Town’s Stead finally gets chance to prove worth on Clark’s return

HAD Lee Clark got his way, Jonathan Stead would have been back wearing the blue and white of Huddersfield Town three years ago.

Huddersfield's Jonathan Stead.

The Terriers had just been bullied into submission by Millwall in the semi-final second leg of the League One play-offs when Clark made his move for a striker who had netted 24 goals in 76 appearances for his home-town club.

Stead was on the verge of leaving Ipswich Town and admits to being hugely tempted by the Terriers’ approach. Despite the lure of coming home, he instead opted for Bristol City – meaning Clark had to look elsewhere for the firepower to take Huddersfield up.

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Today, Clark will see first-hand what he missed out on in the summer of 2010 as his Birmingham City side take on Town at the John Smith’s Stadium and Stead is looking forward to meeting up again with the 41-year-old Blues chief.

“I actually played against Lee right at the start of my career,” recalls the 30-year-old striker when speaking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of Clark locking horns with Mark Robins’s side. “But it wasn’t until Lee came to Huddersfield that I first really spoke to him.

“We spoke quite a bit when I was leaving Ipswich. Huddersfield were interested and the chance to come back was a big pull.

“The only thing that stopped me was Huddersfield being in League One at the time. They had just lost in the play-offs. That was the stumbling block because I wanted to play at as high a level as possible.

“So, I went to Bristol City and had three excellent years. They showed a real desire to sign me and I liked that, too. It is great 
to be back in Yorkshire but I consider Bristol to be my second home.”

Clark will arrive in Huddersfield as a manager under pressure after last weekend slipping into the bottom three of the Championship.

His second job in management has been a tough one, with the wage bill having to be cut drastically to the background of owner Carson Yeung facing charges of money laundering in his native Hong Kong.

Last season saw the Blues finish 12th in the Championship and Clark badly needs a positive result today against the club he managed for a little over three years.

“Lee really brought this club on,” says Stead of the manager whose tenure at Town included setting a new Football League record of 43 unbeaten games.

“He had an unbelievable record. I can’t see any other manager going such a long time without losing. Not even close. He stabilised the club and then really moved it forward. It was a shame Town couldn’t get up and, instead, lost twice in the play-offs.

“Lee is a real football man. He is having a difficult time at the moment but he has a good group at Birmingham and they will be tough opponents.

“Lee will be looking to do well against us, as it is his old club. But we have to throw that aside. It is not about Lee Clark coming back. Instead, it is an opportunity for us to get three points and move up the table. That is all that matters.”

Stead’s return to Town may have come during last summer but it is only recently that he has started to make an impact. The phenomenal early season form of James Vaughan played a part in the Huddersfield-born striker’s own slow start and it was not until a fortnight ago that Stead broke his scoring duck.

That came against Leeds United in a thrilling 3-2 derby triumph, a result Stead is hoping will, come May, have proved to be a defining moment in Huddersfield’s season.

He said: “The Leeds game was great. It was a great atmosphere and, above all, a great result for us. Aside of it being against Leeds, we needed the three points because we hadn’t won in something like six games before facing Leeds.

“It was a big one for me, too. Because Vaughany had been playing so well, understandably I was having to play second fiddle to him.

“But his red card (against Leicester City) gave me a chance and I managed to take it. Scoring the winner against Leeds was a great way to get off the mark in my second spell at the club.

“In terms of the team, results have been a bit up and down. And when it is like that, the league position can change a lot. We went ninth after beating Leeds and were looking up. But then we went to Wigan, played well only to lose and then slip down three or four places. All within the space of a week.

“The Championship is a mad division and that is why I see this as such a big game. It is the last one before an international break and we want to sign off with a win.

“Describing a game as ‘massive’ at this stage of a season may sound strange. But I really do think it is huge. We want to go into the international break looking up the table and not down. And to do that, we need to beat Birmingham.

“Last season was huge for the club. After winning promotion, we had to make sure we stayed in this division. Obviously, it was a close run thing with things going down to the final match against Barnsley.

“Now, it is all about kicking on and I think we are doing that. Three points against Birmingham would help enormously.”

As for being back in his native Huddersfield, Stead could not be happier. The former Sheffield United striker added: “I have always kept in touch. I would come along and watch Huddersfield whenever I got the opportunity. I never missed a Huddersfield game on television, either.

“So, to now be back is great. In the summer, me and my family wanted to move home. Anywhere within driving distance would have done but then Huddersfield came in and that made the decision for me.

“I had been away a long time and the club has changed a lot since those days. Back then, we had been in administration and things were a struggle financially. There were some tough times.

“But since Dean Hoyle took over, all that has changed. You only have to look at the set-up and the training ground to see that. He has pumped in a lot of money and the set-up is excellent as a result.

“The one thing that hasn’t changed is that there is still a real family feel to Huddersfield Town. That’s why it is great to be back.”