FOR the past couple of days, Joe Lolley has been glued to the coverage of the Masters in Augusta.
His money is on Jordan Spieth to triumph come tomorrow night, though the Huddersfield Town midfielder does admit to having initially backed Rickie Fowler.
As much as Lolley has enjoyed the 80th Masters, however, he did find watching Ernie Els suffering that horrendous attack of the yips on Thursday painful in the extreme.
“I felt really sorry for him,” said the 23-year-old when speaking at Town’s Canalside training ground yesterday. “All the lads did, we were talking about it in the dressing room earlier. Not good to see at all.”
The sympathy felt by the Huddersfield squad for the four-time major champion was genuine. No one likes to see a fellow sportsman implode like Els did on the Augusta greens.
What may also have been partly fuelling the empathy felt for Els is that the Terriers seem to be suffering from their very own mental block this season. Namely, a total inability to beat any of the Championship’s promotion chasing pack.
In 15 meetings with teams currently residing in the top eight of the table, Town have lost 13. Only Brighton & Hove Albion’s visit to the John Smith’s Stadium in August and the trip to Ipswich Town two months later yielded any form of reward for the Yorkshire club.
This meagre tally of two points from a possible 45 illustrates the size of the task facing David Wagner if, as is hoped by the Town hierarchy, the German is to next season start to bridge a gap on the elite teams that, on results alone, resembles a yawning chasm.
Performances, to be fair to the Terriers, have been a lot better in those clashes against the Championship elite than results suggest but, even so, the suspicion remains that, just like Els, Wagner’s men have a mental barrier to get over.
“We maybe haven’t spoken about it in the dressing room,” said Lolley to The Yorkshire Post when asked about this lack of success against Burnley, Middlesbrough et al. “But I think we all know we haven’t got the best record against these teams.
“We have struggled. It is hard to pinpoint why. Maybe they spend a bit more money and have better quality players.
“But we always seem to be in games against them. Only to come out with the wrong result every time. Hopefully, we can put that right against Hull.”
The past week has brought further tales of woe for Town against the Championship’s leading clubs courtesy of defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough.
Despite that, Huddersfield still enjoy a healthy eight-point advantage over the bottom three to suggest it is unlikely that the final weeks will bring a scrap to avoid relegation. Lolley, though, does not want to take any chances as he today eyes a first victory over a top eight team.
“Hull’s loss in midweek (at Derby County) was heavy,” added the midfielder. “They will be desperate to put that right and give themselves a chance of automatic promotion. We know they will be right up for this.
“Our job is to match that and make sure we get the points we need to get clear of trouble. The gap is a healthy one at this stage of the season. It isn’t something we are worrying about.
“But you only have to look at Rotherham, who have picked up so many points in the last six games to see what can happen.
“Any team in this division can go on a run like that. So, it is important we get those points quickly to make sure we don’t have any worries going into the last three or four matches.”
Providing Town can steer clear of trouble in the closing weeks, this season has to go down as a satisfying one for Lolley.
Having joined the club in January, 2014, from non-League Kidderminster Harriers, he took time to adapt to such a big step-up in class.
So much so, in fact, that when Huddersfield kicked off the campaign with a 2-0 defeat to the Tigers at the KC Stadium, Lolley didn’t even make the matchday squad of 18.
A loan spell at Scunthorpe United followed but, even in League One, Lolley’s progress stalled and he admits to harbouring doubts about the future direction of his career. Then, though, came the appointment of Wagner, who saw sufficient promise in the midfielder to give him a chance.
“There was a time when I did feel it was never really going to happen here for me,” said Lolley, who has featured in all but two Town games since mid-November. “I worked really hard last summer and thought this year could be one where I made an impression and became a proper Championship player.
“But I wasn’t in the squad at the start. I then went to Scunthorpe, started the first three games but then I found myself on the bench. I did question what was happening. Am I good enough? What am I doing wrong? That sort of thing.
“There was then a chance to come back but the manager at the time, Chris Powell, extended the loan. I did think it was never really going to happen here for me.
“But then the manager changed and I got the opportunity to play. We played Boro and had no left winger. Part of me was thinking, ‘I won’t play’. Over the previous 18 months, someone from another position had been drafted in at times like that due to being more experienced. But the gaffer gave me a chance and now I feel like all the hard work has been worth it.”