captain Peter Clarke says Huddersfield Town players need to look themselves in the mirror and analyse their own performances in the wake of Simon Grayson’s axeing.
Grayson paid the price for Town’s wretched run of 12 Championship matches without a win on Thursday lunch-time when he was sacked by chairman Dean Hoyle less than a year after taking over at the John Smith’s Stadium – and eight days before the first anniversary of his dismissal at neighbours Leeds United.
Academy chief and former Leeds Road favourite Mark Lillis, 52, has taken charge on a caretaker basis, assisted by development coach Steve Eyre; the pair will lead the side in today’s FA Cup tie with Leicester City.
The search for the successor for Grayson will begin in earnest after this weekend, with ex-Southampton boss Nigel Adkins the bookies’ favourite to take over as Hoyle looks to appoint a fourth full-time manager at Town under his watch and seventh in the last decade at the club.
On Grayson being the fall guy for Town’s alarming demise since mid November, Clarke – who insists there was no disharmony in the dressing room leading up to the Town boss’s exit – said: “I have worked with Simon before (at Blackpool) and it is the second time in 12 months he has found himself in this situation.
“Football is a results-driven business and unfortunately over the past couple of months, they haven’t gone as we and Simon would have liked. In these situations, it tends to be the manager who carries the can.
“Players should ultimately have a look in the mirror if they have not been giving their all in the past few weeks and if that has been the case, only they (individuals) can give you a definite answer whether they need to try harder or not.”
Clarke admits the timing regarding Grayson’s axeing in mid-afternoon on Thursday came as a surprise to him and the Town players, many of whom were at home following training in the morning, which Grayson and his coaching staff took.
On first receiving the news, he said: “I was actually still at the training ground.
“I had been in the gym doing some weights and stuff and was going to get a shower. Then I picked up the phone and it was electric, to say the least.
“I had a list of missed calls and messages and got one notifying us of the stuff going on the website and Sky Sports.
“Then we were made aware we would be in bright and early on Friday morning and be made aware of the situation.”
As is the way in modern football, talk has quickly turned to the candidates to succeed Grayson, who said his goodbyes to players yesterday morning.
While acknowledging the credentials of the man strongly tipped to take over in Adkins, Clarke insists there will be plenty of rival interest in the post.
He said: “Mr Adkins has got a very good track record over the past couple of years with Southampton and he did relatively well with them this season in the Premier League. But it is a job I am sure plenty of people will be interested in and whoever gets it will be honoured to preside over.”
Popular ex-Town forward Lillis is adamant he is not looking any further than this weekend regarding his own future with the first-team, while reaffirming the importance of the long-term job he is carrying out with the club’s academy.
What he is unequivocal on is that he will be the proudest man in football when he leads out Town – his first professional club – in front of a home crowd this afternoon.
Lillis, in his third spell as caretaker at Town, having not taken charge of a game in the last time he served in the role following last February’s axing of Lee Clark, said: “I have been at Huddersfield Town for 13 or 14 years of my life and it was a pleasure to say yes when I was asked to take the team.
“I came in a year ago as academy manager with a project to get us to the Category Two status under the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) rules we have and to get things up and running in the Academy.
“I have got the Leicester game and our academy game is off and I said to two boys on Friday, ‘Be ready for me on Monday’.
“It is about getting academy players proud of wearing the Huddersfield Town shirt and I will say the same to the first-team players before the Leicester game.”
He quipped: “It will be nice to say I can go unbeaten as a manager. I am going to wear a collar and tie because we are still in the Youth Cup and I have worn one for that. I have got a dodgy sleeveless jumper I am going to wear as well.”
Adkins, the name on most Town fans’ lips to replace Grayson, is someone Lillis knows well with the pair working together at Scunthorpe United when he was first-team coach and the Liverpudlian was a physiotherapist, but determined to break into management.
He said: “Me and Nigel spoke into the night many, many years ago when we got promotion at Wembley in 1999 and we had a couple of red eyes and we spoke football.
“He was a physio but always wanted to be a coach or manager and I said to him one night, Why don’t you have a go for it – at the end of the day, if you don’t make it, you can always go back to being a physio’.”