Matthew Crichton: After looking nailed on for relegation, EFL specialist Neil Warnock looks to have come in to save the day! What did he change which led to a five-game unbeaten?
Matt Shaw: Neil “The Necromancer” Warnock. So-called for his ability to speak to the dead. Make no mistake, one month ago that’s exactly what we were. We were up to our necks in the relegation quicksand, we were done, finished, gone.
We made two woeful head coach appointments this season in Danny Schofield and Mark Fotheringham who between them ruined the confidence and cohesion of the playing group. It took a little while, but the ultimate man manager, the silver-tongued trainer never panicked, kept calm and kept taking the pressure off the playing group, got them smiling again and our luck changed for those 5 games. We’ve now got a fighting chance.
MC: Huddersfield play Sunderland, Cardiff and Sheffield United, before what will surely be a relegation decider at home to Reading, what is your current gut feeling about staying up?
MS: I’ve gone from accepting certain relegation, to being on the brink of something resembling a smidge of confidence, to being worried again.
Had we held on against Blackburn on Monday I’d have had some confidence that we could pull ourselves clear before the last game, but the injury time goal and then a poor showing at Swansea has left me feeling a little bit rattled.
Was that 5-game run a flash in the pan, was it luck? I think we need a result tomorrow to stay on the favourable side of the relegation line before we play again in 12 days. Will we stay up? I can’t call it now, but I’ll have a better idea come Thursday morning and hopefully our old hero David Wagner does us a turn.
MC: Despite having one of the worst away records, Warnock’s side have recently beaten Millwall and Watford on their travels - do you think he has taken that fear factor away?
MS: Honestly, we were just absolutely gash because we weren’t winning at home either. Warnock’s man management is again the key as he’s been able to increase the confidence of several players and we now have key performances from some players who’d been written off and had been told that they had no future at the club.
It’s been quite the turnaround with a few handy little subplots to boot and it’s all down to the confidence that the wily old fox can instill into his side – plus getting a player or two back from injury.
MC: Moving onto the players, when the two sides last met the most nailed-on thing to happen occurred when Alex Pritchard opened the scoring and cupped his ears, I’m guessing he’ll due a couple of boos?
MS: Ironically, it came a minute or two after he’d attempted to take someone on and fell flat on his face to a chorus of laughter from the Kilner Bank – something that was nailed on if he was wearing a blue and white shirt. But I guess he had the last laugh, again.
It’s just one of those things in football isn’t it, he’s our Jack Rodwell if you like. Pritchard will go down as pound for pound one of the worst signings in our history. He commanded a big fee (for us) and was a top earner on PL money for 3 years (not his fault he was offered it) and was a complete flop. You can sometimes forgive that if the work rate is there, but his cause wasn’t helped by more than one manager over an 18-month period accusing him of refusing to play for the club on several occasions. Finally, Pritchard was paid to not turn up for the last few months of his contract as Carlos Corberan and co felt that he was a bad influence around the training ground. You throw those stories out there and football fans won’t respond kindly to the player. In his defence, this is a club-controlled narrative. Perhaps the truth is more favourable to Alex, he never seemed like a bad bloke to me in all fairness, even if he’s rolling around in his vault like Scrooge McDuck.
To answer the question, I dare say some will boo and some will be indifferent. I’ll be the latter and will be focussed solely on the players that now play for us.
MC: Huddersfield signed the likes of Martyn Waghorn, Matt Lowton, Anthony Knockaert, Joseph Hungbo and Thomas Vaclik since we last met - who has hit the ground running best?
MS: Honestly, none of them. Our work in January was a complete shower of madness and throw in that we let our most creative player in Sorba Thomas leave on loan and it was bonkers.
Vaclik has taken a while to get fit and he’s probably still only 75% of the way there but he’s done well lately and Hungbo has shown some good flashes. Lowton and Knockaert have been disastrous.
MC: Aside from the above-mentioned players, which Huddersfield players are currently thriving under Warnock?
MS: Everyone. The back 4 is looking more solid with a man-to-man system with Matty Pearson also finally back to fitness.
Rarmani Edmonds-Green has done a good job sitting in front of the back 4 but the success story is probably Josh Koroma who was told he was surplus to requirements and had an unsuccessful loan to Portsmouth in the league below.
Some Warnock magic and he’s shown flashes of the player who we thought could be the next big thing two years ago.
MC: We discussed last time about a potential takeover happening at Huddersfield, has anything progressed on this?
MS: Yes, Sacramento Republic owner Kevin Nagle has had an offer accepted to buy the club and the takeover is currently going through the ratification process with the football league.
Will he be any good? Will he spend any money? What are his plans and motivation for buying us? Absolutely no idea…
MC: How do you expect Warnock to approach the game tactically?
MS: Defend deep, defend like crazy, let you have the ball, smother the space, and try and counterattack by hitting long balls into the corners.
It’ll be an affront to your eyeballs, but we are absolutely awful with the football, you don’t want us to have it and we don’t want it.
MC: Are any players missing for the match and which eleven players do you think he will select?
MS: We’ve had an insane injury list and a recent flu bug to boot. I do not expect many to return to the squad, but hopefully, there are no more new casualties. If I had to guess on the side, I would go with:
GK: Vaclik, RB: Pearson, CB: Lees, CB: Helik, LB: Ruffels, DM: Hogg, DM: Edmonds-Green, RM: Kasumu, CM: Rudoni, LM: Koroma, CF: Ward.
MC: Huddersfield won 4-2 on their last visit to the Stadium of Light back in 2003 - what is your prediction for the score this time around?
MS: We’ve spent the last 180 minutes chasing shadows and averaged 21% possession. The players have been absolutely out on their feet and the last thing we needed was a Tuesday game.
I’m not sure if we’ve anything left in the tank and can’t see us keeping up with the likes of Diallo and Clarke. 2-0 to Sunderland.