JONATHAN HOGG does not scare easily. This, let’s not forget, is the fearless midfielder who manager David Wagner likened to Bear Grylls following the pre-season trip to a remote island in Sweden that saw Hogg adopt the role of chief hunter and fire-starter for his grateful team-mates.
But, as he lay stricken on a hospital bed in Bristol while still wearing his Terriers’ kit, fear haunted the 28-year-old.
An accidental collision with team-mate Mark Hudson during Town’s defeat at Ashton Gate had left Hogg with no feeling in his left arm and a broken neck.
“It was really scary,” recalls Hogg about the March night that threatened much more than his career. “When the doctors and the specialists said I had fractured my spine, I didn’t have a clue what to think.
“I had pain that I had never felt before and I was worried about my career. I knew the season was definitely going to be over.”
A little over two months on from a drama that was played out in front of the nation due to the game being shown live on television, Hogg is looking forward to Wembley and a possible return to the Premier League.
We have been written off from day one. Everyone always expected us to drop off and tail away. But we have proved a lot of critics wrong.Jonathan Hogg
It is a turn of events that no-one saw coming amid the outpouring of sympathy from within football that followed Town revealing the extent of his injury. Not least the man himself, who happily found out a few days after the collision that the doctors had got it wrong and there had been no fracture after all.
“Getting the all-clear was pure relief,” he recalls. “I couldn’t believe my luck. I thought the season was definitely done. We were doing so well, and we were going to be there or thereabouts, pushing for automatic or getting into the play-offs.
“It was a big reality check and it just scares you more than anything else. I really thought my season was done when I got that bad injury. But I was lucky enough to get some good news, get the all-clear and crack on.”
Hogg was back in action 19 days after being stretchered from the field at Ashton Gate, playing 81 minutes as Norwich City were beaten 3-0 at the John Smith’s Stadium. He then featured in all but one of Town’s final 10 games, the 2-0 defeat at Birmingham City when Wagner made 10 changes with the upcoming play-offs in mind.
On Monday, he will return to Wembley four years on from being part of the Watford side who lost in the Championship play-off final.
“I didn’t have to get my head around it much because I felt so lucky,” replies Hogg when asked about what went through his mind ahead of that return against the Canaries. “It felt like I had been given another chance to help the team achieve what we all want to achieve. It was more of a relief than anything else.
“I saw four or five specialists and they said just crack on. So, I did. To be with the lads and get to this stage where we are is special. One minute it was gone, and the next minute it was round the corner and I was back in the mix of it. Now, we have Wembley. It will be massive for me to play there again.”
Crystal Palace and Kevin Phillips were responsible for the crushing disappointment that was Hogg’s previous appearance under the Arch. The former England striker settled a tight game in the Eagles’ favour with an extra-time penalty, meaning arguably the most dramatic ending to a semi-final in play-off history amounted to little more than a pleasant memory for Hogg and his Watford team-mates.
The finale in question came at Vicarage Road, Leicester City the visitors. An already absorbing tie had moved into the seventh minute of stoppage time at the end of the second leg and the aggregate score was locked at 2-2 when the Foxes were awarded a debatable penalty.
For Hogg, his Wembley dream seemed in tatters. Manuel Almunia, however, saved the spotkick and then the rebound before Watford began the counter-attack to end all counter-attacks. Hogg played a key role, cushioning Fernando Forestieri’s cross into the path of Troy Deeney and he did the rest by firing past Kasper Schmeichel.
“That was a pretty crazy feeling,” smiled Hogg when reminded of that dramatic win over Leicester. “One minute you think you are gone, your season is finished and you will go on holiday. But then Almunia made a double save and we went to the other end and scored.
“I have never felt a thing like that before. That has got to be my best moment in football. One minute your dreams have gone, they have been shattered. Then all of a sudden you are down the other end and you have 25,000 people running on the pitch at the same time.”
Will victory over Reading on Monday top even that special memory for Hogg?
“Oh yes, definitely,” the Town midfielder replied immediately. “If we can make that final step, 100 per cent it will top it. We all want to play in the Premier League. That is why you play football, to play at the highest level. It would be a good moment for all of us if we can do it.
“Promotion for Huddersfield would be bigger. The amount of players we got in at Watford was incredible. On the first day of pre-season, we had 30 new players or something like that. It was crazy.
“They tried everything to get to the Premier League, which is where they are now, so you can’t fault them. But our lads, we have been written off from day one. Everyone always expected us to drop off and tail away. But we have proved a lot of critics wrong.
“Now, we just have to take that final step. Some of the lads haven’t witnessed Wembley yet so they will play with no fear. We need to just play like we have done all season, really, and not let the occasion take over. There is a lot riding on it but you can’t let that get the better of you.”