Charlton Athletic v Bradford City: Lee believes Grayson's simple approach will suit Bantams
Not only are Bradford, like Town in February 2012, still smarting from a League One play-off final defeat nine months ago, but the axe fell on Grayson’s predecessor Stuart McCall last week with his side sitting in the play-off places.
Huddersfield were fourth at the time of Lee Clark’s sacking just 24 hours after a Valentine’s Day defeat to Sheffield United.
The two Yorkshire rivals would meet again a little over three months later at Wembley in a final that saw Grayson’s side prevail in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
Alan Lee, the former Terriers striker, remembers the time well and he believes Bradford have chosen well with McCall’s successor.
“It was a strange one with Lee being sacked,” recalls the 39-year-old Irishman to The Yorkshire Post. “We had been on that fantastic record-breaking run (43 league games unbeaten) and reached the play-off final the previous year.
“But there was a real sense of big pressure being on the club. A lot of money had been spent and yet we were still in League One. We had let ourselves down in the (2011) final (when losing to Peterborough) and everything had built from there even though we had still gone on that long unbeaten run.
“We were close as a team and close with Lee and the staff. Lee is a really good guy. But, for whatever reason, it just wasn’t happening.
“As players we felt responsible as it was Lee who lost his job. Simon was very different to Lee. I knew him anyway because we had been at Villa together, me as an apprentice.
“He was just the character we needed in a situation like that, with the pressure on. He was easy-going, not a shouter unless something really needed to be said.
“Simon arrived with the experience and calm head needed to ensure we got over the line. It was never about him, he had no ego whatsoever. Just about making sure the players were all right.”
A six-game losing run brought the end of McCall’s reign eight days ago. Clark, in comparison, could be considered unfortunate to lose his job with that 1-0 loss to the Blades being Huddersfield’s first reverse of 2012.
There was, though, a feeling that a third consecutive disappointment in the play-offs beckoned under the former Newcastle United midfielder.
Hence a change that paid dividends when Grayson’s side prevailed in one of the most dramatic penalty shoot-outs the new Wembley has witnessed.
Five of the first six spot-kicks were missed, including one by Lee, before both sides suddenly found their range from 12 yards. Town and United could still not be separated after all ten outfield players had taken their turn, leaving it to the goalkeepers and it was Alex Smithies who held his nerve as Steve Simonsen ballooned his effort over.
“Simon was very calm on what was a big day for the club,” added Lee. “He relaxed everyone and that helped. As a player, play-off finals are absolutely horrible until the final whistle blows.
“Then one half of the stadium is ecstatic and the other inconsolable. Thankfully we were the ecstatic ones at Wembley. I missed my penalty, I had a dreadful feeling beforehand.
“But so did a lot of the early takers and, in the end, we won it.”
Huddersfield’s success was the third of four promotions that Grayson has won from League One as a manager.
Three have come via the play-offs, Blackpool (2007) and Preston North End (2014) the others, while his Leeds United side went up as runners-up in 2010.
That know-how is why City have turned to Grayson, who when appointed on Sunday became the first manager to take charge of all three West Riding clubs.
“It is a good appointment,” added Lee. “What happened to him at Sunderland wasn’t right. He could have made a real difference there with time, but, instead, they got rid of him.
“The situation facing Simon is similar to when he took over at Huddersfield and that worked out really well.
“A very honest manager, he is someone players respond well to. He kept it simple at Huddersfield, recognising that there wasn’t a lot wrong.
“We were still in the play-offs and just needed that calming presence, someone to get us back on the right road. We ticked over until the end of the season and then, when the pressure was really on, he made sure we delivered.”
Last six games: Charlton Athletic WDWWLD Bradford City LLLLLD.
Referee: N Kinseley (Essex).
Last time: Charlton Athletic 1 Bradford City 1; March 14, 2017; League One.