LOOKING on from afar last summer, Alex Pritchard did not give Huddersfield Town a chance of staying up.
He was not alone in that, of course, with no preview to the upcoming Premier League season seeming complete without a predicted 20th-place finish for the Terriers.
Such a fatalistic outlook has already proved to be wide of the mark, head coach David Wagner’s side being unable to finish rock bottom due to West Bromwich Albion being 10 points behind with just three games remaining.
For Town to prove those pre-season doom-mongers truly wrong, however, survival has to be assured and today offers an opportunity to take a huge step towards that goal.
With Stoke City tackling Liverpool at Anfield in the lunchtime kick-off there is every chance Paul Lambert’s side will still be six points behind the Yorkshire club when they kick off at home to Everton.
Stoke then having just two games left to Huddersfield’s four would mean a point being enough to ensure the second-bottom side join West Brom in being unable to overtake Wagner’s men.
The flipside, of course, is if Stoke win and Town then lose, but Pritchard, who moved to the John Smith’s Stadium in a £10m January deal, is adamant Huddersfield can deliver once again when it matters after claiming all three points in the most dramatic fashion against Watford in their last outing.
“We have got to focus on ourselves,” said the midfielder, who will be 25 next Thursday, to The Yorkshire Post. “This is in our own hands. If we do a job we will stay in the Premier League.
“From a position outside I saw Huddersfield had gone into the Premier League, but who would have thought they would be staying up? No one gave Huddersfield a chance. Even me and that is the truth.
“But since I came here I have felt everything around the club, the training ground. There is a belief here. With four games left we have given ourselves a real chance.”
Pritchard, who came through the ranks at Tottenham Hotspur, arrived in the West Riding with just four substitute appearances in the Premier League, amounting to 69 minutes, to his name.
All but 12 of those minutes came during a loan spell at West Brom and he is the first to admit that this made him something of a top-flight rookie. At Huddersfield this put him in good company as before this season only Tom Ince and veteran Dean Whitehead, who has hardly featured, had played in the Premier League.
To some this lack of top-level pedigree was seen as a big disadvantage. No doubt it was a factor in why so many pundits wrote off Huddersfield before a ball had been kicked in anger last August.
“I think this has helped us,” added Pritchard. “With the boys not having had the experience in the Premier League before this season it has been fearless. The attitude has been, ‘We got ourselves into the Premier League, we will express ourselves and who knows what could happen?’
“If the team was packed with boys who had done it in the Premier League before it could have been different.”
Pritchard had to be patient after joining from Norwich. He started at Stoke City in January’s 2-0 defeat, but was then confined to the bench against Liverpool and Manchester United. With the former England Under-21 international arriving Cup-tied he could also only watch as Town eased past Birmingham City after a replay and then bowed out at home to Manchester United.
Wagner’s insistence on all new arrivals being fully up to speed with Town’s style of play, and in particular the defensive element, was behind Pritchard’s delayed start.
Since then, however, he has become an integral part of the team, his presence in the ‘No 10’ role meaning lone forward Steve Mounie finally had someone to act as a foil after being far too isolated in the first half of the season.
Pritchard has started the last eight league games, a run that has included appearances at Wembley and St James’ Park.
These games were watched by a combined 120,000 fans, a far cry from the night not so long ago when the Essex-born midfielder sported Norwich’s colours in front of a paltry 457 crowd.
“It feels like a million miles away now,” said the midfielder when reminded about the Checkatrade Trophy tie at Barnet in October, 2016, as he continued to find his feet at Carrow Road after joining from Spurs. “But that is just how football can be.
“You are going from playing in front of 400 fans one day to 60,000.
“It is a mindset. You go out, you work hard, you perform, you do your job, you come off the pitch, and no one can moan at you, no one can say anything about you. I worked hard and that is the way it is.
“I knew there were 400 people there. But those people are watching and saying things about you. You don’t want them saying, ‘Ah, Pritchard turned up today with 400 fans there, and he didn’t want it’. I didn’t want them saying, ‘He was moaning and he had his head down’.
“There is always light at the end of the tunnel. You go from playing at Barnet for the Under-23s in the Checkatrade Trophy to playing for Huddersfield at St James’ Park in the Premier League. It is just perspective.”
If Pritchard and his team-mates are to grace the likes of St James’ Park again next season then today could be pivotal.
“Getting the three points against Watford was massive,” he added. “We knew we had to do the business to take us on to Everton, which is another massive game. This is probably the most crucial of the four we have left. A win would be the perfect early birthday present.”