WHENEVER Jack Hunt has looked at the Championship table in 2016-17, he has probably viewed it with a wry smile.
There has been no escaping it for the Rothwell lad, whose daily business takes him ‘over the border’ into South Yorkshire to ply his trade with Sheffield Wednesday.
Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Leeds United are three proud Yorkshire clubs with designs on promotion – incorporating Hunt’s current employers, his former club and his home-town side.
In a season when the White Rose has stood tall at the top end of the Championship for the vast majority of it, Hunt is intent on being the last man standing – and most definitely on his new housing estate.
Given his links with West Yorkshire, Hunt admits that plenty of banter has been flying around – and it is likely to intensify as a compelling season reaches a thrilling climax.
Talk surrounding the delicious potential for a repeat of last season’s all-Yorkshire play-off affair at the home of football has already done the rounds among fans of the three local rivals.
Yet the professional in Hunt, who has played in two such finals – Wednesday’s loss to Hull City last May and Huddersfield’s victory over Sheffield United in the late Spring of 2012 – knows there are plenty of gradients to be successfully climbed first.
The first takes place this evening when the Owls welcome automatic promotion-chasers Newcastle United. But whatever happens tonight and in future weeks, Hunt is safe enough in making one prediction – that the jesting between those of an Owls, Leeds and Town persuasion will continue.
Hunt told The Yorkshire Post: “I took my little girl and my dogs for a walk on Tuesday morning before the (Rotherham) game. They are still building on my estate and one of the builders said to me: ‘Leeds are above you at the moment’ and then we got the win (at Rotherham) and they lost (at Brentford) the other night.
“But that is part and parcel of it and it’s a good bit of banter and fun.
It feels like everyone is against us (sometimes) and a lot of people are saying how poorly we are doing at the moment.Sheffield Wednesday’s Jack Hunt
“Deep down, I want to finish above both Leeds and Huddersfield. If we get promoted, I might just go around and see the builder!
“Picking up points is the most important thing at this stage of the season and we have got to limit mistakes and win games. Even if we don’t play well and win, as long as we get points on the board, we don’t care how we do it.”
If Wednesday do manage to get over the line and claim their redemptive moment and clinch promotion after their heartbreaking play-off final loss to the Tigers, it is likely to be sweetened by the fact that they will have proved a great many people wrong in the process.
Check out much of Owls-related social media – not to mention the airwaves – and evidence of people knocking Wednesday’s credentials at regular junctures is never far away with many of their performances having been pilloried during a season which has been functional rather than laden with finesse.
Hunt and his team-mates are fully aware of that, but equally conscious that their position is still a pretty healthy one.
A critical incentive at this time of year is perhaps no bad thing and Hunt admits that there is a quiet inner-determination among Wednesday’s players to make their point by gaining promotion.
Hunt, part of an Owls side who ended a four-match winless sequence with a key derby victory at the New York Stadium on Tuesday evening, said: “It feels like everyone is against us (sometimes) and a lot of people are saying how poorly we are doing at the moment.
“You don’t really hear that about too many other teams but you have to get on with it and it is part and parcel of football. Hopefully, we can put that bad little spell behind us, ensure that’s the end of it now and really kick on for the rest of the season.
“Performances have dipped slightly and that is the concerning thing for us as we have a great, honest set of lads in there and we know when we have not done as much as we can.
“You could say that about a few recent results and performances and that’s what we want to correct rather than be disappointed about not winning those games.
“Part and parcel of this business is taking criticism and everyone knows about that, especially the more experienced lads. We don’t really need to speak about that too much as stuff like that speaks for itself. We can use it to show some real grit and fire in our belly and Saturday will be a good time for us to show the league what we are about.”
While it would be a perfect juncture for the Owls to make a statement by way of securing a double over Newcastle this evening, gloss would be provided if a key goal-scoring contribution was provided by someone whom Hunt knows well from his days at Huddersfield in Jordan Rhodes.
For a player whose currency is goals, a haul of three in 12 matches is not earth-shattering, although Hunt’s view that people should write him off at their peril is perhaps wise, given that his goals last April ultimately made a massive difference in Middlesbrough being promoted.
On Rhodes, Hunt said: “His experience and goal-scoring record speaks for itself. I think we could have done more to help him to score more goals.
“But he has also done a lot of other good things and held the ball up well and been a real outlet for us in turning the back fours of other teams.
“We all know what Jordan can do. You give him a chance in front of goal and you can generally guarantee he’s going to score.”