Huddersfield Town v Burton Albion: Refreshed Terriers get ready for final leg of campaign
WHEN head coach David Wagner took his Huddersfield Town players away to a remote island off the coast of Sweden for a pre-season training camp that was more Bear Grylls than Brentford' his intentions were two-fold.
Not only did the German want to integrate fully his double figure tally of signings into the squad, he also wanted to test their character outside the modern-day comfort zone. One man made a big impression, as Wagner made clear when speaking in The Yorkshire Post a couple of days before the campaign started with Brentford’s visit to West Yorkshire.
“If there was one player who enjoyed it a bit more than the others it was Jonathan Hogg,” he said. “He is a real hunter and survivor.”
Such a description has proved prescient, Hogg having gone on to become a key figure in Town’s unexpected promotion push before this week performing a remarkable recovery from a suspected neck fracture in the club’s last outing to return to training.
The 26-year-old will not feature today against Burton Albion. But he could return against Norwich City in front of the live Sky cameras on Wednesday night and there is little doubt that Hogg’s presence at Canalside this week has lifted the entire club.
“I found out about Hoggy on Tuesday,” said Chris Lowe about his team-mate’s return following the sickening collision with Mark Hudson that left Hogg requiring 14 minutes of treatment on the field during the 4-0 defeat at Bristol City before being stretchered to hospital.
“It was good for everyone. We were all happy. We have him available and that is big because he is a big character in our team.
“What happened at Bristol was difficult for all of us. We know that if he stays on the ground, there is something serious happening. Now, though, he is back and available for the final games.
“Everyone knows if Hoggy is on the grass, it is good for all of us. He can push everyone and we need this between now and the end of the season.”
The subsequent diagnosis by the doctors of a fracture in Hogg’s cervical spine combined with Town’s thumping at Ashton Gate meant the international break was well timed.
Wagner, well aware the Terriers had played 13 games in seven weeks, gave his players a few days off. Many of his foreign contingent either went home or joined up with their international team-mates, Aaron Mooy (Australia), Elias Kachunga (DR Congo) and Jon Gorenc Stankovic (Slovenia) among those to jet off.
Others took the chance to enjoy a few days with their families at home in England and Lowe, whose tireless displays down the left flank have been a big feature of Huddersfield’s push for the Premier League, believes the time off has given everyone a fresh lease of life.
“I went back to Germany for the weekend, just for two days,” added the 27-year-old. “I switched off from football, especially after the Bristol game. We had four days off after that and it was important not to spend the time thinking about football.
“Leave that behind. For us Germans especially, this season has been a lot of football. A very different season.
“We have played 37 league games so far and last season I played 25 in total. That is a big difference. That is why it is important to not think about football all the time.”
The desire to switch off from the game is understandable.
Lowe, a free transfer capture from FC Kaiserslautern last summer, is playing his first season without a winter break and he admits the experience has been an eye-opener.
“Not having the winter break was new to me,” added the full-back. “It has meant we, as players, have needed a little bit more time to recover.
“But the manager made some good decisions, especially with me. I did not play every game and that has helped me because I still feel all right. I definitely have these last nine games in my legs.
“Our fitness has been big for us. We need that in these final games.”
The energy reserves that have proved so integral to the hard-pressing game favoured by Wagner will be tested to the full in the coming weeks.
Today’s visit of Burton Albion is the first of nine league outings in 37 days. There is then likely to be two or even three more play-off ties in May if Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion, as expected, hold onto the two automatic promotion slots in the Championship.
“Refreshing the legs was important, but also our heads had to be refreshed as well,” said Lowe.
“It means we can now focus on an important and busy month, as we look to put in all the energy we have.”
As for the prize of possible Premier League football at the John Smith’s Stadium next term, Lowe added: “For us, it is not the time to dream. We know that we have the quality in this group and have a chance to be promoted.
“But we have to work hard, play at our highest level in every game, if we are to take this chance. This is not a time to dream for our players.
“We are a good group and we have good players behind the first XI. The manager has made changes in the English weeks when we had three games in a week. It is important because we have eight games in four weeks.
“We need everyone this month. It has worked so far, It can keep working. Every player has done well in this dressing room. We are third in the league.
“No one expected this from Huddersfield Town, that we would still be there with nine games to play. We have to keep doing the same things.”