SPORTING a thick winter beard, Adam Clayton may have a slightly unkempt look but his polished displays on the pitch are certainly cutting it.
He has already claimed Huddersfield Town’s player-of-the-month award for December so if, as in the story of Samson, hair is the secret to strength then do not expect the midfielder to be reaching for the razor any time soon.
In October, it was a hair-raising story which saw Clayton attract headlines for the wrong reasons. It followed a training-ground bust-up between himself and team-mate Martin Paterson, which ended in the pair being dropped from the match-day squad for the home derby with Clayton’s former club, Leeds United, and being given time to reflect on their actions.
Manager Mark Robins, whose side welcome Ian Holloway’s Millwall this afternoon, later confirmed that both were omitted for the ‘good of the club’ and if he wanted a positive reaction from the duo further down the line, he has been undoubtedly answered in the affirmative.
Clayton has not looked back since being recalled for the televised derby at Sheffield Wednesday on November 23, when, ironically, both he and Paterson netted in the 2-1 win, with the latter’s opener heralded by a mock fight celebration between the pair.
Neither has Paterson and for Clayton, it is very much a case of long may it continue – and the beard is staying too.
On his own seasonal story, Clayton told the Yorkshire Post: “At the start of the season, we were playing well and, after the first six games, everyone was raving about me playing in the hole in behind the strikers and saying how well I was playing.
“I then just had a bad few weeks where something happened in training that happens nearly every day. I’ve seen nearly 300,000 of those sort of things.
“We’ve sorted it out and moved on and that’s what football is about. We are all playing well together and moving on.
“I came back for the Sheffield Wednesday game and literally, just before the game, we said: ‘Shall we do something?’ And we just made it up on the spot (when Paterson scored) and it looked quite funny really when we watched it back.”
He added: “When I was out of the team, I was in the gym every day training and I made sure that when I did get back in, whether it be in three weeks or three months, that I’d be fitter and stronger than I was.
“I am proud of the December award as it was pretty bleak at one point as I didn’t know when I’d get back. It was only three games, but at the time I didn’t know that and just got my head down. It’s nice to be rewarded.
“I’m going to say I’ve won player-of-the-month with the beard. It’s like Samson, I can’t shave my beard off!
“The missus is dying for it to go to be fair. But I am staying strong and get as far as I can with it until she shaves it off in the middle of the night, which I don’t think is far away...”
This time last year, a perfect storm was brewing at the John Smith’s Stadium with Town suffering from a mid-winter crisis of confidence and results, which culminated in the sacking of Simon Grayson.
This time around, the conditions are far more benign for Robins and the Town faithful, entitled to look upwards as opposed to over their shoulders.
Their longest run without a league win so far this term stands at a modest five matches; last season they went on a 12-match streak from November 10 to January 30 without a league victory, with Grayson paying the price towards the end of that wretched sequence.
The form of the likes of Clayton and Paterson and several others has ensured Town are on much more of an even keel this term, with the club busy making significant strides on and off the pitch to establish themselves as a real Championship club of substance – and one to watch.
Questioned on whether his recent form is the best of his career, Clayton said: “Yes, I’d say so. But that has come along with the team playing well. Hopefully, that can continue.
“I am playing in a bit of a deeper role and am on the ball more. With the team playing a bit better, I look a bit better.
“I don’t think there’s a worry about looking behind us this year. We are playing some good stuff against some good teams and we’ll keep climbing the league if we do that.
“Last year was just about staying in the league and we did that. Now we have our own playing style and it seems to be working for us.
“Going into the Burnley game, if we’d won, we would have been four points off the play-offs and all of a sudden, we were thinking about it.
“Now we are a bit back. But a couple of wins gets you back in the mix in this league and you never know. We’ll see if we can keep improving performance-wise and if we do that, the results will come and we’ll see where we are with 10 games to go maybe.”
Today’s visitors are near the bottom but Holloway insists he is ready for the challenge of keeping Millwall in the Championship.
Holloway quit as manager of Crystal Palace less than three months ago, claiming he was “worn out” by the promoted Eagles’ poor start to the Premier League season.
But the 50-year-old is back and says: “It seems a fantastic fit. I met (chief executive) Andy Ambler and then the chairman John Berylson after he dug himself out of the snow in America and hired a plane to meet me.
“I was blown away with the pride and passion for the football club and how much they felt I was the right man for the job – I’m not used to that!
“They also told me Plan A was me, Plan B was me and Plan C was me, so it’s nice to be wanted.”
Holloway takes over a side one place and one point outside the relegation zone after replacing Steve Lomas.