Huddersfield Town v Nottingham Forest: Danny Ward and Terriers aiming to impress at Wembley

Nobody is more emblematic of Huddersfield Town’s transformation this season than Danny Ward.

Last year the Terriers were doing what they had in 2018, in 2019 (unsuccessfully) and in 2020 – fighting relegation. When Carlos Corberan came in as coach there was the hoped-for sea-change, a complete rethinking of the playing style, but come the end of 2020-21 they were again scrapping for points at the sharp end.

The centre-forward they had brought back, Ward, scored once all season, restricted by injury to just six Championship starts.

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Now they are preparing for a play-off final – Ward’s second for Huddersfield having come up from League One in 2012 – against Nottingham Forest at Wembley tomorrow. As the Terriers’ 14-goal top-scorer and having recovered from an injury in the semi-final against Luton Town, Ward is sure to play an important part.

Danny Ward of Huddersfield Town. Picture: John Early/Getty Images

He is clear about how Huddersfield have achieved it.

“The lads will run through brick walls for each other, for the manager, for the fans, for the chairman (Dean Hoyle) and it’s massively helped in games where we’ve been up against it but managed to get three points,” says the Bradford-born 30-year-old.

“In some teams there can be little cliques but there isn’t at Huddersfield. We all do stuff as a team. It’s a great place to be.”

All Huddersfield’s signings in the last 12 months have been free transfers or loans but the recruitment has been outstanding.

“The lads who have come in – Matty Pearson, Leesy (Tom Lees), Lee Nicholls, Turts (Ollie Turton) – have been fantastic and they’re just good lads as well,” says Ward. “Everyone in the dressing room gets on so well. Last season that might not have been the case.”

“Terrier Spirit” was a big part of the equation when Huddersfield last won the Championship play-offs, under David Wagner in 2017, and you can see by the way results have been ground out – like at Forest in December’s league meeting – it is again.

“That togetherness is one of our strengths,” says Corberan. “If you only have that you will not be competitive, but if you don’t have it you won’t be competitive.

“The team will always try from the first minute until the end, and the team is the most important thing.”

Ward’s own turnaround has been as dramatic. When Jordan Rhodes also came back to the club last summer after being released by Sheffield Wednesday it could have been the death-knell for Ward’s second spell. There was also local lad Fraizer Campbell, whose selflessness Corberan valued greatly last season, but who has barely had a look-in this.

As a Marcelo Bielsa disciple, Corberan’s training is notoriously intense and perhaps it took Ward’s body time to adjust.

“Once you get used to it, it’s been shown it’s served us well in games where we’ve needed to run over teams,” argues Ward.

“Last season I struggled with injuries but this season I’ve got going and (Corberan) has been brilliant. It’s shown with a team predicted to go down finishing third. Tactically he’s brilliant and if you’re not on your game he’ll be the first one to tell you.

“You can just see his love for football, he wants to learn and analyse everything. Tactically he’s watching everything.

“Last season was an absolute nightmare for me, especially coming home and wanting to do well for Huddersfield but to be available for every game and chipping in with goals has been great.”

Games more than goals have helped him get on a roll.

“If you get a run of games, your confidence builds,” argues Ward, who kicked off the opening match of the campaign in the League Cup, and only missed two league matches in the rest of 2021. “If you can get on the scoresheet as a striker it’s massive and if you can keep that run going, that’s what you want to be doing. But there’s a lot more the striker needs to do. If you don’t score, but get your hold-up play right and create attacks it’s massive for the team.”

The ex-Rotherham United forward has played in the Premier League, but only fleetingly – four starts and 10 substitute appearances for Cardiff City in 2018-19.

“I’d definitely like another crack at it,” he says. “At Cardiff it was great to get promoted, but I didn’t play anywhere near as many games as I wanted to.

“It (promotion) would mean a lot, especially the way this season has gone and being available for every game.

“Every player wants to play at the highest level possible. The Championship is a really good standard, but the Premier League is where everyone wants to be.

“I just want to get involved and show what I can do, it’s not about proving people wrong.

“I’m sure I can play at the highest level.”