LIKE everyone else inside the John Smith’s Stadium, Joel Lynch will not forget the final day of last season in a hurry.
Huddersfield Town and Barnsley went into their derby encounter on May 4 knowing there was a strong chance one of them would join Wolves and Bristol City in being relegated from the Championship.
Happily, of course, the Yorkshire duo both survived thanks to a 2-2 draw that ended with Reds goalkeeper Luke Steele dribbling in and out of his penalty area for the final few minutes as the Terriers players looked on.
Lynch was as relieved as anyone when the final whistle blew to signal Peterborough United, who had lost 3-2 at Crystal Palace, were going down and not Town or Barnsley.
The defender was, though, also a frustrated figure with his only involvement in the final two months of that relegation fight being an eight-minute cameo as Huddersfield lost 4-1 at Brighton in early March.
Not being able to play his part despite being fit had been hard and after celebrating survival with his elated team-mates, Lynch headed off into the summer determined that things would change. This resolve – and plenty of hours ensuring he returned for pre-season in tip-top condition – has since been rewarded with Lynch having cemented his place at the heart of the Town defence.
“Not being able to affect last season’s run-in was really hard,” recalled the 25-year-old defender to the Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s home game with Queens Park Rangers. “And because we were conceding goals, that maybe made it a bit harder – especially as I felt I had something to offer.
“It was hard but these things happen in football. The Barnsley game was really difficult. Really nerve-wracking, even though I always believed the lads would do it and get what we needed to stay up.
“I don’t think I can remember seeing anything like those final few minutes, to be honest. We knew halfway through the season that the target had to be staying in the division. And, thankfully, we managed it.”
Town did, indeed, survive and Mark Robins was busy over the summer strengthening his squad. Considering the defensive frailties that last season saw Town concede the third highest number of goals in the Championship, many supporters were surprised that much of the recruitment centred around improving the club’s attacking play.
Robins, however, believed Huddersfield already had the right players at the club and challenged them to improve. For Lynch, that was music to his ears.
“I came back this time determined to do well,” he said. “I did everything I could to get as fit as possible. Being part of the squad is a big thing. I have worked hard every day and given 110 per cent. Hopefully, this can continue and I can have a good season.”
Lynch has started both games this term, the 1-0 opening day defeat at fancied Nottingham Forest and the midweek Capital One Cup victory over last season’s finalists, Bradford City.
In the second of those games, he was part of a three-man defence as Robins looked to get his side passing out from the back and Lynch felt the experiment that saw him play alongside Anthony Gerrard and Peter Clarke went well.
He said: “It was an encouraging night. I won’t say we are established, that is the wrong word. But we know how to play with three at the back.
“We feel confident with each other and we also complement each other. If that is how the gaffer wants us to play then we will be more than happy doing that.
“The lads had worked hard during the week on a new style of play and I felt it came off against Bradford. Getting that first win is always important.
“We knew it would be hard on the opening day against Forest. We didn’t come away with any points and that was disappointing but we have now got our first goals and our first win.
“Three points against QPR would be a brilliant way to back that up. Hopefully, we can go out all guns blazing and do well.
“It won’t be easy, of course. They have some great players. But anything can happen on the day. This is the Championship, where everyone beats everyone else. Just look at last season.”
Survival in their first campaign back in the Championship for 11 years kept the club’s vision for the future on track.
A big part of that involves the continued upgrading of Town’s Canalside training base, which so far has cost chairman Dean Hoyle around £4.5m.
Lynch insists the investment is a sound one.
He said: “This is a club moving forward. Just look at the training ground. The chairman has put a lot of money into it and I believe it has already made a massive difference.
“Even in pre-season, training was a lot better for us. The pitches are first-class and the set-up is really professional.
“At (previous club) Brighton, we trained at the University while Forest had a great training ground. That helped everyone as it made training better and the lads felt more confident as a result going into the weekend.
“We are practising things now that we couldn’t last season because of the pitches. Last season, things weren’t as good and that made it hard for us.
“Now, though, we can get some good quality in on the training pitch and it seems to be paying off as there is a good atmosphere round the club.
“As for the season itself, I am sure we can do better than we did last time.”