Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Hoping for happier Huddersfield visit as Dougie looks to play his aces

Huddersfield away last season was, in essence, where the Psycho-bubble burst for me last season. The John Smith's Stadium, on November 1, was the first time I'd actually seen us lose in person, having missed the Cardiff away and Blackburn home losses.

The Pearce honeymoon - with 11 unbeaten league games before that first defeat in Cardiff - was already over, yet the loan signing of Tom Ince threatened, we hoped, to get things back on track.

The positive frame of mind with which we went into this game disappeared within a minute. One swift long throw and Joel Lynch header exposed a brittle back line. Chris Powell's men then attacked with the bit between their teeth and messrs Lichaj, Fox and particularly Lascelles and Mancienne floundered badly as two more goals flew in for a resounding 3-0 thumping.

Ince was presumably man of the match, in his own head at least, as the remaining embers of early season enthusiasm were drained from attacking players who had lit up the league in the early couple of months. Just three more victories followed for Pearce (although one was a good un) before the end of January and the axe was wielded.

Fast forward to this season and current boss Dougie Freedman is in distinct danger of building his own bubble of optimism as the John Smith's Stadium beckons again. Post Michail Antonio, the Scot has shuffled his pack and impressed during three tough tests.

Back to back away games at QPR and Birmingham yielded an impressive 6 points and although Middlesbrough at home ended in defeat it was arguably the best performance of the lot, against a side destined to challenge for the title.

Having eloquently spoken about the need for a sensible, long-term approach to squad building in the past, this week Freedman spoke wisely about the tactical battle of modern day Championship football.

In the last three games he's relished having the ability to mix things up across his 'front six', shuffling the pack wisely so not to expose those returning from injury or acclimatising to English football. The points tally - and performances - should be seen as a triumph for the manager.

Contrary to stereotype, he's also been bold. He took off Kyle Ebecilio at QPR having previously sent him on as a sub, started Ward and Blackstock ahead of QPR-slayers O'Grady and Mendes for the Birmingham game and opted for an attacking line-up with two strikers to take the game to Boro. Each of those decisions was not a safe option, but each showed a manager relishing the chance to use his squad to match the occasion.

Of course such moves are only ever looked at favourably if you win or play well - if Dougie tinkers and loses then similar moves could easily be held against him. But QPR and Birmingham were largely subdued and while it may have been risky to cede so much midfield ground to Boro, enough chances were created to at least get the point his side's efforts deserved.

Dougie is now, by his own admission, thinking two or three games ahead and formulating plans and line-ups accordingly. I don't know if he likes chess but he seems the sort (in a nice way). It'll be fascinating to see what he does to try to overcome a Huddersfield side that has had its own recent upsurge, winning their last two games.

The hosts may not be the league's most fancied side but they are not to be under-estimated and are more than capable of swatting aside a team that under-performs. They showed that by battering Bolton, a timely warning for our side if last season's fixture wasn't fresh enough in the memory.

Freedman is a man who had the Midas touch when he first came to the City Ground. Like Pearce, he enjoyed a honeymoon period when it came to results, followed by a period of struggle. Unlike Pearce, he's now trying to build a second surge of results and has shown positive signs that he can do just that.

I won't be there to witness it, sadly. Football aside, Huddersfield was actually a decent day out last year and a trip I'd earmarked as an away fixture to take in this season. Sadly, Sky's trigger-happy schedulers have opted to put us before the cameras for a third time in September, moving the game to tomorrow night. Moving this and the Bristol City games have proved frustrating - creating a stop-start schedule of annoying kick off times. If Dougie shuffles his pack and plays his cards right I'm sure I'll soon stop grumbling...

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