Huddersfield Town v Burnley: Josh Ruffels ready to make his mark as Championship season kicks-off
With perhaps one honourable exception.
In comparison to last summer, it’s been soothing – unruffled if you pardon the pun – for Terriers left-back Josh Ruffels.
A bout of Covid which ensured he missed the big kick-off in 2021-22 was ill-timed. A double whammy arrived in the outstanding form of Harry Toffolo, which ensured that Ruffels had no option but to cop bench splinters with his first league start not arriving until the home derby with Sheffield United in mid-February.
Ahead of his second season at the club, the 28-year-old has now got a full pre-season secured under his belt. Toffolo has also left for pastures new and he could well be the biggest beneficiary of his move to Nottingham Forest.
Casting his mind back 12 months, Ruffels said: “It was not ideal. And this year has been a lot smoother than last pre-season.
“I have had a good summer with plenty of rest, but I am raring to go. Pre-season has been perfect for me.
“I feel really fit and I know certain players have left, but we have recruited other players. Everyone is ready to go now.
“Huddersfield has been brilliant for me. The only thing missing was getting on the pitch and hopefully this season will be a little bit different and I can contribute on the pitch more and show what I can do.”
Ruffels’ comment that the ‘only’ thing missing last season was more game-time shows his capacity for under-statement. For most footballers, it is the only thing that matters.
Toffolo’s sale means the gradient that Ruffles must climb has at least got less steep.
“I have been ready since I came through the door, but sometimes things don’t work out quite how you planned,” he said.
“Everything happens for a reason. He (Toffolo) had a great season last year, credit to him. I have had to watch from the sidelines and it is a learning curve for me.
“I always had in the back of my mind that being patient and staying positive would pay off. Hopefully I will get the opportunities to show what I can do.”
Speaking of heights, Ruffels and his team-mates were recently put to the test during a team bonding day at St George’s Park which included navigating a 40-foot climbing tower.
It was managed by most of the group with some exceptions.
After scaling heights to finish in third place last season and reach the play-off final, the talk among the Championship soothsayers is that Town are set for a big fall in 2022-23 – more especially after the exits of Toffolo, O’Brien and Carlos Corberan.
Ruffels has a clear answer to the doubters.
He continued: “We are all backing each other and last season was no fluke and we are ready to go again. There’s a lot of motivation and confidence in the lads that it is not a one-season wonder and that we can go one better.
“It (Corberan’s exit) was slightly unexpected, I can’t lie. I didn’t see it coming. But the decision was made and everyone has to get together, staff included.
“Danny (Schofield) has come in and done brilliantly well and training has been just as good and everyone is chipping in as working as hard as they can and hopefully hat pays off.
“Last season came through hard work and togetherness and why can’t we do it again? There has been no hangover.
“We were pleased on how far we’ve come and just want to build on that. We are chomping at the bit. Pre-season has been short and sharp, but it’s been enough and we are ready to crack on.”
On how he fared on the climbing tower, he said: “I wasn’t too bad and I think I was up there. Duane Holmes in our group was really good. But Gio (Bellagambi) was awful. I think he got about halfway up and started screaming. But it was funny and we had a good time. It was good team bonding for the lads.”
Tonight, Town open up against relegated Burnley, with the Clarets holding happy memories for Ruffels in the not too distant past. Maybe it’s another positive omen for him.
His first start for the Terriers came in the surprise FA Cup win at Turf Moor in January, when he was one of many Town players to perform admirably.
An encore would certainly not be sniffed at.
Ruffels added: “We have to build on that and know we can do it from last season.
“Just because they have come down from the Premier League, there is no reason why we cannot put on a performance at home.”
Last six games: Huddersfield WWWDWL; Burnley WWLLDL.
Referee: J Linington (Isle of Wight).
Last time: Huddersfield 1 Burnley 2, January 2, 2019; Premier League.