While Danny Cowley managed to get things moving in the right direction when he arrived, that spate of defeats earlier in the season means they are hovering just a few points off the drop zone. How would you sum up Huddersfield’s first season back in the Championship so far?
Pretty disastrous, to be honest. I don’t think there’s many at the club who’d make any bones about that and, having come down from the Premier League, I don’t think anyone foresaw that Huddersfield would be in a relegation battle again this season. They got off to a terrible start and only took one point from the first eight games so after that it was always going to be an uphill task. The change of manager really, really helped, though and the Cowleys turned things around; you feel as though, had they not come in, they’d pretty much be dead and buried already. The fact that they are out of the relegation zone, given the start they had, is testament to that and what a good job they’ve done, but the recent defeats in a few relegation six-pointers have been really damaging and have put them back into the conversation for relegation at the time when it looked like they might be pulling away from that group of clubs at the bottom.
There are probably six or seven teams in involved in this battle at the bottom of the table, but with the way teams like Barnsley, for example, are playing, it seems to be far from a foregone conclusion. How confident do they seem of avoiding a second successive relegation?
Danny Cowley would tell you that he thinks it’s going to go all the way to the wire. His objective, since he came in, has always been just to get to 50 points and he’s never swayed away from that. They are on 28 points at the moment, so they still need 22 from the remaining 19 games to reach that, but their record under the Cowleys suggests that they should pull clear of that 50-point mark based on the way they’ve picked up points since they’ve been in charge. But the recent performances have not been good and they need the new signings that they’ve brought in to give them a lift and get back to that good run of form they were in the middle of last time they played Brentford.
Cowley has made a couple of decent signings so far this month, with the capture of Emile Smith Rowe and Andy King on loan from Arsenal and Leicester respectively, while also landing Richard Stearman on a free transfer from Sheffield United. What have you made of those and do you expect any further business?
It’s been good so far, but they still need a left-back quite desperately and probably a right-winger as well. Smith Rowe is a really key signing; Danny Cowley has constantly talked about wanting to play 4-2-3-1, but they’ve only got one senior No 10 at the club in Alex Pritchard and he’s only been fit to play two-and-a-half games under the Cowleys having been out with a knee injury since August. They made no secret of the fact they were desperate to get a No 10 in and Smith Rowe, it looks like, is going to be that player. He’s obviously very young, which means he’s going to be a bit inconsistent, but the fact they’ve got a player who can play in that positions means they should be able to make tactical decisions that will help them.
Richard Stearman is a little bit unglamorous but comes with a glowing report from people I’ve spoken to who watch a lot of Sheffield United and adds a lot of seniority and leadership to both the dressing room and the backline. They had Tommy Elphick playing in the back four last time against Brentford but he got injured a week later in the game against Preston and is out for the season, meaning Stearman is, effectively, his replacement. It’s a bit harsh on Jon Stankovic who stepped in and played quite well after Elphick’s injury but I think they needed that leadership in the squad in general, so even if he doesn’t play, he could be a vital influence backstage. The same goes for Andy King, as well. Apart from Jonathan Hogg, all of their midfield options are really young and when Hogg has been injured or suspended, as he has been over the last few weeks, they’ve looked a little bit lost in some games. He’s suspended this weekend and in other games when he’s not available, King could be a really good influence in that midfield.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye out for on Saturday afternoon?
I think I said Lewis O’Brien before the last time they played Brentford but that hasn’t changed. He’s been excellent. He did have a spell out injured throughout December, but he’s come back and hasn’t missed a beat since. He scored an absolute screamer against Barnsley last Saturday as well and was one of only two players Cowley singled out for praise after a really dreadful first half. It’s hard to pick anyone else, really.
How is Cowley likely to set-up his side?
We think that they’ll go for the 4-2-3-1 that they have always said that they prefer, now they’ve got Smith Rowe in the building. They have played 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 over the last few weeks as well, but I think the latter was more out of necessity than choice.
Huddersfield won the return fixture 1-0 on their final visit to Griffin Park late last year, but what’s your score prediction for this one?
I think playing against a team like Brentford, Town look a bit better away from home because they can keep it tight and look to catch them on the break. At home that’s obviously harder to do because teams are less likely to come at you in such great numbers. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw.
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