Town and Smithies are saving their best for run-in

SIMON GRAYSON’S predecessor as manager may have bristled at the suggestion but there can be little doubt that Huddersfield Town have drawn far too many games over the past 18 months.

An inability to hold on to leads, something that has already cost the club 24 points this term alone, has been the main problem and why, despite having lost just three times since the start of last year and being the proud owners of a new Football League unbeaten record, the Terriers are still in League One and, on current form, heading for a third consecutive tilt at winning promotion via the play-offs.

For a club who set out in August with the clear intent of finishing in the top two, such a fate would be a disappointment and one that can only be assuaged if Town do, as hoped, kick off next season in the Championship.

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Not, of course, that anyone at the Galpharm Stadium is in any mood to give up on automatic promotion with manager Grayson having delved into his own managerial past for an example to prove to his players that everything is still up for grabs.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s visit of leaders Charlton Athletic, Alex Smithies explains: “The manager is always pointing out just how tight the division is and that whoever goes on a run now is going to go up.

“He has told us a few times about the time at Blackpool when they went on a nine or 10-game winning run at the end of the season.

“That got them promotion and this is something we can do. I look around the dressing room and believe we can win every game between now and the end of the season.”

Blackpool were the first of two clubs Grayson has successfully led out of League One, Leeds United being the other.

Both were impressive feats achieved in very different circumstances with Leeds surviving a late wobble in form to finish as runners-up in 2010, while three years earlier Blackpool’s promotion came via the barnstorming type of finish that Huddersfield need this term as a 10-game winning run saw the Seasiders prevail.

Smithies said: “I don’t see any reason why we can’t do what Blackpool did that year by finishing so strongly. We have been a difficult team to beat for quite a while, as our record shows.

“We have proved ourselves to be resilient, though at times we have cost ourselves points. We have drawn far too many games, which is why we are not right up there with Charlton.

“But, hopefully, with the run-in we have, we can start to turn the draws into wins and get automatic promotion.”

That Smithies is available to play a full part in the run-in is a major bonus for not only Town but also the 22-year-old himself. An 11-month spell out of the team through injury hit the Huddersfield-born goalkeeper hard, not least because it was the first lengthy absence of his career.

“I had never had many injuries before so it was a bit of a shock to the system,” admits Smithies. “Knowing I was getting up every day but not able to play football became really hard.

“Instead, I went in the gym or the pool, which was completely different to what I had been able to do before. I just had to adapt and focus instead on the end goal, which was getting back fit and getting back playing.

“Once I came to terms with that, things became easier. The low point was definitely last summer when I found out I needed another (knee) operation. I had missed so much football already, it just felt awful.

“The worst bit was I had come through six weeks of pre-season in the summer and thought I was finally ready to challenge. Things weren’t totally right but I was hoping it might just be one of those things you have to put up with after a long spell out before things gradually do feel right.

“Unfortunately, things weren’t right and I went back to see the specialist a few days before the season was due to start. He wasn’t happy with what he saw. He said it had to be looked at properly and I knew then I’d suffered a massive setback.

“To be honest, it felt like everything had come crashing down. That was definitely the lowest point. Initially, I tried to argue I didn’t need the operation.

“All I wanted to do was play. That is all I could think of and I did say that.

“It was then that the manager put his foot down. He said, ‘I am not prepared to play you, instead I am going to do what is best for you in the long term’. And that was that.

“As you can imagine, I was really disappointed. But the lads rallied round. Ian Bennett was great, as was Nick Colgan. They are both vastly experienced goalkeepers who have had really good careers.

“They appreciated I was hurting so would try and keep my spirits up. I would go and talk to them when I got the chance. Both were brilliant in giving me advice. They also provide competition now I am fit again.

“It keeps me on my toes. It is the same right across the squad. I look around and we probably have two teams here who could compete in League One and do well.”

Lee Clark was the manager who took the selfless decision to do without his first-choice goalkeeper for such a lengthy spell. It was, therefore, one of football’s rich ironies that Smithies’s return to first-team action came in what turned out to be Clark’s last game as Town manager, the 1-0 Valentine’s Day defeat to Sheffield United.

Smithies, whose debut came under Andy Ritchie in 2007, said: “It was difficult when the manager left. I made my debut under someone else but it was Lee Clark who took a chance by making me his number one when I was just 19.

“To be told by the manager at that age he has faith in you was brilliant for my confidence. I was untested when he took a chance but, thankfully, things went well and I went on to play 100 games for Lee Clark.

“I am very grateful to him for giving me the opportunity. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to keep him in a job but the new manager has come in and we are looking to win promotion.

“Personally, it is a case of making up for lost time as it was hard to lose in the play-offs like we did (against Peterborough United at Old Trafford last May) even though I was injured.

“As a Huddersfield lad and a Huddersfield fan, I felt the defeat as much as the lads. I had done my bit in the build-up and contributed to us getting there so it was a devastating feeling to lose such an important game.

“Everyone was hurt and let’s just say the summer wasn’t the best. But that is behind us now and we want to bounce back this year by winning promotion.”