A CLUTCH of Yorkshire clubs bid farewell to a successful 2016 today, with the likes of Huddersfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley and Sheffield United all intent on raising the bar even higher in 2017.
With Hull City, Leeds United and Rotherham United having already completed their commitments for this calendar year, today’s main focus is on the Championship play-off picture.
Fifth-placed Town can leapfrog Leeds by avoiding defeat against visiting Blackburn Rovers (12.30pm), but a fifth win on the spin – something that the club last achieved at this level in November, 1999 – is very much the aim as head coach David Wagner’s side seek to complete a wonderful first half of the season in fitting fashion.
Wagner said: “Of course, I never expected we would be with 42 points after 23 games with 13 wins.
“I still don’t think we have to give ourselves any limit. Of course, if someone invited us to get a play-off place, we would take it, but there should never be a limit for ourselves in any game.
“Everyone knows where we are in terms of money-ranking in the table. Money plays a big part and everyone knows where we are in terms of player experience in British football, and it is important.
“If you take these two themes, then maybe we are in a position where not a lot of people expected us to be.
“It shows how tight and competitive this division is. But this experience of winning 13 games by one goal gives you bigger confidence.”
Sixth-placed Sheffield Wednesday are also aiming to put gloss on an impressive 12 months with victory at Preston as they too look ahead with confidence.
Their sense of well-being is emboldened by the declaration of head coach Carlos Carvalhal that the Owls will not sell any of their star players in the January transfer window.
The likes of Fernando Forestieri, Barry Bannan and Kieran Lee have all been linked with big-money moves, but Carvalhal has allayed fans’ fears.
He said: “At the end of the season, the chairman was very clear that we will not sell any players, so why would we be concerned?
“The players have a contract, we don’t have clauses. The chairman says we will not sell players.
“Even if the press says that this club want this player or another, it does not bother me because the chairman says he does not want to sell the player. He was very strong with this sentence, so I am not worried.”
Another coach whose priority is to retain his stars this transfer window is Barnsley’s Paul Heckingbottom. The likes of Conor Hourihane and Sam Winnall are being monitored, but the Reds chief wants to supplement their talents with new recruits to build further on a magnificent 2016.
Heckingbottom, whose 10th-placed side welcome Birmingham City, added: “We are at a really important stage in the season for the club in terms of what we are trying to achieve and these remaining months into the summer are a really important time.
“If you ask anyone what we are trying to achieve and are aiming for, we are close to it. The next step is, ‘Right, how do you get better?’
“It is a huge part (retaining star players) and we know we are going to have to bring in more players to keep improving and we have to keep these boys with us – if we can.
“Their heads may be turned and they may think there are bigger and better things out there, but we have to fight to keep them.”
In League One, it promises to be a red-letter day for second-placed Sheffield United, who can reach the 50-point milestone with victory over manager Chris Wilder’s former club, Northampton Town, managed by ex-Blades defender Rob Page (1pm).
Wilder insists that sentiment for the Cobblers, whom he helped steer through fraught times, will be placed on hold for 90 minutes, with his sole concern being that the Blades – beaten just once in 19 league games – take care of business.
“There are proper people at (Northampton) board level and to work for two or three months without getting paid shows what their commitment is like.
“But there will not be anything handed out from me and there will not be anything handed out from them because I want to turn them over and they will want to do the same to us.”
League One play-off candidates Bradford City sign off for 2016 against Bury and League Two leaders Doncaster Rovers visit Mansfield Town (12.15pm). Middlesbrough face Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Premier League.
Previews: Pages 2-5