Southern comfort for Town as campaign veteran returns to fray

KEITH SOUTHERN has chapter and verse on tumultous ends to seasons.

Whether it be striving for promotion or scrapping to get out of the relegation quicksand, the Huddersfield Town grafter wore the T-shirt in a decade’s service with previous club Blackpool.

He is entitled to a rueful smile in acknowledgment that his first campaign with the Terriers is ending like many by the seaside.

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At this stage of the season, the importance of every victory is magnified, with an even more intense focus following each defeat.

With the benefit of hardened experience, Southern is not one for over-analysis or results permutations. All he knows is that while the wins feel sweet, the losses taste even more bitter at the most climactic time of the season.

And for Town in 2012-13, the maths for the midfield anchorman are comparatively simple. Win two of their last three matches and Championship safety will be almost assured... probably.

Southern, ‘veteran’ of three play-off campaigns, including two promotions, one relegation and three flirtations with the drop in his time at Bloomfield Road, said: “Since 2007, every season I have played, there has been something riding on it at the end, whether being in the play-offs, consolidating a play-off position or trying to stay up.

“So this is a situation I am used to, although this season, it is not one I want to be in. Going for promotion is a bit more enjoyable.

“There is tension and massive things riding on each game. But for me, if you dig too deep, it will drive you mad.

“If you look too far into other teams’ results, I think you would go around the bend.

“I have been in the game long enough now, you can only affect what you can do.

“We have had no favours from other sides in the past six or seven weeks, because they have had almost promotion form, hence why it will be the highest points tally ever that will take a side down.

“I have not looked beyond Saturday’s games or at the permutations or who other teams play. I have no interest. If we do what we have got to do, we will be okay.

“I liken trying to stay up to going for promotion. It’s exactly the same; you are nervous and don’t really know what is going to happen. Some focus on the game and look at other results as well which can creep into your mind.

“For me, with three games to go, two wins – or possibly a win and a draw – and we will be safe, it’s as simple as that. It is in our hands.”

Southern, who turns 32 next week, added: “The disappointment for me is that the start we had was fantastic and for one reason or another, we have not consolidated or kicked on. But it is us who have put the club in this position and it is up to us to get the club out of it. Simple as that.

“It hurts at the moment. The euphoria on Saturday after victory at Wolves was great and we were high as a kite and then we lost on Tuesday at Blackburn and I didn’t have a wink of sleep.

“That is just how I feel, I take things to heart and really care and don’t want another relegation on my CV and will be doing my utmost to help this club stay in the league.”

After spending most of 2013 working ‘like a madman’ to get himself fit again after an Achilles injury, Southern, who made his return after three months out in last weekend’s fine victory at Molineux, is now ready for more action in today’s big home encounter with beaten FA Cup semi-finalists Millwall.

While many followers have become stressed at Town’s predicament over recent weeks and months, he has kept immune from it all as he concentrated on his own fitness battle.

What he does know is that he is raring to go to do his bit to help Town banish the relegation blues and enjoy an end to the season which will be every bit as euphoric as last season’s promotion if they achieve their mission brief of survival.

He said: “I have not felt any tension or apprehension surrounding the club because I have been detached from the lads and in the gym or treatment room for a decent period of time.

“If called upon, I will be ready. I have been out three months and not had a lot of training, but I have come through some decent run-outs this week and while a bit stiff, I am reasonably fit.”

Back-to-back league wins – something Town have not achieved since October – in the next two matches would go a long way towards them securing their second-tier tenure.

But for Town fans, it has certainly been the proverbial roller-coaster ride in recent months, with their last six Championship victories all followed instantly by a defeat. So the next three games are acid tests of their nerve and resolve.

Southern said: “Getting promotion is never easy and neither is staying up. Many games in this league are on a knife-edge for long spells and it’s about who holds their nerve and has that little bit of quality in the final third to get over the line.

“It’s a man’s world in this league and if you do not stand up and be counted, you will get walked all over.

“I am hoping the squad is good enough; it’s just about sticking 
together, doing the right thing and having that tunnel vision and 
total belief that we can get out of 
it. There is no reason why we can’t.

“If we stay up, the young boys in the side will gain a lot of experience and be able to move forward with this grounding and become better players and people for it.”