Luck was not with the Terriers as injuries conspired to help turn an encouraging first half of the Championship season into a terrible second and put them in danger of dropping into League One until the final weekend of the campaign.
They finished 20th with 49 points, two places and two points worse than in 2019-20.
A terrible run of serious injuries to key players undermined the pre-Christmas momentum and Huddersfield’s 18 points from 24 games is the worst return in the Football League in 2021.
It would be foolish, though, to only put it down to luck. Huddersfield must examine what part they played and in particular Corberan’s notoriously intense training methods which may have come as a shock to some bodies.
A lack of squad depth and the mentality of the players in adversity also contributed. Having fought relegation two seasons running in the Premier League – once successfully, once not – and survived it in their first campaign back in the Championship, Town’s players should be more psychologically resilient than they appear to be.
“Adaptability has been one of the keys,” reflected Corberan. “At some moments we’ve not managed that well, and I think that means we’ve not been able to be consistent in the league.”
Striker Danny Ward agreed, saying: “I think in the first half of the season we showed some good stuff, it’s just that bit of consistency. Every team goes through tough patches and it’s knowing how to deal with it and come out of it as quickly as possible.”
In fairness to Corberan, he changed the team’s style in late season to make it more pragmatic, albeit with limited results.
In the second half of the season, he had to do without Ward, Josh Koroma, Richard Stearman, Carel Eiting, January signing Rolando Aarons, Harry Toffolo, Christopher Schindler and Alex Pritchard for long periods. Oumar Niasse joined as a free agent in March but was never fit to play, and Tommy Elphick’s final appearance was in November, 2019.
“Having the maximum availability of players is important,” said Corberan. “We thought we would only be able to have three substitutions and they changed it (in November) so we could have five. You have to adapt and we had to start playing players we hadn’t started the season with.
“The skill to be able to adapt is important and maybe we didn’t do it in the best way.
“Josh Koroma was a very big player for us and was scoring a lot of goals for us. Until we got Rolando Aarons, we did not have many other options (in the wide attacking positions). We played a lot of games in a row with the same starting line-up.
“After January, we maybe took a step back in the level of competitiveness and we tried to make things more simple in attack, especially after Yaya Sanogo arrived, and we found a new balance in the team – especially against Cardiff at home with Alex Vallejo in midfield.
“But then Vallejo got injured, and we had to adapt again. We’ve had a lot of long-term injuries, not many where it’s been one or two weeks.”
Many players have described Corberan’s training methods as the hardest they have encountered but if there is some encouragement to be taken, it is from neighbours Leeds United. Similar things were said during Marcelo Bielsa’s first season, when Corberan was on his coaching staff, and they too saw their form fizzle out in the second half of the campaign but the mythical “Bielsa burnout” has not been seen in the two seasons since.
Huddersfield have been very frugal over the last two years as they adjusted to the very different financial realities outside of the Premier League and in a global pandemic which saw their parachute payment cut during the last season.
Elphick, Pritchard, Niasse, Stearman, Schindler, Sanogo, Jayson Leutwiler, Demeaco Duhaney and Jaden Brown have been released. With discussions ongoing with Richard Keogh, of those whose deals expired this summer, only Fraizer Campbell has so far agreed a new one.
Recruitment is not Corberan’s department, but sporting director Leigh Bromby is going to have to deepen the squad and hopefully find more physically and mentally resilient players this summer.
“We’re going to analyse every player and their performance and what’s available in the market,” promised Corberan. “I can’t tell you exactly what our main targets will be in terms of players, but as a club we need to make the squad the strongest it can be.
“We want the best players available in every position.
“It would be positive to get business done early because it helps everyone know what we’re planning for. I have my philosophy and you want to work with players as early as you can.”
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