LEE NOVAK reacted with incredulity to suggestions he might be joining Huddersfield Town’s League Two neighbours Bradford City last month.
It was not a direct sleight on the Capital One Cup finalists, more the division they compete in – and residence in League One holds no more appeal either.
Not for the Geordie striker, nor for every single Huddersfield supporter, with the Championship all that matters to Town.
The Terriers’ attempts to regain their place in the second tier of English football which they unceremoniously vacated in 2000-01 became an all-consuming crusade for the best part of eight years.
It bordered on the obsessional. Not just for their players, but for everyone associated with a club who see it as their natural home.
The sight of the likes of Doncaster Rovers and Barnsley – sides who Town consider to be smaller than themselves – lording it in the Championship while they were in the division below added to the frustration.
After some tear-jerking episodes – particularly at Old Trafford in 2011 – Town’s mission was joyously if belatedly realised at Wembley last May where ecstasy intermingled with relief.
Town, under an ambitious chairman in Dean Hoyle, had lift-off, with their go-ahead developments behind the scenes dovetailing with progress on the pitch, and the feel-good factor continued into the opening few months of the current campaign.
That autumn sunshine has since been replaced by dark winter clouds, with Town – who boast just one win in their last 16 Championship matches – one place above the dreaded drop zone heading into today’s monumental home showdown with relegation rivals Ipswich Town.
After striving so laboriously and passionately to get back to the Championship, it is suddenly in danger of being taken away.
Novak, one of a number of current players who played a part in the rollercoaster journey to reach the second tier, admits the fear of returning to the third level of football is something which will drive him on during a crucial Spring period.
Summing up things succinctly, he said:“No one wants to go back down to League One.
“By that, I mean everyone connected with the club. It’s a Championship club and one that is looking up.
“The club is more important than individuals. We have worked very hard to get into this League, so there’s no way we want to give it away that easily and go back down.
“A lot of players here have played in League One and I definitely do not want to have a relegation on my CV. I am very confident that I won’t.
“If we start winning soon and picking up positive results, I am sure we won’t.
“This is a tough league – the hardest one to stay in and the hardest one to get out of. But I am very confident we will stay in this division and once we do that, the only way is up.
“We aren’t going to give it up easily and everyone is fighting and pulling in the same direction. There’s only one way we want to go.
“There’s a lot of ex-Premier League sides and players and internationals in this league and it’s the place to be.
“One win can take you up four places and that shows how tight it is. If you go on, say, a run of three wins, it can push you right away from the relegation zone.”
It has been the toughest of baptisms for new manager Mark Robins, who yesterday made his first move in the loan market with the re-acquisition of Theo Robinson from Derby County on an emergency loan.
Town have also been linked to Swansea City defender Alan Tate.
Robins has suffered back-to-back defeats in League and Cup with the schedule affording no let-up.
While Sunday’s 4-1 FA Cup loss to Wigan was disappointing, the 6-1 midweek drubbing at Nottingham Forest was catastrophic, with Novak acknowledging that result as a ‘shattering’ one.
After a lengthy post mortem into the horrific loss, Town’s players are eager to draw a line under things and go again, according to Novak, who while not usually one to check positions, has been made aware of the club’s current predicament by goalkeeper Alex Smithies.
He said: “It knocked a lot of us on Sunday and Tuesday. To concede 10 goals in two games is really hard. But we have a confident bunch here and it’s about putting it behind us now. We have talked about it and that is the end of it.
“Yes, we are still hurting and sore, but if we keep thinking about it, it will keep playing on our minds, so we won’t.
“We have been working hard on the training ground to put those results behind us. There’s no point thinking about it, although everyone was devastated. We now need to pick up a positive result against Ipswich.
“It is a massive game, although they all are now. We have 14 games left and will treat everyone as if they are a cup final.”
Novak’s main focus may be on the greater good for his club, but the clock is also ticking regarding his own future, with the 24-year-old’s current deal expiring in the summer.
The former Gateshead forward admits that in an ideal world he would like to extend his stint in West Yorkshire, and he has held talks with the club.
Novak, who joined the club in January 2009, added: “I am up at the end of the season, but the most important thing at the minute is getting the club away from the relegation zone. That is my main focus at the minute.
“There have been a few conversations and we will just have to see what happens.
“There is no pressure. I am sure the manager is aware I am out of contract. I just want to play and save the club now and hopefully then stay at the club.”
Robinson, 24, has rejoined the Terriers on a loan deal until the end of the season. He scored 16 goals in 45 appearances for the club in League One.