CHRISTMAS in the second tier has not usually been a time of too many glad tidings for Huddersfield Town over the past four or so decades.
Head coach David Wagner’s men have spent the festive period sitting fourth in the Championship, but this is very much the exception to where Town usually find themselves at this stage of the season.
The past four campaigns, for instance, have seen Town occupying 19th, 20th, 13th and 15th place in the table respectively as the nation tucked into its turkey.
Delving further back into history, Huddersfield’s 16 seasons in the second tier since being relegated from the top flight in 1972 show no fewer than 11 placings in the bottom half of the table at Christmas and only one higher than eighth.
That came in 1999, when Steve Bruce’s side led the table at this stage only to fall away in the new year.
No wonder, therefore, Terriers fans are in excited mood right now and dreaming of a possible return to the elite in 2017.
“It is a great feeling to be where we are in the league,” admitted Tommy Smith, Town’s stand-in captain during Mark Hudson’s recent absence through injury.
“I have been here four years and we haven’t reached these heights before. We know there is a long way to go, but it is great to be where we are and in amongst it all.”
Huddersfield have had plenty to be pleased about this Christmas, not least Wagner’s decision last week to rebuff interest from Wolfsburg.
A head coach as ambitious as the 45-year-old will not have turned down lightly a club who last season reached the Champions League quarter-finals.
Crucially, though, Wagner did just that to finish the job he started a little under 14 months ago. Smith admits the players were elated.
“I don’t think it ever got to the stage where the lads were worried,” said the 24-year-old.
“Things happened quickly and (by last Thursday) the manager came in before training and told us, ‘It has happened but we have to get on with our jobs’.
“The lads were pleased to hear that. What it (Wagner staying) does do, though, is send out a big message.
“He clearly feels there is something special building here and he wants to be part of that. For the lads, that is great because we all want to be part of it as well. Hopefully, we can achieve something special.”
Wagner’s very public backing of his squad by rejecting Wolfsburg’s advances could bring further benefits in the new year.
Certainly, any prospective signing in the January window is likely to look at Huddersfield in a more favourable light than might otherwise have been the case.
Likewise, Town’s Championship peers are now in no doubt as to the potential Wagner thinks his side possess.
Justifying that very public display of faith is now the task of Smith and his team-mates.
“As players, it doesn’t affect us,” added Smith when pressed on the interest from Wolfsburg that first emerged at the start of last week.
“He is a good manager and there is always going to be interest in him. He has come here and everyone can see the impact he has made.
“We just continued as normal. He is our manager and, until someone tells us differently, we just carry on.
“As the manager has said before, we are trying to build something special here. We have a good bunch of lads, a good staff and we will try to keep doing well throughout the season.
“What we won’t do, though, is get ahead of ourselves. We have the same feeling as pre-season, when we decided we weren’t going to have a target because that might limit us. That is the same message we have now.
“We have had a great first half of the season, but, in terms of pushing on, we just take it a step at a time. That is all you can do in this league.”
The first of those steps towards what Huddersfield hope can be a concerted play-off push is today’s visit of Nottingham Forest. With more than 20,000 tickets sold, Town are guaranteed their biggest Boxing Day crowd since leaving Leeds Road in 1994.
Smith may again sport the armband due to club captain Hudson having only just returned to training following three games out with a hamstring injury. A decision will be made on Hudson’s fitness ahead of kick-off.
“Having the armband has been a great privilege,” said Smith, who joined the Terriers’ development squad in 2011 from Manchester City. “This is a great club. I am happy here and I love the people here. To be captain of a special bunch of lads is a great honour.”
Last six games: Huddersfield Town LLDWWW Nottingham Forest WWWLDL.
Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).
Last time: Huddersfield Town 1 Nottingham Forest 1; September 24, 2015; Championship.