“I think it is coming together,” Danny Cowley says of his Huddersfield Town team.
Those Cardiff City fans in West Yorkshire tonight will not recognise the Terriers from the side beaten in Wales in August.
Sometimes it’s two steps forward one step back but every club has that.Danny Cowley
Cowley has taken an axe to Jan Siewert and David Wagner’s handiwork, making nine signings and transforming the mentality of a group which had fallen out of the Premier League and was already threatening to keep dropping.
Tommy Elphick’s is a long-term injury, Kamil Grabara’s mercifully not with the goalkeeper expected back in training today after a nasty head injury, but Terence Kongolo, Florent Hadergjonaj, Isaac Mbenza, Adama Diakhaby and Rajiv van La Parra have been replaced by more spit-and-sawdust acquisitions attuned to Cowley’s mindset. Having come from Cowley’s previous club, Lincoln City, left-back Harry Tofollo is Exhibit A.
“People will start seeing more of an identity,” Cowley promises. “Sometimes it’s two steps forward one step back but every club has that. Out of possession we’ve done well against certain teams in certain styles and the challenge now is to do that against other teams playing other styles.
“It’s now about trying to embed the new signings into the system and the way we want to play, building the partnerships and relationships and getting to a point where they’re natural.”
For Tofollo, settling in should be easier than most.
“It’s been really easy,” he reflects. “The player liaison staff are incredible and they’ve taken it out of my hands and done it for me. It helps massively having Danny and Nicky (his brother and assistant) here. I wanted to work with them again and they showed how much they wanted to work with me. We were a match made in heaven when we started together in League Two. I want to repay the trust they’ve put in me.
“They bring out the best in me. You’re starting to see why I’ve moved up the leagues.
“They’re nice down-to-earth people, a good family. I get on well with people who are good people from good families with good morals.”
Toffolo’s work-rate and character endear him to his manager.
“He’s a good kid, one of the best, very humble,” says Cowley.
“He’s always the first in, always first to put his hand up to do extra work.”
It is at the back where Cowley has done the most rebuilding. Free agent Danny Simpson was signed shortly after he arrived, and Toffolo and Richard Stearman in January. Grabara’s injury late in the window meant a return on loan for Jonas Lossl too.
“We’re pleased with how (Christopher) Schindler and Stearman have gelled as good players tend to,” Cowley says of his centre-backs. “Add Jonas to that and you have real experience, authority and calmness.
“When you add Toffs (Toffolo) in as well we’ve changed three of the back five, which isn’t easy, but we’ve worked hard on the training pitch and in the video room to develop that.”
They are well protected by Lewis O’Brien and Jonathan Hogg.
“You won’t get much more combative than them, and their ability to win balls and make the first and second pass was crucial on Saturday,” says Cowley.
“I’d say central midfield is one of our strongest areas in terms of the options and competition we have. Andy King came on and did exactly what was needed on Saturday, and he’s certainly put his hand up for selection.”
Suddenly there are alternatives everywhere.
“We’ve got options on the left: Kache (Elias Kachunga) can play there, Chris Willock, (Juninho) Bacuna, (Karlan) Grant, ESR (Emile Smith Rowe), Pritch (Alex Pritchard) can all play in those positions with some rotations. With Toffolo burning up the left it gives you different options and allows you to play some more inside players there.
“Chris has got some real end product and we’re seeing his level go up step by step. ESR’s a top player, no doubt, but he’s still a baby and he’s learning the game and how to influence all different games.
“Cardiff will be a new experience for him so we’re trying to give him the game-time he needs to get rhythm and flow, which is why Arsenal have sent him to us (on loan), to develop him as a player and a person.”
Bacuna has recovered from a dead leg and the Terriers are hopeful Grant will be back from injury. Pritchard, a survivor of the overhaul, is back in training after an injury-plagued season.
“He’s been looking bright which is a massive, massive boost,” says Cowley.
“He brings creativity and flair and ways to link the play. You think of having him, ESR and Grant on at the same time and that’s really exciting. We’ve only been able to start him (Pritchard) twice which hasn’t been easy at all.
“He makes your training look better. His brain is so quick, he’s so sharp and fast and always knows what’s coming next. He looks ready, which is positive.”
The pieces are starting to fall into place.
Last six: Huddersfield Town LLDWLW; Cardiff City DDWDDW.
Referee: D England (South Yorkshire).
Last meeting: Huddersfield Town 0 Cardiff City 0, August 25, 2018.