Before this season kicked off, many might have expected Huddersfield to be at the opposite end of the table. Finishing 20th last season, this didn’t inject any positivity into the Terriers fanbase – a number of seasons had passed Huddersfield by, finishing 18th the season before with the Terriers finding it difficult in the second tier after relegation.
Yet, at this present moment in time, another unlikely leap to the top flight could well occur. Carlos Corberan has gone from a manager on the brink of being sacked to a hero in such a short of space of time, galvanising a group down on their luck and making them extremely hard to beat.
Arguably not as flashy as the David Wagner-led Huddersfield side from a few seasons back, key performers in Lewis O’Brien centrally and breakthrough star Sorba Thomas have given the Terriers the edge this season.
Confirmed already for the playoff spots, it will be intriguing to see if Huddersfield can replicate their past promotion heroics and play with the big boys in the top flight again.
If Carlos Corberan can deliver an unlikely promotion, he will etch himself into Terriers folklore as a boss who redeemed himself – once seen as out of his depth after re-entering into management with Huddersfield after being Marcelo Bielsa’s wing-man at Leeds, the Spaniard is now a God in the eyes of the Terriers faithful.
Historically, a team like Huddersfield shouldn’t be battling it out for promotion to the top of the English football pyramid. The Terriers have even played in the third tier in recent memory, promoted to the Championship in 2012 under the short-lived tenure of Simon Grayson.
The past few years for Huddersfield have been a rollercoaster journey, catapulted to the Premier League under the whirlwind David Wagner era in dramatic fashion – a penalty shoot-out victory at Wembley securing promotion, uncharted waters for a team who hadn’t tasted top-flight football since 1972.
The hangover of Wagner’s whirlwind success eventually arrived in relegation, before turbulent times followed in staving off a return to League One football the past few seasons. Now, Huddersfield are back to being overachievers under Carlos Corberan. What is the secret to all the success occurring at the John Smith’s Stadium this season?
It’s not as if there’s been a major overhaul of players, key performers this season in Lewis O’Brien and Danny Ward have been stalwarts for the Terriers with the latter amassing over 150 appearances for Huddersfield in two separate spells.
Trusting a core group of players that had underwhelmed in previous seasons is admirable, Danny Ward going from one solitary goal in the 2020-21 season for Huddersfield to now leading the way as the most prolific source of goals for Corberan’s men with 13 this campaign.
The players Huddersfield have added to the group however have been smart and shrewd acquisitions, not breaking the bank for the sake of it. A number of the signings made in the summer were free transfers, Lee Nicholls joining on a free from MK Dons and starring in goal for Huddersfield – Nicholls’ debut campaign in West Yorkshire has even seen him win a spot in the Championship team of the season, a deserved accolade.
Other smart purchases saw more experience and depth come in, Tom Lees has proven to be another worthwhile signing without costing the Terriers a penny as has former Huddersfield legend Jordan Rhodes returning who has rolled back the years in recent weeks.
The Terriers have also utilised the loan market effectively, Levi Colwill enjoying his time out on loan from Chelsea despite injuries ruling him out for a number of important contests alongside skilful winger Danel Sinani offering Corberan’s side something different going forward on loan from Norwich.
Huddersfield were proactive in recruiting the right type of player in the summer, hard-working and skilful individuals who could strengthen a side who had suffered two poor seasons on the bounce. Yet, they didn’t just get rid of those players who underwhelmed outright.
As a result, Huddersfield went into this season stronger than most anticipated – the underdog mentality back in full force, proving those doubters wrong who wrote them off after two relegation-threatened seasons.
With the spotlight remaining on the likes of Luton and Nottingham Forest near the top, Huddersfield are content at simply grinding away under the radar. The Terriers have remained remarkably calm throughout the season, even when a 5-1 loss to Fulham at the start of the season gave ammunition to those who expected Corberan’s men to struggle once more.
They responded to that early season setback by winning three in a row, beating Sheffield United on their own patch fresh off a relegation from the Premier League. Huddersfield have remained consistently near the top of the Championship perch when outsiders might have expected them to fall away, a real collective effort shining through.
Sorba Thomas has, however, undoubtedly helped Huddersfield along the way this season – his accuracy from set-piece situations a constant source of nuisance for opposition defenders to deal with, another player to make his way into the Championship team of the season as a result.
The masses would begin to take Huddersfield seriously in a lengthy 17-match unbeaten run, a number of draws in this sequence of results showcasing Huddersfield’s ability to grind out results and add points to the board even if a win isn’t forthcoming.
Huddersfield managed to show different sides of their game however to pick up crucial victories, proving that they belonged at the top with teams such as Fulham. A win away at The Cottagers certainly proved this, two first half goals from Danny Ward and Duane Holmes enough to pick up a victory that showed they belonged in the promotion picture.
Wins against Blackpool and Reading showed off Huddersfield’s desire to fight back and outscore the opposition, a different style on display away from structured and disciplined performances prior.
Danny Ward’s hat-trick in the game at Reading ensured a dramatic 4-3 win was the final outcome for The Terriers, Sorba Thomas similarly bailing the Terriers out with two second half strikes to overcome The Tangerines.
Even in recent times after this unbeaten bubble had burst, crucial games against fellow promotion hopefuls have seen Corberan’s men come out on top. The win recently against Luton saw the disciplined Huddersfield resurface, not giving Luton any room to breathe with Lewis O’Brien constantly providing energy through the middle.
The game would be won through a moment of magic, an unlikely goal-scorer in Jon Russell looping it over the head of James Shea in the Luton net before Naby Sarr headed in a typically accurate Sorba Thomas corner to win the contest 2-0. Luton did have their moments, but after Elijah Adebayo missed a crucial spot-kick, Huddersfield sensed it was their night again.
An equally dogged display saw Huddersfield win on the road at Middlesbrough, Naby Sarr scoring once more with Jordan Rhodes also netting as a stand-in for Danny Ward who missed out through injury. Another win over Barnsley saw the full squad being utilised by Carlos Corberan, the Terriers winning 2-1 even with the likes of Sorba Thomas absent throughout.
Corberan’s side remain determined to see out this season as positively as possible, an outside chance of the top two still viable at the time of writing. But, this ability to grind out victories will prove crucial in the lottery of the playoffs when the normal season bows out.
Some Huddersfield fans might have expected the Daniel Wagner days down at the John Smith’s Stadium to be their only fleeting moment in the Premier League before coming back to reality, but with Carlos Corberan, the spirit of that promotion story is reminiscent in the tale unfolding this campaign.
Huddersfield would fancy their chances in the playoffs too, another dream day at Wembley could well be on the cards only a few years on from the biggest moment in Terriers history when they did what was deemed as unthinkable. Now, history could well repeat itself.
By: Kelan Sarson / @SarsonKelan
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / James Chance – Getty Images