Huddersfield Town: Do they have enough substance and style to maintain their early-season Championship promise

EARLY days in the 2021-22 season it may be, but when Huddersfield Town make their latest trip to the Potteries on Saturday, they may just pause for thought and give thanks.

The Championship rival who they face in Stoke City might just do the same as well.

Two autumns ago, they met in a league game of huge significance at the Bet.365 Stadium on October 1, 2019, with Town heaping the pressure on the shoulders of beleaguered Potters manager Nathan Jones by way of a precious 1-0 victory.

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It represented Huddersfield’s first win in twenty league matches since February of that year and a maiden success under Danny Cowley, while sorry Stoke propped up the Championship table after a similarly grim winless streak of 16 games.

Hidden gem: Sorba Thomas of Huddersfield Town (Picture: John Early/Getty Images)

Despite that triumph, Town remained in the bottom three in a season to forget for both.

Today’s standings make for better reading, with both among the early frontrunners and residing in the top six. After stress-filled and painful days in the aftermath of exiting the Premier League, there is a shaft of light at the end of the tunnel.

Stoke’s status as a pacesetter is perhaps not the surprise it seems. Squad realignment may have seen some big earners leave, but some serious Championship players remain in place who would grace most sides at this level such as former Sheffield Wednesday striker Steven Fletcher and ex-Hull City midfielder Sam Clucas.

Additionally, Sam Surridge and Ben Wilmot were two of only 10 players signed for more than £1m by second-tier clubs in the summer window.

Captain Jonathan Hogg and Huddersfield Town won three on the bounce before the international break. (Picture: John Early/Getty Images)

The feats of Town exceed Stoke’s, in many respects. More especially since the doom-mongerers were out in force as recently as August 14 after they capitulated 5-1 to Fulham in an awful opening to the season on home soil.

A character test – not necessarily a bad thing in early season – was passed in a game of nerve next up against Preston when another bad result would have intensified the pressure on the shoulders of head coach Carlos Corberan, who has already been through a fair bit.

Momentum and belief has built since, with a last-gasp win at Bramall Lane aiding in the bonding process and reconnection with a fanbase who were in danger of becoming agitated or, at worst, apathetic.

Shrewd observers will justifiably point to the fact that Town enjoyed a similar bounce in the opening part of last season after taking ten points from a possible 12 in one four-game spell, only for the promise to dissipate as quickly as it arrived. But this time around, there seems to be more substance, if Corberan’s side can avoid the injury issues which blighted them last term.

Lewis O'Brien stayed with Huddersfield Town in the January transfer window despite interest from Leeds United. (Picture: John Early/Getty Images)

The Fulham match aside, Town’s game management has looked more sound than it did for much of the second half of last season, when results fell off a cliff and relegation was a real fear.

Performances since have reflected well on experienced and reliable additions to the backline in the summer, with ‘horses-for-courses’ signings in the likes of Lee Nicholls, Tom Lees and Matty Pearson coming to the fore. All fall into the ‘good professionals’ variety.

Their presence could also yield a long-term positive spin-off on Naby Sarr, another who has started the new campaign well.

As for the style?. That has been chiefly manifested by a hungry and talented recruit from non-league circles in Sorba Thomas, who is providing further evidence to show that diamonds can be found beneath the EFL if you look hard enough.

Matty Pearson of Huddersfield Town celebrates scoring the opener in the thrashing of Reading. (Picture: John Early/Getty Images)

The attitude and desire of those who come up the hard way can rarely be cast into doubt and in fiscally-challenging times, they also provide that value-for-money aspect that clubs crave.

His link-up play with Josh Koroma suggests they are on a similar wave length and augurs well if both can stay fit and fresh.

The midfield partnership between Jonathan Hogg and Lewis O’Brien – who very much remains a Town player despite serious interest from Leeds – will also be an important one as will the defensive axis of Sarr, Lees and Pearson in whichever order they play.

The early form of a talented loanee in Chelsea’s Levi Colwill, culminating in a maiden call-up to the England under-21s, adds to the good feeling, while the arrival of another highly-rated teenager in West Ham’s Mipo Odubeko is exquisitely timed.

It is surely much better for a young loanee with a fair reputation to arrive in a dressing room in good times as opposed to bad or indifferent.

Speaking of timing, the cutting of ties with Isaac Mbenza, who this week became the final expensive Town signing from the Premier League era to depart, also drew a welcome line in the sand as Town psychologically attempt to move on after three pretty torrid seasons.

Players present now seem to want to be there.

Yes, it would be foolish to make bold predictions as to quite where Town will go this season. But the signs are that the club are at least finding their way again.