as the countdown to the new football season draws to a close, football reporter Leon Wobschall gives his verdict on Yorkshire’s clubs and offers his five key things that each team must improve.
During their second-tier tenure following promotion in 2011-12, Huddersfield Town have invariably remained in that Championship hinterland above the drop zone and below mid-table.
For the pragmatists, that is satisfactory enough, but for plenty of others of a blue and white persuasion, there is a yearning for the club to do that bit better.
Town’s third season back at Championship level was a veritable mixed bag - a curate’s egg of a campaign.
Safety was assured, comfortably enough in the end, with Town ending the season in 16th place with a haul of 55 points.
But it was a somewhat inconsistent season for Chris Powell’s side, although in mitigation, the ship was steadied somewhat after a truly disastrous start to the campaign, which kicked off with a 4-0 home loss to eventual champions Bournemouth - and a cascade of boos that proved the prelude to the quick-fire exit of Mark Robins.
Here are five seasonal aims for Town, who kick-off the campaign with a Yorkshire derby at Hull City on Saturday.
1: Improve their defensive statistics.
As the old saying goes, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Huddersfield Town shipped 75 goals in the Championship last season; only the relegated duo of Millwall (76) and Blackpool (91) shipped more goals. Bournemouth, Watford, Brentford, Norwich, Derby, Ipswich and Wolves all put four goals or more past Town last term.
They also leaked three goals in games against the Rams, Leeds United, Cardiff City and Charlton Athletic. Not good enough was the cry for the Kilner Bank.
Defensive solidity, or lack or it, is clearly an issue. Town’s back four imploded on several occasions last term and they worryingly leaked a fair few goals in clusters and the pattern has continued in pre-season.
While strikers hunt in pairs, all successful sides at the back are built on commanding centre-defensive partnerships.
In that respect, pre-season has not been encouraging, with four goals shipped in a friendly defeat at Rochdale and Town’s defences breached three times in a 3-1 loss at National League outfit Grimsby Town. Powell’s side need to get back to basics and being obdurate and hard to beat - they lost just twice in their final ten league matches last term.
Town’s established centre-defensive partnership is Mark Hudson and Joel Lynch, who had their travails at times last season.
Aside from Murray Wallace, options are short behind Mark Hudson and Joel Lynch aside from Martin Cranie switching to the centre.
2: Hope that Jason Davidson can solve that problematic left-back position.
With Jack Robinson suffering a serious injury towards the end of last term and now back at parent club QPR and with Reece James having returned to Manchester United, a left-back was always key priority area for Town.
Former West Brom player Davidson has made a decent impression down the left for Town in pre-season and it remains to be seen how he links up with down the left, with options including Harry Bunn and Kyle Dempsey, who played in a ‘tucked-in-’ position in Saturday’s 2-1 reverse at Barnsley
3: James Vaughan’s fitness - that old chestnut.
On song, fit and firing, Vaughan is a proven operator who stretches any Championship defence. But therein lies the issue. The former Everton and Norwich forward’s injury problems have been well chronicled - he was out for a large spell in the first half of the season with a serious hamstring injury, with the first of his seven goals last term not arriving until Boxing Day. At times, the Championship itinerary is thoroughly unforgiving and the relentless schedule, often between international breaks, can prove somewhat arduous, more especially for a player like Vaughan. Back striking options is both sensible and pragmatic.
4: Improving home form at the John Smith’s Stadium.
To be fair to Chris Powell, he went close to cracking it for parts of last term. After losing 2-1 to Boro on September 13, Town went on a six-match unbeaten run on home soil and lost one in nine in the Championship before being turned over 2-1 by Leeds United on January 31.
But the latter part of the season proved disappointing, with just two wins in their final nine matches of 2014-15. More consistency at home is required.
5: Remedying derby form as well is needed.
In eight matches against sides from the Broad Acres, Town took a dismal three points from a possible 24, with Leeds sealing a first double over them since April 1939 and Boro also beating them twice. Two draws arrived against the Owls and Rotherham won in the league in Huddersfield for the first time since 1964. It was a far cry from 2013-14 when Leeds were beaten 3-2 and Town put five goals past Barnsley without reply and also won at Hillsborough. Better form and a claiming of some bragging rights certainly would not go amiss next season, with more local games than ever next term.
Burnley and Preston will provide Roses tests along with Jordan Rhodes’ Blackburn Rovers, while Hull City are back in the Championship.