Huddersfield Town finally delivered on their potential in 2011-12, winning promotion on a gloriously sunny day at Wembley in perhaps the most bizarre and dramatic penalty shootout in recent years. The season started with many fans, myself included, expecting the team to finish in the top two under the stewardship of Lee Clark. Instead, what we got was a record unbeaten run, a change of manager and a record breaking striker. 2011-12 was, for Huddersfield Town, a rollercoaster season.
After a low key preseason, which involved no home games due to the Galpharm Stadium pitch being relayed, the season got off to an equally low key start. Draws in the first three games was not the start we had been hoping for, and immediately put us six points behind eventual runaway leaders Charlton Athletic. However, four wins out of the next five matches, including a remarkable 3-0 victory at Bramall Lane, saw the Terriers shoot up to third in the table, and really ignite the fans’ hopes for a successful season. However, the team never really put together a lengthy run of victories to put pressure on Charlton at the top of the table, and just seemed to drop points in disappointing games. The amount of two goal leads (and a three goal one) we threw away to drop points was unbelievable, and saw the team fall further and further behind The Addicks, who just kept putting those three points on the board. We were, however, keeping that unbeaten run going, and drawing our way into the record books!
That run started, fittingly, on January 1st 2011 with a 2-2 draw at Brunton Park against Carlisle United. Terriers fans will not be surprised to read that we were 2-0 ahead in that game! The run ended at 43 games, which comprised twenty five wins and eighteen draws. In the end, it was the best team in the division that ended the run. Chris Powell’s Charlton side easily brushed Town aside as they recorded a 2-0 win which put them seven points clear at the top of the table. It may also have set the wheels in motion for Clark’s demise. He did last another eleven games, until a disappointing 0-1 home defeat to Sheffield United left the club in fourth place, four points behind the Blades in second, who still had a game in hand. Clark was dismissed by chairman Dean Hoyle, who claimed that he had lost faith in Clark’s ability to get us into the top two, and also lost faith that he would succeed in the playoffs at the third time of asking.
It was a brave, some at the time said foolish, decision, and one that would only be justified if the new manager achieved promotion. That new manager was Simon Grayson, himself harshly sacked from his hometown club Leeds United less than three weeks before. He was installed as the new Huddersfield Town manager just five days after Clark was sacked, which does suggest that his availability maybe influenced the chairman’s decision somewhat.
Grayson had sixteen games to deliver the promotion that everyone connected with the club was desperate for. His regular league games in charge have yielded seven wins and five draws, but did also see us lose three league games in a row without scoring, the first time for nearly two years that this has happened. Grayson did, however, deliver a fourth place finish, and a playoff with MK Dons. An impressive performance in the first leg at Stadium: MK saw the Terriers triumph thanks to goals from an expected, and a wholly unexpected source. Jordan Rhodes glanced in a Lee Novak cross to put Town ahead before right back Jack Hunt sealed a 2-0 win with a left footed shot in the 73rd minute.
That first leg win rendered the second leg a little bit redundant, especially when Rhodes notched his fortieth of an amazing personal season in the first half to make it 3-0 on aggregate. MK Dons did end up winning the match 2-1, with Alan Smith heading the winner in stoppage time. So, it would be Town v Sheffield United at Wembley for a place in English football’s second tier. The 120 minutes of football were not great for the watching neutral I imagine, but the twenty minutes or so of penalties were the most dramatic minutes of the season. It was a whole season’s worth of emotion wrapped up in twenty two spot kicks. After missing our first three kicks, there was not a Town fan present who thought we could turn it around. However, Sheffield United missed two of their first three, and thankfully our boys then smashed home the next eight penalties, the last one taken by young goalkeeper Alex Smithies, who was only playing because Ian Bennett broke a finger in the second leg against MK Dons. Steve Simonsen took the fateful last penalty, and blazed it over the bar to send the Terriers’ faithful into delirium. The scenes of jubilation on the pitch and in the stands was a sight to behold, and is without doubt my finest memory in football. I must pay tribute to the Sheffield United players who came to the Town fans and applauded us at the end of the game. Absolute class gesture.
This season was also the season that Jordan Rhodes really made his name in English football. He had already got a reputation as a prolific goalscorer, banging in forty five goals in his first two seasons with the club. However, a forty goal return, including an incredible thirty six league goals, has put him firmly on the radar of clubs in the Championship and Premier League. Depending on which rumours you read, Mr Hoyle has already turned down offers in the region of £4-6 million. However, now we are in the Championship, there is an optimism amongst fans that JR might hang around for another season.
Special tribute from me, and I’m sure every single Town fan, goes to our chairman Dean Hoyle. He has put in so much of his own money to drive the club forward and to see the unbridled joy on his face at the end was truly heartwarming. He is one of us; a fan, a season ticket holder before he was the owner, and unquestionably the man to take us forward.
Honourable mentions also should go to Messrs Ken Davy and Lee Clark. Mr Davy, who owns the Huddersfield Giants Rugby League club, bought the football club when it was on it’s deathbed after the horrific reign of Barry Rubery. He steadied the ship and although the end of his six year reign was acrimonious and he is not held in particularly high esteem by the majority of Town fans, without him we would have no club to support. As for Clark, he started us out on this road to the Championship, and there was a lot of love for him on twitter in the hours after the playoff final.
So, onto next season. The aim? Well, obviously, the cliche is to survive, but I think a midtable position is achievable, and if we can keep Rhodes, that should definitely be the target. Onwards and upwards! Bring on the Championship!
Written by James Bartaby, We Are Going Up’s Huddersfield Town blogger
James tweets at @jamesb5374