Desire of new boys can help Town stride forward

IF there was such a thing as a blueprint as to the best way to handle the dejection of losing in the play-offs, Sunderland's reaction to Michael Gray's penalty miss at Wembley would be it.

Not only did the Black Cats respond so magnificently to losing an epic final against Charlton Athletic by not losing until the 19th game of the following season, they also set a new points record for the second tier.

Reading may have since eclipsed the 105 points Sunderland racked up during the 1999-2000 campaign, but that still takes nothing away from just how admirably Peter Reid's men coped with such a crushing disappointment as missing out on promotion via a penalty shoot-out.

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One man who experienced the contrasting emotions that accompanied those two campaigns for the Stadium of Light club was Huddersfield Town manager Lee Clark, who believes lessons learned back then can be put to good use with the Terriers as they look to banish the memory of May's play-off semi-final defeat to Millwall.

He said: "At Sunderland, it was a collective effort from the players and the staff that made sure the club bounced back. We drew on the feeling we had at Wembley, focusing on how we didn't want to ever go through that again.

"As players, we had that steely determination from the first game to make amends and we maintained that right through the season.

"We knew from how close we had come to winning promotion that we were good players but had been done by a little bit of bad luck. We knew we were not far away, and I think this group is exactly the same."

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The 2-0 aggregate defeat to Millwall ended any hopes of Town taking the Yorkshire contingent of clubs in the Championship for the 2010-11 season to seven.

It also ensured a campaign that had seen Huddersfield play some truly scintillating football – particularly at home, where they scored more than goals than every side in the Football League bar Newcastle United and Notts County – ended in disappointment.

Clark said: "It has been a long summer, to be honest. After just a couple of weeks, I wanted to get back to pre-season. Then, once the lads were back in for training and I saw how up for it they were, I wanted to get the league programme underway.

"Having said that, it was important for the players to get away. It is tough physically with the number of games they play, but also mentally with what happened. There were a few bruised egos after Millwall.

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"They needed time to recover from that and reflect. After a few weeks, I am sure they could see what strides we had made.

"For example, there was a period when our away form was questioned but in the second half of the season we changed that round to be in the top six.

"Then, the talk was of how we hadn't beaten anyone in the top six but the Millwall win at the Galpharm (in April) ended that.

"It was all there, apart unfortunately from when it came to the crunch and we were unable to go that final length.

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"What we have to do now is go that extra step and get one of those three promotion positions."

With that in mind, Clark has been busy in the transfer market with a lot of his work being done before the Town squad were due to return for pre-season training.

Falkirk's Scott Arfield was the first to join in a deal reported to be worth around 400,000, while the likes of Gary Naysmith, Jamie McCombe and Joey Gudjonsson followed to bring a wealth of experience to a team whose average age for the play-off semi-final first leg with Millwall was just 22 years and 10 months.

Clark said: "I have tried to bring in players that can not only enhance the quality levels within the squad but also help when things maybe are not going so well.

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"My thinking was we needed more experience, but with desire as well. There was no way I was bringing in anyone who saw this as a final pay day.

"The lads I have brought in from a higher level are ones with options to stay there on financially better deals. But they chose Huddersfield.

"That is not to say they are not getting well paid here, they are. But they had better packages available elsewhere and it was the desire to do well that brought them to Huddersfield.

"They want to be part of a successful club, and that answered to me what their motivation was like."

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As with last summer, Clark's recruitment drive has been made possible by the deep pockets of chairman – and lifelong fan – Dean Hoyle.

The Town manager said: "Dean is a huge fan of Huddersfield Town and I am determined to give him the success he deserves.

"He has backed me 100 per cent in everything I have asked for. The backing has been second to none, which is great as the relationship between manager, chairman and chief executive is vital in any club.

"The three of us – myself, Dean and Nigel (Clibbens, chief executive) – have a good relationship and bounce ideas off each other. We are not frightened to put our own thoughts forward in meetings together.

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"We talk, dissect things and then take it from there. I enjoy working here and feel very lucky in that I look forward to coming into work every day."

As for the promotion race this time around, Clark admits it is once again going to be a keenly-fought affair.

The Town chief said: "There are probably seven, eight, nine clubs who could challenge. The three who came down from the Championship will be strong, as will the clubs who were around us last year with Southampton probably the favourites.

"The key is we are getting it right and moving forward. To maintain that, we have to keep making progress. And progress from last season will be getting one of those promotion places."

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Tomorrow: Doncaster chief Sean O'Driscoll on if his Rovers side can live up to their billing as the Championship dark horses.


IN: Scott Arfield (Falkirk, 400,000), Joey Gudjonsson (Burnley) pictured, Gary Naysmith (Sheffield United), Ian Bennett (Sheffield United), Jamie McCombe (Bristol City), Lee Croft (Derby County, six-month loan), Joe Garner (Nottingham Forest, six-month loan), Graham Carey (Celtic, six-month loan).

OUT: Joe Skarz (Bury), Andy Butler, Dean Heffernan (Melbourne Heart), Phil Jevons (Morecambe), Robbie Williams, Simon Eastwood (Oxford United), Lewis Nightingale, Michael Collins (Scunthorpe United, undisclosed), James Berrett (Carlisle United).

last season: 5th, League One.

yp verdict: Promoted. After 18 months of undoubted progress since Lee Clark became manager, Town seem ideally suited to launch a promotion push. Last season saw Huddersfield establish a reputation as League One's great entertainers, especially at the Galpharm. However, a lack of a killer instinct at times away from home coupled with two below-par performances when it mattered the most against Millwall in the play-offs also pointed to a squad lacking sufficient experience. Clark has moved to change that this summer with Gary Naysmith and Joey Gudjonsson being brought in along with Jamie McCombe, who boasts almost 300 league appearances. Southampton have a great chance of lifting the title, but Huddersfield will not be far behind.