Huddersfield Town v Sheffield Wednesday: Clarke content with Town in spite of festive disappointment

CAPTAIN Peter Clarke insists Huddersfield Town are handily placed to enjoy a memorable second half of the season.

The Terriers go into this lunchtime's eagerly-anticipated Yorkshire derby against Sheffield Wednesday at the Galpharm Stadium sitting sixth in the League One table.

Town, courtesy of letting slip a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 at Carlisle United on Saturday, sit one place below the Owls, who have been frustrated spectactors this Christmas due to a combination of the cold weather and burst water pipes at Hillsborough.

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Victory today over Alan Irvine's men could, though, be enough to return Huddersfield to the automatic promotion places and help banish the memory of a disappointing festive season that has also brought defeats to Hartlepool United and Southampton.

With the derby marking the halfway point of Town's season, it could also set up the West Yorkshire outfit for a hectic January that includes four more League One games, an FA Cup third-round tie at home to Dover Athletic and the first leg of the club's Johnstone's Paint Trophy Northern Area final against Carlisle United.

Captain Clarke, who is an ever-present in the league this season, said: "I think the season is shaping up relatively well. The results since Christmas may not have have pointed to that being the case but we are still well placed in the league.

"We are also in the third round of the FA Cup with a home draw to come and in the Northern Area final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.

"Results haven't exactly been as we would have liked but I think we are in a good position to push on."

With Town and Wednesday being so close in the table, it is perhaps no surprise that Sky Television have chosen the League One encounter, which kicks off at 12.15pm, for live broadcast.

Just five points separate second-placed Southampton from Exeter City in 13th and Clarke believes a good run of form now could make all the difference.

He said: "The table is very, very tight with just a few points separating a host of teams. Any team who can show a bit of consistency from now on will have a great chance.

"I think anyone from mid-table upwards could win promotion, either by going up automatically or through the play-offs.

"Teams have lost a lot of games already and that shows a lack of consistency across the division.

"What it also means is that a good run now can make all the difference.

"I believe promotion is there for the taking. A lot of teams will believe that, so what we must do is make sure we capitalise."

Town, who welcome back Antony Kay after suspension, will go into today's derby buoyed by having beaten Wednesday 2-0 at Hillsborough two months ago.

Clarke added: "It was a really good performance that night. We started really well to set the tone, got in front and fully deserved the win.

"Sheffield Wednesday will be up there, I am in no doubt about that. That is why winning at Hillsborough was such a big result for us. It showed what we are capable of doing."

Wednesday's 2-0 defeat to Town in November left Irvine's men sitting in 10th place. Since then, however, a run of three wins from six games helped lift the Owls up to second before postponements saw them overhauled and left in fifth place.

That, together with the takeover of the club by Milan Mandaric, has raised optimism levels significantly in S6.

Manager Irvine said: "The promotion race is very tight. Up until now, everyone has been dropping points. Even Brighton, who started very quickly, have been pulled back towards the chasing pack.

"There are so many teams packed closely together that the challenge for us all is to achieve that consistency that will make all the difference.

"We want to be that team to go on a run and Huddersfield will be the same. I think they will be up there challenging.

"In fact, I would be amazed if they weren't. Lee has done a good job. He has had money to spend but he has spent it very well.

"They have got options in every position and have a lot of potential match-winners.

"We saw that at Hillsborough earlier in the season. We were very poor on the night and Huddersfield played very well."

Today's game will be the first Wednesday have played in more than a fortnight due to the Boxing Day trip to Tranmere Rovers falling victim to the weather and burst pipes at Hillsborough causing the postponement of the games against Yeovil Town and Peterborough United.

Irvine said: "It has been a long time since our last fixture and I know some people look at that as a positive because it means we have had a rest.

"But it can also work the other way as, if you are not careful, you can go soft.

"Our biggest challenge has been keeping training at the right tempo. We have to make sure we go at Huddersfield.

"This is a big game for both of us. To our fans, Sheffield United is the big derby but this will still be a big game they want to win.

"The players realise the importance of the game, both in terms of local pride and the promotion race."

Wednesday will again be without Giles Coke and Lewis Buxton at the Galpharm Stadium but could welcome back Jon Otsemobor.

Last six games: Huddersfield Town WWWLLD, Sheffield Wednesday WWLLWL.

Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland).

Last time: Huddersfield Town 1 Sheffield Wednesday; March 29, 2005; League One.