A LESSON learned as a youngster under Howard Wilkinson is how Simon Grayson explains his approach when attempting to bridge the gap between League One and the Championship.
This season is the third time the 43-year-old Huddersfield Town manager has made the step up to the second tier of English football following previous promotions at the helm of Blackpool and Leeds United.
And while the Terriers’ recent form has been disappointing with no wins in eight outings, the West Yorkshire club are still sitting pretty in mid-table with 31 points from 24 games.
It means Grayson’s side are much closer to the play-off spots than the relegation zone ahead of today’s derby with Sheffield Wednesday who, after a difficult start to life back in the Championship, have started to hit form with a trio of consecutive wins.
“There are times when, as a manager, you have to be ruthless,” said the Town manager yesterday when asked by the Yorkshire Post about the secret to his success when trying to make the advance from League One after promotion.
“Howard Wilkinson, my old manager at Leeds, taught me that. He always maintained that you needed a certain team to get out of a division but then another team once you were in the higher division.
“There just wasn’t room for sentiment and that is why Howard kept Leeds moving after winning promotion (in 1990). Two years later, Leeds won the League title and that couldn’t have happened if he’d stuck with the same team.”
Grayson’s first experience of trying to bridge the gap between League One and the Championship came in the summer of 2007 with Blackpool.
Ten straight wins, including in the play-off final at Wembley against Yeovil Town, had taken the Seasiders up so change was needed. While funds were tight, Grayson managed to wheel and deal to such an extent that Blackpool never slipped into the bottom three the following season en route to a 19th place finish.
Leeds were the second club Grayson led to promotion from League One and the arrival of a double figure tally of signings in the summer of 2010 preceded a push for the play-offs that only fell short in the run-in.
The Huddersfield manager was similarly busy in the wake of last May’s play-off triumph over Sheffield United and such an approach has again paid dividends with the Terriers as high as sixth in the table as recently as the middle of last month.
“You have to move forward as a club,” said Grayson ahead of this lunchtime’s match with Wednesday. “Standing still means going backwards.
“Of course, expectations are different at different clubs. At Blackpool, it was all about survival in that first season in the Championship.
“At Huddersfield, we were looking higher than that but not too high. Leeds, meanwhile, were expected to finish in the play-offs that first year after coming out of League One.”
An example of how quickly things have changed at the John Smith’s Stadium since promotion was clinched comes with the make-up of the team that lost 2-0 to Wednesday over Easter.
Eight of the 14 on duty that afternoon have since left Town with the departures including Danny Cadamarteri, Gary Roberts, Diego Arismendi, Antony Kay and Sean Morrison.
Wednesday, meanwhile, have lost six of the 14 players who were on the field at some stage in that 2-0 win, including one of their goalscorers Nile Ranger.
Grayson said: “Things have changed for both clubs, but this is a game I am sure Sheffield Wednesday are looking forward to as much as us.
“With three wins under their belts, they are looking a different team to just a few weeks ago. You can sense the confidence that has come back into the team and they will be a tough opponent.”
Town’s own recent form contrasts sharply with that of Wednesday with no wins from their last eight games. Grayson, though, added: “I prefer to say just one defeat in four.
“We were within a few seconds of getting a win against Blackpool on Boxing Day (when Nathan Delfouneso netted deep into stoppage time). To be fair, that win would have papered over the cracks of a poor performance.
“But then you can look at how we played against Crystal Palace (in the 1-1 draw a week ago today). We were the better team and but for Anthony Gerrard being wrongly sent off, I believe we would have gone on to win.
“We’d just equalised when it happened and there were about 10 minutes left with us in the ascendancy. It is frustrating, though at least we won the appeal to leave Anthony free to face Sheffield Wednesday.”
Gerrard is, indeed, available today after the FA overturned his red card on Thursday. Joel Lynch is also back for Town after a one-game suspension for collecting five bookings, but Alan Lee is still out.
On the search for a first win since beating Barnsley on November 10, Grayson added: “One win can make all the difference in the Championship.
“How many times have we seen that this season? Sheffield Wednesday lost seven in a row before beating Barnsley and have now won three in a row.
“Peterborough United are another team who were struggling but have now hit a bit of decent form, while Leeds didn’t win for something like eight games before bouncing back with five wins in six games.
“That’s just how the Championship is and we have been reminding the players about that point.
“As for ourselves, it would be nice to put our recent run to bed with a win over Sheffield Wednesday. This year has been a good one for the club and we want to continue moving forward together in 2013.”