Huddersfield Town’s revival has been based around clean sheets and Danny Simpson has been crucial to it, but manager Danny Cowley says however big the right-back’s on-field contribution, it is only a fraction of what he has added.
The 32-year-old was a free agent when Cowley picked him up late last month but despite lacking a proper pre-season, he has played the last five matches in their entirety. The Terriers have only conceded three goals in them, and Simpson is yet to be on the losing side, a run he hopes to continue at home to Barnsley today.
Cowley has been impressed by his fitness and the examples the former Manchester United, Newcastle United and Leicester City player has been setting.
“He’s the miracle man, isn’t he?” Cowley says, smiling. “I think the rest of the boys are thinking they don’t need to do pre-season any more!
“Once he started to play we didn’t want to leave him out. He’s getting fitter by the day.”
If any of his new team-mates do think they can cut corners, Simpson will soon put them right.
“I didn’t actually realise how important a pre-season is until you miss one,” he says. “It gets you ready for the season but even then it can take you a few games in pre-season to get ready.
“I did as much as I could in training camps and I was in the gym every day. That gave me a base fitness but you don’t realise how much actual football fitness is different. You can run on a treadmill as much as you want every day of the week but it’s straight lines and when it comes to football fitness it’s a completely different training regime.
“The fitness coaches and the manager have worked it well in terms of being able to get through three 90s in the first week and making sure I don’t break down or get any niggles. It’s been frustrating at times because I feel like I can do more but you’ve got to be sensible and it’s a long season.”
The former Premier League champion has been more than just a good player for his new club.
“Whatever you’ve seen of him on the pitch you can times it by ten for what he’s added off the pitch,” stresses Cowley. “He comes in with a real presence and a confidence.
“How Danny Simpson wasn’t snapped up by somebody in the transfer window I don’t know. We actually spoke to a few people at Leicester and Brendan Rodgers then got into contact and told us exactly what he thought of him as a player. It was a glowing reference.
“Danny was actually watching the iPad (clips) of the players he was playing against. I was watching Jaden (Brown) and he thought he’d better pick his iPad up and do the same! This is what happens, they follow.
“Jaden’s a bright boy, he’s seen the career Danny’s had and knows it would be silly not to look at his behaviour and want to follow suit.
“Danny’s so level-headed. It’s easy for us to be humble because we’ve come from nowhere but for someone who’s won the Premier League to be so grounded and willing to help, always the first in, always enjoying training, coming in on his days off, it’s no surprise. You don’t do what he’s done in the game without a huge amount of talent and working relentlessly hard day in, day out.
“When you do bring younger players in they’ve got to be good characters because they do have a big influence and we’re lucky to have some really good experienced players with good values.”
It is a role that sits comfortably with the defender.
“I’m an experienced player now and I naturally like to lead and help young lads,” he says. “I’ve always been like that, especially at Leicester.
“A lot of it can be communication on or off the pitch and I like to think I’ve come in and given my input on and off the pitch, speaking to the other lads and learning about the club, things in the past and things we can improve on. That’s just how I am.”
Debutant goalkeeper Ryan Schofield was the chief beneficiary during Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough.
“I spoke to him before the game because we’ve all been there,” says Simpson. “He was confident and I just told him to dictate to us, not to be afraid to take charge. He did well, he’s a confident lad and I’m just happy we kept a clean sheet and he did. If he ever steps in again it won’t be the same conversation.”
With on-loan Liverpool youngster Kamil Grabara back in training after a stomach bug, 19-year-old Schofield could be back on the bench against Barnsley but whoever plays, Cowley will be looking for another shut-out but an improved defensive performance after admitting his side were lucky to take a point off Boro.
“All considered it was actually a good point when you consider the illness in the camp, Ryan coming in to make his debut, and that we didn’t quite get to the levels we would have liked, you think we’ll take a point and move on,” he argues.
“You’re not going to play well in the Championship for 46 games, that’s just a fact. It’s picking up points when you don’t play well and we’re fighting now, we’re together now. Whilst we’ve still got a way to go, they’re important qualities.
“They are much more resolute now and that comes from having something to fight for and something you’re proud to be part of.
“I think the spirit and togetherness is growing and will continue to grow, and the confidence within the group will develop as a result of their understanding.
“Let’s keep everything real, we kept a clean sheet on Wednesday and we were pleased with that but ultimately we gave them two clear-cut chances and we know that normally at Championship level if you give an opposing team two clear-cut chances you normally concede at least one.
“We had ten attacking chains and they had 14. They had two clear-cut chances, we had a number of half-chances but no more than that.
“That’s one of the ways we analyse our defending and attacking organisation.”
Cowley will make a decision on when to return experienced Dutch defender Terence Kongolo to the XI after a calf injury, and Alex Pritchard is also pushing for selection after illness.