Huddersfield Town v Sheffield Wednesday: Jack Hunt keen to deliver top-flight return for Owls fans

Sheffield Wednesday's Jack Hunt. Picture: Steve Ellis
Sheffield Wednesday's Jack Hunt. Picture: Steve Ellis
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DURING Jack Hunt’s time at Huddersfield Town, the club’s mission to reach the Championship could best be described as all-consuming.

Painful League One play-off failures in successive seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11 ensured Town’s time away from the second tier would continue into a second decade. Admirably, the collective resolve to achieve their cherished goal did not diminish, only harden.

The adage that all good things come to those who wait ultimately rang true in the case of Town, who finally, if belatedly, had their moment on one fateful late Spring afternoon at Wembley in May 2012 when they returned to the second level of English football – a home which Terriers supporters view as their traditional one.

Joy and relief was abound in equal measure after Huddersfield beat Sheffield United in an engrossing penalty shoot-out in the League One play-off final as the journey – and wait – for one part of West Yorkshire finally ended with Town returning to the Championship for the first time since 2000-01.

Part of the Town side that day, Hunt now finds himself as a direct play-off opponent to his former club – in the colours of the Steel City’s other senior footballing representative, Sheffield Wednesday.

The brave new world ordained by the ‘Wagner Revolution’ may be inspiring Town in their fresh quest to seek a path back to the top tier for the first time in 45 years, but for Wednesday, it is a Holy Grail every bit as grand as their fans crave a return to where they believe their spiritual footballing abode to be.

Huddersfield Town's Alex Smithies (left) and Jack Hunt celebrate promotion to the Championship after winning the League One Play-Off Final Final at Wembley in 2012. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA.

Huddersfield Town's Alex Smithies (left) and Jack Hunt celebrate promotion to the Championship after winning the League One Play-Off Final Final at Wembley in 2012. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA.

After realising one epic mission in his days at Town, Hunt knows just what achieving another would mean to everyone connected with the Owls, who last dined at the top-flight table in 1999-2000.

To say the club are desperate for Premier League football to grace Hillsborough in the club’s 150th centenary season is no understatement.

The 26-year-old may look back with fondness on his time at Huddersfield, but business is business, with the steely and determined look in his eye ahead of the semi-final between two famous old Yorkshire clubs suggesting that the here and now is all he is concerned with.

Hunt told The Yorkshire Post: “I think Huddersfield have been fantastic, to be honest and they deserve a lot of credit. The chairman has backed the manager and he has made some fantastic signings. They have bought a real quality footballing side and all credit to them.

They have bought a real quality footballing side and all credit to them ... but we will be looking to spoil it for them.

Sheffield Wednesday’s Jack Hunt on former club Huddersfield

“But we will be looking to spoil it for them.

“It will be a great occasion for Yorkshire and, hopefully, it will be us who come through.

“I have a few buddies there still. But there have been a vast amount of changes since I was there and it is four or five years ago now. The same chairman is still there and he has done really well to put the club in the position he has and congratulations to them.

“But my focus is all on us.

“It will be tough, but we are confident we can take on anyone.”

After a tear-laden denouement on the Wembley turf in the play-off final almost 12 months ago, the need for a Churchillian type team talk ahead of the Owls’ second successive play-off campaign is likely to prove unnecessary.

All of the players who suffered despair against Hull City will still carry collective and individual scars, with the motivation to put right the wrongs of last May being self-evident.

The argument that the extra-motivation could provide the Owls with an added edge is one which is not discounted by Hunt, fuelled by memories of that hollow, sick feeling he felt in the pits of his stomach on May 28.

He said: “I think it could (give Wednesday an edge), yes. But it is not going to guarantee us anything and we are going to have to be right at our best and know that if we are, then we are very confident that we can go up.

“We do not talk about what happened last year too much. But it is definitely there and we do not want to be feeling like we did last season again.

“Experience helps and we have had another 46 games building relationships and we have made some really good signings. The strength in depth is better than what it was last season.”

Given the Owls’ resounding end to the regular season which saw them win six league games in a row to secure their play-off place for a second successive campaign, confidence is unlikely to be an issue at S6 either.

A final-day game in what amounted to a ‘dead rubber’ against Fulham last Sunday may have broken that sequence in a 2-1 loss, but for Hunt, the outcome was largely academic.

It spoke of a club who attached no particular importance as to who they would want to play in the semi-finals either. That, in its own way, also pointed to a club with a total sense of focus and refusal to be distracted from their overall goal.

Hunt, likely to be recalled tomorrow after being one of 10 leading Owls players handed a breather last weekend, added: “I didn’t think we would necessarily get Huddersfield, to be honest. We could have finished third, fourth or fifth and when I was looking at the scores, Reading were winning 2-0 at half-time. That kind of sealed it that we would play Huddersfield.

“But it is 25 per cent for everyone and 50-50 with us and Huddersfield and we will see what happens. We won six in a row and it would have been nice to make it seven. But our main focus is on the play-offs and it has been a big week for us.”