Vaughan’s fitness is key

Huddersfield Town's James Vaughan.
Huddersfield Town's James Vaughan.
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THE final day of last season’s Championship may not have brought the nerve-shredding drama of 12 months earlier when Yorkshire was able to celebrate not only Hull City pipping Watford to automatic promotion but also both Huddersfield Town and Barnsley staying up.

But there could be no doubting the quality of last season’s second tier, as a host of big names were left floundering in the wake of surprise package Burnley and champions Leicester City cutting a swathe through the division.

At the other end, Birmingham City escaped in the most dramatic of fashions with just 180 seconds of the campaign remaining to underline why the Championship once again made for compelling viewing in 2013-14.

Mark Robins, who has managed at this level in each of the past five seasons, knows better than most just what makes the division tick and he is expecting it to be even stronger this time around.

“This season will be better in the Championship than the last two have been,” said the Terriers chief while sitting with The Yorkshire Post at the club’s impressive Canalside training complex.

“The quality on board and the number of interesting players in the division – both will, in my opinion, be higher.

“It looks very, very strong. Everywhere you look, there is strength. Some good teams have come in at both ends and they have money to spend.

“We have seen that already, with Rotherham bringing in something like 13 players. We know it is a tough league but what a great league to be involved in.

“We have a really tough start, especially those three away games (Cardiff City, Reading and Watford) before the end of the month – and that on the back of the Bournemouth game on the opening day.

“I’d imagine that is where the expectations will be. But Bournemouth have strengthened, They have moved one or two on and also spent some money.

“A lot of capital has been spent down there, even before the Lallana money came in (Bournemouth received around £5m as part of their share of the deal that took former Cherries youth player Adam Lallana to Liverpool).

“But, again, we are pitting our wits against teams who may have more financial clout but it is all about what we do on the pitch.

“I want to get away from what people spend. You can only spend so much anyway, as a club. There are only so many players you can get in the building and there are only 11 that can be kept happy.”

Robins’s own recruitment this summer has been more modest. Radoslaw Majewski, the Nottingham Forest midfielder, is the most recent arrival of a trio on free transfers that also include Coventry City goalkeeper Joe Murphy and Lee Peltier, former Leeds United captain.

All three should prove useful additions but the Town manager has made no secret of his desire to bring in at least a couple more new faces to supplement a squad that finished 17th last term.

If the Terriers are to improve on that in 2014-15, keeping James Vaughan fit is surely going to be crucial.

The striker finished last season as the club’s top scorer with 12 goals despite being troubled by injury and not having scored in open play after October 1.

Nahki Wells’s arrival from Bradford City in January helped offset the loss of Vaughan with the Bermuda international netting six times. However, there can be little doubt that Town’s late season struggles for results – they went 10 games without a win before finally pulling clear of relegation trouble with victories over Yeovil Town and Watford in the final fortnight – were, in part, down to missing their star striker.

Frustratingly, Vaughan, after netting a hat-trick against Doncaster Rovers in a behind-closed-doors game last month, has again been absent and Town fans will be hoping that a partnership which is truly mouth-watering can finally be unleashed on the Championship.

If that proves possible, surely Huddersfield’s chances of maintaining the upwards trajectory that has seen the club improve their league position in six of the past seven seasons.

Whether that could also include a promotion push may be pushing things, even allowing for Burnley, a town of similar size to Huddersfield, this term looking forward to another tilt at the Premier League.

Asked about the chances of emulating the Clarets, Robins replied: “People talk about that but maybe don’t know what money was spent to win promotion.

“They had parachute payments because they had been up before. That has made it something of a development project, first with Eddie Howe and then again with Sean (Dyche) over the last two seasons. They surprised a lot of people, not only with their start but being able to maintain it with a low number of players.

“We have to emulate teams like that, without a doubt. A lot will depend on how we start. Whether we can get points on the board.

“In that respect, the first 10 games are really important. But, having said that, It has been a good start to the project. The key now is building on that start and maintain it.

“We need to add to the squad because, at the moment, we need a little bit more depth.”