Huddersfield v Barnsley: Robins aims for calmer waters after dramatic May day

Huddersfield Town manager Mark Robins and owner Dean Hoyle.
Huddersfield Town manager Mark Robins and owner Dean Hoyle.
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No matter what the future holds for this fixture, or what unfolds today, it is unlikely to match the drama that unravelled the last time these two Yorkshire rivals met at the John Smith’s Stadium.

On a sunny day on the first Saturday of last May, Huddersfield Town and Barnsley contested a 2-2 draw that played on the frayed nerves of everyone involved and ended with the unprecedented scenes of two sets of supporters united in delight.

The result meant both clubs avoided relegation from the Championship, even though on two separate occasions during the 90 minutes Huddersfield fell into the bottom three, while even after the final whistle Barnsley weren’t certain of their fate.

A late turnaround by Crystal Palace in their home game with Peterborough United hauled Barnsley out of the bottom three in the dying moments of the season and saw the Posh eventually relegated with a record tally of 54 points.

Ten months on and Barnsley find themselves back in that perilous position and with a new manager in Danny Wilson trying to replicate what David Flitcroft accomplished last year, a feat Robins likened to a “Houdini” act.

Robins’ own team are safe for this season, having used their own escape act as a springboard to more serene times.

Yet the events of that May afternoon still remain fresh for Robins.

“I have unbelievable memories of that game,” he says.

“At 1-0 down we were in the bottom three; then at 1-1 we were safe, but 2-1 down more or less straight after they’d brought Jason Scotland on and that dropped us back into the bottom three.

“It was a really surreal game. I had Steve Eyre at the side of me saying: “We’re in trouble boss, we’re in the bottom three”. They were anxious times.

“I brought on Lee Novak and I was just trying to pin them in and get at them. And it worked. Lee got the ball and it bounced off him a couple of times and fell to James Vaughan who put the ball in the back of the net.

“Thankfully we were then safe. Then the news came through that Crystal Palace had scored against Peterborough and that both of us would now be safe.

“And the next bit was unbelievable. I’m screaming, ‘What you bloody doing? Go and try and attack them’ and my players are just sat on the ball not having a go.”

One of those players was Danny Ward, Town’s fleet-footed winger who was happy, for once, to disobey his manager and stand still.

“Their keeper had the ball and their manager was telling him to just keep it, and we were happy to stand on the halfway line,” recalls Ward.

“Our gaffer was telling us to close him down but there was no way we were going to do that! I didn’t know what to do. It was a strange experience but good to be part of.”

Barnsley’s safety was finally confirmed two minutes after the final whistle, at which point Reds fans in the visiting end poured onto the pitch to join their rivals in celebration.

“What happened at the end will live with everyone in the stadium,” recalls Robins.

“All the supporters were singing together and chanting “Yorkshire, Yorkshire”.

“I’ve worked for both clubs so I know what it meant to Barnsley as well as knowing what it meant to us.

“I watched it back a couple of days later, when the coverage was flicking from the studio to different games, and even then I had hairs on the back of my neck.”

Honouring such fond memories has helped drive Huddersfield Town forward this season.

There has been an acute appreciation in their preparation for today’s game at their Canalside headquarters, that the game was a seminal moment in the club’s history.

If the Terriers hadn’t have kicked on this season then that memorable day and “monumental” achievement in staying up as Robins describes it, would have been all for nothing.

“They were really high emotions that day,” says Robins.

“This season we’re mid-table so it’s slightly less emotional for the supporters, and it’s a challenge now of staying focused on the journey we’re on and the stage we’re at.

“We’ve moved it forward significantly and now we want to maintain that.

“It was a monumental effort last season and the players deserve credit, but it’s been a massive effort to get us to where we are this time and they also deserve praise for that.”

Town’s stride forward in Robins’ first season has taken them to the comfort of mid-table, progression that while creditable has not been without its frustrations.

The Terriers have become the archetypical mid-table team; a match for the best in the division one week, a shadow the following week as they toil against struggling teams.

Robins points to the fact that Huddersfield are a work in progress and that an average age of 23 in the squad defeated by Sheffield Wednesday last week is symptomatic of a team that is staggering the introduction of young players that start brightly before fading.

With no major end-game to play for, like a promotion chase or a survival race, keeping his players motivated to ensure the season does not fade out is his main challenge over the final months of the season.

But for Robins, a player’s motivation to be the best he can be should provide enough drive to ensure that Town are not sucked towards the relegation battle.

“It’s got to be an intrinsic motivation,” adds Robins. “If you’re not motivated to come in and do the best job you can then you shouldn’t be here. When your career’s over you look back and you wish you could turn the clock back and play again.”

Hearteningly for Robins and Town fans, Ward confirms that the players have no intention of slowing down.

“No matter where you are in the league you’ve got lace up the boots and have the maximum motivation,” says the 23-year-old.

“There’s no issue with the players not giving 100 per cent.

“We put so much in at the back end of last season to stay up so to throw it away now without trying to push on would be stupid.”

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk