As a good friend of James Vaughan, Adam Clayton greeted his team-mate being named the Championship’s player of the month with a mixture of pride and begrudging respect.
In the testosterone-fuelled environment of a football dressing room, no player wants to cede too much ground to a fellow professional for fear that person would become ‘too big for their boots’.
But Clayton understands Vaughan well enough to know the recent acclaim the 25-year-old has received will not go to his head.
He also appreciates that Town’s start – although bookended by defeats to Nottingham Forest and Barnsley – owes much to the goals of Vaughan, who leads the Championship’s scoring charts on six goals.
That tally earned Vaughan his nationwide award this week and while the banter has been aimed at their leading light at the club’s Canalside training complex in the days since, Clayton acknowledges just how important a talisman the former Everton striker has become.
“I’m good friends with him so I don’t want to praise him too much, but he’s made a brilliant start,” said Clayton, the 24-year-old former Leeds United midfielder.
“Vaughany’s played in the Premier League since the age of 16, 17, so he won’t let this award go to his head.
“There’s been the odd bit of banter with the lads but that’s just the atmosphere we’ve got here.
“His feet are firmly on the ground. He knows his ability, he knows he’s not got the best touch in the world but he’ll keep scoring the goals.
“Recognition like player of the month will only add to his ability.
“But it’s not just his goals. His work rate as well is excellent. He doesn’t let defenders settle and we’re winning the ball back early.
“For us, it’s about keeping him on the pitch and keeping him fresh. As long as we do that, he’ll score goals at this level because he’s a Premier League striker.
“If I can keep giving him the chances, we’ll be fine.”
That empowerment suits Clayton. The ball-playing midfielder has revelled in Mark Robins’s new 3-5-2 formation, a change of system that has caught the eye and which owes much to the goals of Vaughan, which have masked the growing pains of such a major tactical switch.
Clayton says having a man on the end of his passes and crosses who can put the ball in the net has had an infectious effect on the whole squad.
“It’s always nice knowing that as a midfielder if you get the ball to him he’s going to score,” said Clayton.
“That fills you with confidence and makes you determined to get the ball to him. Hopefully, Vaughany can keep scoring and I don’t see why he wouldn’t.
“Obviously, strikers go through bad spells but at the minute he isn’t and long may that continue.”
Clayton is also hoping he can continue his own bright start to the season.
The international break came at arguably the right time, with Town able to recharge the batteries ahead of a spell of seven games in 21 days.
They have also had more time to work on a new formation that places the emphasis on ball retention and the creation of space, something on which Clayton is thriving.
“It gets me further forward and in the middle of the pitch where I enjoy playing,” continued Clayton.
“I like the attack-minded nature of the new position and the lads are keen to get me on the ball and it’s working well.
“We didn’t really do any of it over pre-season then we just tried it against Bradford (League Cup first round) and it clicked.
“The gaffer likes it and we’ve done work on it ever since and we’re getting better game by game. Even against Barnsley, although we lost, when we did use the ball well we looked very good in the second half.
“We do other shapes and when we go to those formations we’re showing we’re not a one-trick pony, so we know what we’re doing.
“But it’s encouraging that the gaffer wants us to pass the ball.”
For his part, Robins says Huddersfield remain in the early stages of their development as a team that plays with three at the back and wing-backs.
“It’s been a revolution in the terms of the way we are playing,” said the manager. “We’re getting there but there are still things that need working on and the players are under no illusions as to what I expect, what they need to do to contribute in each position and that they’ve got to continue to do that because they’ll be looking over their shoulders.
“That part of it is the evolutionary bit; people will grow and move with us and some may fall by the wayside.
“And we’ve got to evolve otherwise people work you out.
“As long as they continue to work as hard as they can, then that’s all I can ask.
“We’ll continue in the same vein. There are areas for improvements, and they can be vast. It is early days but we’ll keep working towards that goal because it is the right way to go.”
This week, Robins dipped into the loan market to bring in Swansea City’s Jazz Richards, a 22-year-old Wales international who on paper should fill the gap vacated by Jack Hunt, who moved to Crystal Palace on transfer deadline day.
“He did well for Crystal Palace on loan last year in their promotion season and he’s a player who’s been brought up in the style Swansea have adopted in the last few years,” said Robins.
“He’s hungry to get a chance and, hopefully, he comes in and performs to the level we know he’s capable of. I’m excited to work with him, he’s a real good asset to have because he can play right or left and in midfield.”
Robins knows all about Doncaster from last season when he took his Coventry team to the Keepmoat Stadium and upset a side that would end up as champions by winning 4-1.
Robins added: “It’s a capable Doncaster side and we’ve got to be at our best to get a result, but it’s the performance I’m looking for and a reaction to the defeat last time out.
“We don’t fester after a defeat, we analyse. That’s the key thing; losing is part of football and you’ve got to try and learn and understand why you haven’t won in any given situation.
“The mentality we have shown in the games against QPR, Bradford City and away at Millwall; if we get the performance of those levels it should be a positive outcome.”