A snap guest post today – and one that is bound to stoke up controversy. Yesterday, Hudderfield Town dispensed with the services of Lee Clark. On twitter, a discussion ensued on the subject of ‘unfair sackings’ with the firings of Chris Hughton, Carlo Ancelotti and Gianfranco Zola held up in comparison – and it’s fair to say that the TTU editorial line is highly sympathetic towards the departed manager. All is perhaps not as it seems however – and here, John Dobson argues that it was time for the infamous T-shirt wearer to go.
The over-riding sentiment on twitter (where Wayne Rooney cited it as evidence that football has gone mad, with no reference to his wages or his hair), on the blogs and in various comments sections is that Lee Clark losing his job as manager of Huddersfield Town was something of a surprise and, not only that, considerably unfair. Rot. He’d been given every chance, every resource and it wasn’t working.
The headline figures make it look a poor decision. A run of 43 league games without defeat recently ended and even though it’s over, it’s still three defeats in 55 games. However, scratch beneath the surface a little and there’s more to it. Despite playing almost a season’s worth of games without a loss, there Town are – stuck in League 1. Of those 43 games, 20 of them were draws. In very few did they swashbuckle their way to a huge win and really get the Galpharm Stadium crowd rocking.
They have also displayed an uncanny ability to lose the advantage from winning positions. Time and again they’d concede one, maybe two, late in a game to drop points thanks to a panicky defence and an inability to retain possession. They’d struggle to break down sides that, perhaps fearful of that unbeaten run, came and parked the bus.
Those sides are invariably ones from lower down the table and it was an inability to beat that kind of unit, where promotion rivals had few problems, that has seen Huddersfield remain a League 1 side. Cracks were papered over by a welter of statistics and wins against the teams around them in the upper reaches of the league table.
Town carried that same form into this season and were running in the top two until a loss to runaway leaders Charlton. Defeat at home to Bournemouth quickly followed and, after a short run of draws with the odd win, another home defeat to Sheffield United sealed Clark’s fate.
The key word in the phrase ‘unbeaten league run’ is ‘league’. There was an encouraging performance against Arsenal in the FA Cup and a thrilling extra-time loss at Cardiff in the League Cup, but also a shuddering 4-0 reverse to Carlisle and a penalties loss to neighbours Bradford in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy as well as a thrashing at League 2 Swindon in the FA Cup. Most damaging of all was the 3-0 play-off final defeat to Peterborough at Old Trafford. Here, Town decided to play one up front; the one being an 18-year old who had never played that role before.
Following that catastrophe and the prospect of another season in League 1, the Town board again backed Clark in the transfer market. In came Danny Ward for a million pounds, Donal McDermott – so impressive in four games for Bournemouth against Town the previous season – from Manchester City, Tommy Miller from Sheffield Wednesday – the list goes on. And yet despite it being pretty obvious that a back four woefully short of pace needed attention,that was one area left exactly as was.
A host of players were signed with little to no regard on how they were going to line up and this is the biggest criticism of Clark. He never gave the impression that he knew his best XI nor even had an idea of how his players should be arranged. One never saw the seeds of a philosophy, of Clark’s way of playing the game. Instead, it was eleven players thrown on the field and a hope that it’d work. Changes were made seemingly at random with little to suggest that there was a plan.
That final Sheffield United game was a typical Town performance. Playing Alan Lee up front, the temptation to lump it long for the big man filtered through the team and the expensive midfield was totally bypassed. A red-and-white shirt was first to every knock-down, every attempted clearance, every second ball. Town had chances – Steve Simonsen pulled off two top class saves – but in the main, United looked untroubled in defence.
It wasn’t always like this. For the first year of Clark’s reign, Town could be electrifying, not least in a seven-goal win over Brighton and sixes over Wycombe and Stockport, but on October 4 2010 Sven Göran Eriksson took over as Leicester City manager and took Derek Fazackerley with him. While an expensively assembled squad occasionally came up with an eye-catching result, it was difficult to avoid the feeling that the brains of the operation had left. In Fazackerley’s absence, the balance was missing; the plan and the philosophy no more.
There’s a decent squad of players left at Huddersfield for someone to take on. I look at it from my vantage point in the commentary box each week and see a group of players capable of being moulded to almost any way of playing the game. Under Lee Clark, however, they were not going to get promoted. With sixteen games to go this season and with the right appointment they still have a chance.