Path opens up for Huddersfield Town to have an FA Cup run

JUST like in their sole FA Cup success a century ago in 1922, Huddersfield Town – by a strange quirk of fate – start their latest Cup journey at the same venue, Burnley’s Turf Moor home.

Different approach: Huddersfield Town manager Carlos Corberan says a better squad and league position mean the Terriers can treat the FA Cup differently to last season. Picture: Isaac Parkin/PA Wire.
Different approach: Huddersfield Town manager Carlos Corberan says a better squad and league position mean the Terriers can treat the FA Cup differently to last season. Picture: Isaac Parkin/PA Wire.

No-one is foolish enough to suggest that Town will be afforded anything resembling a repetition at the end of this year’s competition, which begins in Lancashire tomorrow lunch-time.

Yet current circumstances should dictate that a good old-fashioned Cup run is something that will not be a hindrance to Huddersfield in 2021-22, unlike in previous seasons perhaps.

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This time last year, head coach Carlos Corberan elected to change his entire starting line-up for a round-three tie and paid the price as Plymouth Argyle registered a 3-2 success at the John Smith’s Stadium, which was not the shock that it maybe seemed.

Missing: Burnley's manager Sean Dyche will miss the FA Cup tie with Huddersfield after testing positive for Covid. Picture Tony Johnson

The Spaniard took the decision to rest players en masse owing to the fact that the club, shorn of options due to a growing injury crisis, had to protect first-teamers ahead of what he viewed to be a key and intense period of league games. Something had to give.

Ultimately, the overwhelming priority in the second half of last term proved to be avoiding relegation, as it was in previous three campaigns for the Terriers, who have won just two FA Cup ties in the past four seasons, exiting at the third-round stage in 2020-21, 19-20 and 18-19.

This time around, Town’s improved squad options and healthy league position – allied to the fact that they have not suffered Covid-related postponements unlike many Championship rivals – mean they can ‘attack’ the competition more and hopefully have a bit of fun along the way.

Corberan, who has never sampled success in an FA Cup tie during his time in England with Town or Leeds United, commented: “This competition is a special one. It is 100 years since Huddersfield won the competition and something that is a reason why the club is as big as it is.

“I know I don’t have a very positive (personal) experience maybe. Last year was not a good experience and we decided to use all the academy players as that is how we decided to play.

“But the Championship of last year was a different one to this year. Last year, it was very, very important to have the break at that time.

“But I don’t consider that this year, with the number of games in this space of time, is as demanding as last year.

“Not as demanding because of the quality of the game, but in terms of the number of games. The density of (forthcoming) games was higher last year.

“The number of players we have in the first-team squad is also higher than last year and we can face the competition in a different way.”

That fact that Premier League sides have been warned by the Football Association that they must fulfil their scheduled ties this weekend – regardless of major Covid outbreaks which have resulted in the postponement of scores of league games since Christmas – may also play in the hands of Town and some others in the second tier as well.

They are one of three White Rose clubs in the Championship who face top-flight opponents, with Hull City hosting Everton and Sheffield United visiting Wolves.

A note was reportedly sent to all 20 Premier League clubs on Wednesday in which they were told to fulfil fixtures even if it means playing a team of academy players.

Premier League games can be postponed if clubs can prove they don’t have 13 outfield players plus one goalkeeper available from their senior squad and list of ‘appropriately experienced Under-21s’ – viewed as players who have participated, whether as a starter or substitute, for a club in a first-team competition this season.

But this season’s FA Cup won’t apply that aforesaid experience criteria to young players, with clubs required to name any registered player on their books to meet the 14 players threshold required for the game to go ahead.

It raises the prospect of some top-flight clubs fielding largely academy squads and giving senior players a breather as well. That could well be the case at Burnley, with Premier League survival very being the be-all and end-all for them.

Clarets chief Sean Dyche will be absent from the home dug-out tomorrow due to Covid. Ian Woan will lead the side in his absence.

Happily, Corberan is now back on the training ground after recovering from his own bout of Coronavirus ahead of a game which could see captain Jonathan Hogg and Naby Sarr return.

On whether expects Burnley to rest key personnel, Corberan added: “I don’t know which clubs will play more academy players or not.

“Some clubs will, because they were missing some of their main players before. Maybe some will use their strongest squad to make sure everyone arrives in the (Premier League) competition in the best condition.

“I don’t know how they (Burnley) will manage, but I know how much I will manage.”