The 22-year-old made his name as a centre-forward at Charlton Athletic, forging a prolific partnership with Lyle Taylor in a 4-4-2, and was often used as a lone striker when he joined the Terriers in January 2019.
But Cowley sees Grant’s best position as being on the left of a 4-2-3-1 formation. The performances of Grant and Huddersfield in Wednesday’s 3-0 win at Birmingham City underlined the manager’s argument that his team is better when they play with a more traditional targetman, and their 18-goal top-scorer can come in off the wing, as he will almost certainly be asked to do again at home to Preston North End today.
That was not possible in the first two matches after the restart, both lost, with Fraizer Campbell and Steve Mounie injured. Both returned at St Andrew’s, Campbell marking his 300th league appearance with a goal and Mounie coming off the bench to provide one for Elias Kachunga.
“I think Karlan can play as a No 9 but probably off a targetman, someone who’s going to do the back-to-goal stuff and the linking and combination work,” reflected Cowley. “That will allow him to front-face, which we all know is a major strength of his because once he gets facing the goal we know how effective he can be in that moment.
“I thought he did a really good job against the ball on Sunday in the high-press moments to make their play predictable and I thought he got in some really good areas and created some good chances.
“I’m never scared of Karlan missing chances because I know what a good finisher he is and if you give him chances consistently over a game you know he will take them. He’s a key player and we need all our key players to put their hands up and give their very best of themselves at this moment.
“(But) I’ve never heard the words ‘not confident’ and Karlan Grant together before.”
Grant put his team on the front foot in the West Midlands, winning and converting an early penalty before having another saved by Lee Camp in the second half. Wednesday was his 50th league appearance in a Town shirt and the goal his 22nd, a very respectable return considering his team has been fighting relegation throughout his 18 months at the club.
“He’s still a young player and he’s been on an incredible journey in a short space of time,” commented Cowley. “To play up as a lone No 9 is not easy for anyone when you’ve got two big hairy centre-halves hanging off you. He’s had to keep working on certain aspects of his game that don’t come as natural as the other ones.
“He has real super-strengths in terms of his penetration and his finishing ability but we’re trying to work on the other aspects.”
Under different circumstances, Cowley’s frustration at not having Campbell or Mounie against Wigan Athletic and Nottingham Forest could have been interpreted as an excuse, but the improvement when they returned showed it to be a valid point.
“Whenever I go to any club it’s always one and nine (goalkeeper and centre-forward), get them sorted out first because they’re key in terms of the points they can win or lose you,” he argued. “The No 9 always defines the game model to a certain extent and we do have two No 9s that are equally effective but very different in their styles.
“That means we have to be adaptable and that is what we have at the moment in the group.”
Grant has a particularly good relationship with Emile Smith Rowe, who plays behind the centre-forward, and it was on full display in the first half at Birmingham. But Cowley spoke before the lockdown about how the 19-year-old on loan from Arsenal was not yet robust enough to play the volume of fixtures the Championship demands, and since the pandemic it has only gone up. Today’s is the second of seven Huddersfield games in the first 25 days of July.
The alternative to Smith Rowe, Alex Pritchard, is much more experienced but has struggled with a knee complaint all season.
If the secret of most successful teams is stability, all teams are finding it hard to achieve with the final games of 2019-20 crammed into a short period.
“In all my best teams, my most successful teams, we’ve always been able to have continuity because relationships on the pitch are so important,” said Cowley. “The more time players have on the pitch together, the stronger those relationships become and the better the understanding the players have of each other.
“Ultimately we’re in a time where the games are coming thick and fast and we haven’t had that much preparation time so we have to utilise the squad and find that balance between keeping players fit and fresh and able to perform at their best while trying to keep the right blend in the starting XI.”
Wednesday’s win featured impressive performances from Kachunga and fellow right-sider Demeaco Duhaney, both out of contract at the end of the season. The Terriers had an option to extend Duhaney’s deal but let it expire because they feel unable to commit to new deals while they assess the financial impact of Covid-19 and what division they will be in next season.
“It’s not easy for any of the boys out of contract but we’ve got real trust in them all,” said Cowley. “It was great to see Colin (Quarner) come off the bench too.
“They’re good professionals but they’re even better human beings and we will need all of them over this run of games.”
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