Facing up to harsh reality of promotion success

The Championship should be renamed Premier League Two because it is that standard of football which has seen both promoted duo Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday struggle to adapt to life in their new surroundings.

This is the view of John Pearson, who won promotion to the top flight of English football with Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United and is well-placed to give his verdict on how Yorkshire’s clubs have fared in the first half of the Championship season.

Of the six Yorkshire clubs plying their trade in the Championship, former striker Pearson has played for four.

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He started out in football with his home-town club Wednesday in the Eighties before heading to Leeds United, where he shared the dressing room with current Huddersfield manager Simon Grayson.

Pearson then had spells playing at Hull City and Barnsley, plus a loan period at Rotherham United, before finishing his career in the Nineties at current Championship leaders Cardiff City.

“Hull are having a particularly good season in what is a really tough division,” said 49-year-old Pearson, who is a match-day commentator for Wednesday’s in-house television station.

“The division that Wednesday left a couple of years ago when we got relegated isn’t the division we have come back into.

“It looks like a Premier League Two, to me, there are a lot of really strong sides in it. Obviously, Wednesday and Barnsley are not going to be happy with their league positions at the moment.

“My personal opinion is that it looks a far stronger division. I follow Wednesday and have been watching League One football for the last couple of seasons, so it was a surprise how strong the teams are.

“We played Charlton last weekend and they had Emmanuel Frimpong (former Arsenal striker) playing for them, who I have only seen on television before but he looks a quality player.”

Heading into 2013 and the second half of the Championship season, Steve Bruce’s Hull side are chasing automatic promotion, while the takeover at Leeds should drive them towards the play-offs with Middlesbrough.

But for Huddersfield, Wednesday and Barnsley, success this season is survival.

When Town hosted the Owls on April 7 this year, both clubs were chasing promotion. When the two clubs meet again in the same stadium tomorrow, they will both have one eye on the bottom three rather than the top three.

Town have already beaten the Owls 3-1 at Hillsborough earlier this season, in a feisty encounter when both sides were reduced to 10 men – Joel Lynch and Joe Mattock both making early exits.

Grayson’s summer midfield signings Adam Clayton, Keith Southern and Oliver Norwood all impressed Pearson, who believes Wednesday must draw upon their display at Town last season when goals from Miguel Llera and Nile Ranger gave the visitors a 2-0 win on the way to claiming automatic promotion to the Championship.

The Terriers would follow a few weeks later, after beating Sheffield United in the play-off final at Wembley.

“I went to Huddersfield last season and I am going again at the weekend,” said Pearson, who will be among the travelling Owls fans in the away end at Town. “It was one of the performances of the year last season, we were superb.

“If we can replicate that sort of team spirit and that quality, that fight, I am certain we have got a chance.

“Simon (Grayson) has done a great job. When they came down to Hillsborough earlier this season they had a couple of new players in midfield and you could see he had brought quality in.

“They looked a really decent side. They have dropped away recently, had a couple of results go against them so it might be a testing time for them and a good time to face Huddersfield.

“I think we should go there with confidence. Hopefully, we can go into all the games with a bit more confidence and build on wins over Barnsley and Charlton.”

Pearson, Town’s Grayson and Glynn Snodin were at Leeds when they were crowned Division Two champions in 1990.

Pearson admits he would not have tipped Grayson as a future manager in their Elland Road days, but he has been impressed with how he has taken to management with spells at Blackpool and Leeds before moving to Huddersfield where he replaced Lee Clark.

“I know Simon and (Glynn) Snodin (from their Leeds days),” said Pearson, who made 99 appearances for United, scoring 12 goals in five years at Elland Road. “When I knew Simon as a young lad I would never have picked him out as a manager.

“He has done a great job wherever he has been and he was a respected footballer, going on to play at Leciester and Aston Villa.

“He had a great playing career and now is getting stuck into management and doing really well.

“He is a really nice lad, a good guy at Leeds, and you wish him nothing but the best – apart from when they play us on Saturday.”

As for his verdict on Saturday’s game? “We will thrash Huddersfield,” he said, before breaking into a broad grin.

“I would be very happy with another 1-0 or 2-0. Another free-kick from Llera again, I was right behind the goal and it was quality.”

Hull have recruited well under Bruce and Pearson is not surprised one of his former clubs are doing well this season. He believes they can finish top dogs among the Yorkshire contingent this season.

Leeds’s long-awaited takeover has brought renewed optimism at Elland Road and, with Neil Warnock a genius at delivering promotion, Pearson expects the Whites to stage a second-half assault on promotion.

“The takeover at Leeds is great news for United fans,” said Pearson. “They have been waiting a long time for this to happen.

“Leeds are a big club and this will benefit them. January will be an important time for Leeds in the transfer window.

“Neil Warnock has proved that wherever he goes he can get teams promoted, so I am sure that, with a bit of money behind him and backing, the play-offs are possible.”

As for his boyhood club, the Owls are looking to stabilise after they halted seven successive defeats with wins over Barnsley, Charlton and Bolton.

They started the season well, losing narrowly at Derby before wins over Birmingham City and Millwall saw them go second in the table and raised expectations to an unrealistic level.

“Wednesday started really well in the Championship,” he said. “The second half at Derby, the first half against Birmingham at Hillsborough, we played some of the best football I have ever seen Sheffield Wednesday play. Like everybody, I suppose I got a little bit carried away,” added Pearson, who netted 24 goals in 105 appearances in a five-year Hillsborough spell from 1980-85.

“We were second in the table after three games and thinking ‘this is good’. We have a quality side, but something has affected us. It looks like we have lost a bit of confidence.

“Results see to that and results haven’t gone as Wednesday would have wished.

“I watched the Oakwell match on television and it looked a really tough battle. Like a lot of games, it could have gone either way. We won that one, but there are a lot of games when we have played better and lost.

“However victories come doesn’t matter. If we play fantastic football like we did against Birmingham or scrap like we did against Barnsley, the results, at the moment, are more important than the performances although I am sure Dave Jones will want both.

“I don’t think Wednesday have had a lot of luck, but that’s usually the case when you are down at the bottom. We haven’t got a choice now, we have to start making our luck.”