed, well organised side, making it very difficult for their ‘Thrice Champions’ Yorkshire rivals.  I do think it will be a ‘bridge too far’ for Bournemouth.

If we can dominate midfield and get our fast exciting wingers onto the ball, then we are a match for anyone.  We need that solidity in midfield to offer assistance when attacking and to offer defensive support when required.

I’ve mentioned earlier the away system we have used -a 4-3-3 formation (or 4-5-1) – but we have the quality and the belief that if the situation dictates we will amend the on field formation to reflect the current need.  At home we play the traditional 4-4-2 formation with two strikers.  From last season we are less maverick and more balanced and composed, working hard as talented individuals and as a team.

Expectation at Huddersfield Town amongst the supporters is high, but so too will be the ones who remember the Play-Off defeats or the fact we have never won a home leg in the Play-Offs.  But that can all change with the 2010/2011 team and I’m sure there will be some exciting periods of play. Some Town fans are like a kid in the sweet shop wanting everything they see, for others it’s more a cautious, apprehensive step back with wisdom of what the Play-Offs are.  That said every Town fan, young and old, will be cheering their team on with their last voice at Dean Court this Saturday when a sell out 1,333 will back Lee Clark’s side with sheer volume.  A feature for me as been the wonderful vocal away support over recent years, it’s something I hope continues, because I love it.

We have history, a glorious proud history; no-one can ever take that away from us.  But the most important game is the next one.  One game at a time.  History is past, but now we want a successful future, based on a successful present.  The club is built on strong foundations.  Dean Hoyle is a terrific gentleman, a businessman, and a fan.  He is both hard working, charismatic, transparent and a loyal Town fan.  He loves the club, as much as any fan.  He has given everything possible to Lee Clark, to enable Clark to build up a capable and talented squad.  It’s a model that fans believe will bring a bright future.  When I see the changes and the development from last season, it’s the reason why I believe we will use the disappointment felt at the New Den last May to our advantage and believe that this really could be the year of the Terriers.

Good luck to all 4 teams in the playoffs.

It is seriously worth checking out this link here to get more news on the playoffs:

And I would recommend following on Twitter (@barmyarmyuk) here:!/barmyarmyuk


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