LEE CLARK will return to former club Huddersfield Town today with just one mission – to ease the relegation fears of his current employer.
The 41-year-old, in his second season at the helm of Birmingham City, spent more than three years in charge of Town before being relieved of his duties in February, 2012.
As Town went on to clinch promotion via the play-offs three months later under Simon Grayson, Clark accepted the tough challenge of reviving the Blues amid a need to slash budgets and cope with the fallout of owner Carson Yeung being charged with money laundering in his native Hong Kong.
Last season, the City manager performed admirably to lead Birmingham to a top-half finish. This time around has been a much tougher affair and Clark makes the trip to the John Smith’s Stadium with his side sitting third bottom of the Championship.
No wonder, therefore, that when asked about his second return trip to Huddersfield as a rival manager, Clark preferred to focus on the Blues’ plight. He said: “In all honesty, whoever the opposition is, it is all about what we do and what we get out of the game in terms of a positive result.
“I spoke about my time at Huddersfield Town before going back last season. I made lots of friends, both inside the club and outside the club.
“Huddersfield is a fantastic place for me. It will always be special in terms of my managerial career, which I hope is going to be long and successful. They gave me the opportunity to start.
“But this weekend is irrelevant in terms of who the opposition are. We respect Huddersfield enormously because we think they are a good team but it is up to us to get a result because we need to get some points on the board due to the predicament we are in, at this moment in time.”
Clark’s reign at Huddersfield included leading the Yorkshire club to the play-offs twice, losing in the 2010 semi-finals to Millwall and then a year later against Peterborough in the final at Old Trafford.
The Terriers also beat Nottingham Forest’s long-standing Football League record after going 43 matches unbeaten during Clark’s time in charge.
He was sacked with Town sitting fourth in League One, just a day after a 1-0 home defeat to promotion rivals Sheffield United.
Mark Robins, who replaced Grayson as Huddersfield manager early this year, is in no doubt as to the welcome that Clark deserves. He said: “Lee is a decent guy and I am sure that he will get a good reception. He enjoyed a decent time here and was unfortunate to not get the team promoted, which was done in the end by Simon (Grayson).
“He bought some good talent to the club and that can’t go unrecognised. He should have a good place in the club’s history books.”
Clark may be making his second return to Huddersfield as Birmingham manager but for Blues striker Lee Novak it will be a new experience. The 25-year-old called time on his four-year stay in West Yorkshire last summer when Birmingham came calling.
Novak, who left on a Bosman free transfer after turning down the offer of a new contract, has since netted twice for the Blues and is looking forward to a reunion with his old team-mates.
Novak said: “It is a big game for me and the club for obvious reasons. The club (Birmingham) are in a false position and hopefully we can get a positive result.
“Going back to Huddersfield is a big thing for me. I spent four years there and a good four years as well.
“Every player looks for the game against their old club. I helped the club get promoted and it is good to be going back.
“As for the reception, I would like to think I will get a decent one. But I understand if I end up scoring, I might get a few boos.
“That is part and parcel of football. I will take whatever the reception, but the four years I had there brought great memories.”
Asked for his personal highs followed his move from non-League Gateshead, Novak replied: “There were a lot of highs and I helped the club get promotion and stay in the league as well.
“I scored a few goals in the games I started and the fans and everyone else were brilliant.
“I don’t think I would be here without Huddersfield. They took the chance on me from non-league and enabled me to prove I could play in the Football League.
“I had the option of a contract there from Huddersfield. But I felt within myself I just needed a fresh start somewhere for personal and football reasons.
“When I heard Birmingham were interested, it didn’t take long to decide. But Huddersfield is a massive part of how I have got here and I owe them a lot.”
Jon Stead interview: Page 2.