Why Lee Clark had to go

The Galpharm Stadium
Image available under Creative Commons © sprockrs

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.

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24 Comments on "Why Lee Clark had to go"

  1. nigelgos says:

    Good write up – I wish the media could see this point of view.

  2. Dave Cowling says:

    A very fair and true account of what has been going on down there, at the end of the day clark was given an almost unlimited budget and complete backing from the board and the fans, the situation now three years later he still doesn’t know what his best team is, I remember 79-80, we kept the same back five all season and cruised the league. Things have not been right since November, papering over the cracks when we do have the players who can do it, they just need to be played in their correct positions.
    Clark out – no great loss

  3. Tim Vickerman says:

    I broadly agree but want to pick you up on one point. Afobe had played most of the season from January onwards alone up front in away games and, to be fair, it had worked well and made the team more resilient away from home. With hindsight, sticking with that system in the Play-Off final against a Peterborough side with a soft defence at Old Trafford, with our support massively outnumbering theirs, was a costly mistake. I was surprised at the decision but feel, hand on heart, Lee Clark was never going to take us up.

    My preference is for Sean O’Driscoll. We have a talented squad but no real team. I think he can bring a philosophy that’s compatible with the players at his disposal. But, getting up this season would be tricky for anyone.

  4. JD says:

    Thanks for the comments folks.

    Tim V – I can’t remember Afobe playing up front on his tod, but I’m happy to be corrected on that. Point is he bottled it in the one game that season that really mattered.
    I do share your wish for Sean O’Driscoll as he actually has a clue about how he wants the game to be played. I fear though that it’ll be Warnock and we endure more hoofing it long for the big lad up top. *shudder*

    • Borat says:

      Not at the playoff final then?

    • Jonny Heyhoe says:

      Have you seen any QPR games in the last few years? Hardly hoofball (which is what we’ve been served up most of this year anyway), and he got the best out of Taarabt in a way that Clark should have done with McDermott.

    • Dan says:

      Good article John.
      The key point for me is that too many changes seemed to stop players reaching their potential and a new man now has time to rectify that in time for the play offs. Seems a lot riding on promotion this season before the wage cap comes in.

      On Afobe he did play top alone for us before the play off final but we went into that massive game playing an 18 year old up front on his own who had not played a 1st team game until he came to us & has not played a 1st team game for anyone since he left. We shouldn’t have been relying on a young kid when there were 5 other strikers in the squad all signed (or re-signed) by Clark (Lee, Rhodes, Novak, Simpson, Cademarteri). Afobe scored 5 goals in 28 app’s.

  5. duffer says:

    absolutely spot on and is obviousily written by someone who has actually been watching some Town games and not making comments from afar and just looking at the “unbeaten run” etc.
    Huddersfield have been crying out for a centre half with pace and in six transfer windows this hasn’t been sorted but a host of midfielders have been brought in to play a couple of games and then sit out a couple whilst someone else has a go….consistency in selections and performances have been missing for a while now with far too many draws in that unbeaten run to force ourselves into the top two places.
    Having said that,i’m still shocked by Clarks sacking as i thought he would stay until the end of the season but i’m more shocked by the knee jerk reaction by members of the press and certain people on twitter who make their remarks without actually delving more deeply into the facts.

  6. Richard says:

    This an excellent article – and sums up the situation brilliantly

  7. Stanley says:

    Excellent piece, John. Interesting to hear that Huddersfield fans are largely in agreement with the decision. A lesson, perhaps, for those in the mainstream and non-mainstream media on canvassing opinion from those closer to the action before commenting. `Managers should be given time’ has become just as much of a cliche as `he’s lost the dressing room’, etc.

  8. FIGO says:

    Well Written – probably the best summary of the situation.
    We had a mass of left wingers, but when they were all injured except one, he sold the one.
    We have a raft of central midfielders, but when LC wanted to change things on Tuesday he brought a fullback on in there!!
    We have had Lee and Parkin on the bench together!?! What possible explanation can there be for that!!??
    The list goes on and on and on!! Having said that – Mr Hoyle has surprised me with his bold decision.
    If the 90 sec phone all is correct, that is out of order!! But it is his cash, he is the boss, he can decide to do what he wants.

    FIGO

  9. Town exile says:

    Fantastic balanced article – a good riposte to the crocodile tears on e.g. the Toon & Leeds sites. Unbeaten run is a meaningless statistic – too many draws as per comments previously – I would much rather us play a consistent 4-4-2 & lose the occasional game – win 2 lose 1 is better than win 1 draw 2 which is how it ended up for Town. Clark was finished for me after the play-off final. 4-5-1 with novice Afobe up front & our top scorer on the bench till the 80th minute showed Clark’s lack af tactical nous. Did he not realise Posh defence was third worst in League 1 & they were bricking being taken apart with a 4-4-2?
    Hoye has made the right call – LC was given the keys to the toy shop with unlimited ££ & full backing. He turned out to be a tinkerman & faield to address the ingrained problems at teh abck in his entire stay. Any successful side is going to hve a settled First XI & we have not had that for 2+ years. Players knew one off performance & they were back on the bench (or worse)
    Bottom line is after 3 years of LC we are exactly where we were & it’s simply not good enough – with the hand he was given we should have been pushing Southampton now.

  10. Richard Ward says:

    A fantastic piece….. however I do think the Play Off Final wasn’t as one sided as often made out, it was 2 mad minutes and a superb free kick that ruined our season, we failed to be promoted but look at the quality of the two sides who finished above us…. agree about Fazackerley much the same as with Jackson/Yorath…..

    • Town exile says:

      I wasn’t implying the play off final was one sided for it clearly wasn’t. My point was that if we had picked an attacking side there wouldn’t have been the 2 minutes of madness as Posh would have been out of sight & chasing the game by then…

  11. Jonny Heyhoe says:

    Excellent piece. It read like a Town fan’s perspective, with excellent observations I’m struggling to find in the national media – which is very good to say you are a Reading fan.

    Clark has had the fear every since the Millwall play-off defeat, getting ever more conservative, and his media dealings (always the poorest aspect of his ‘game’) were getting ever more defensive, a sign that he was feeling the pressure. The thing that annoys me the most about the press coverage is the Dean Hoyle has been painted in a most unflattering light. It sounds as though Clark has wanted out for a while (apparently going behind the chairman’s back for the Leicester job) and the rumour is that he went for an interview at Leeds on the day of the Sheff United match, the biggest one of the season so far! Deano is far too professional to let anything like this get out, but if this is true then he deserved to go. I back the move, whilst acknowledging that the last 3 years have brought some great football (admittedly mostly in the first full season) and some outstanding memories (Arsenal away in the cup, play-off semi at home against Bournemouth that was the best atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of).

    The problem is that now it’s touch and go now as to whether the new man can get promotion this season, which we are desperate for with the salary cap coming in next year.

    • Lanterne Rouge says:

      Thanks for your comment Jonny – I should say that although I am a Reading fan, I was merely the editor of the article and not its author – that was John Dobson – and John is a regular at the Galpharm – hence the way the piece relies on eye witness evidence.

    • JD says:

      Thanks for the comment.
      I’m not a Town fan – York City, as you were asking – but I do live in Huddersfield and commentate on Town for hospital radio. So I do see a lot of them albeit without the emotional involvement of a fan but, having lived in the town for 18 years now, a genuine desire to see them prosper.

      • Jonny Heyhoe says:

        Ah right, I thought that seemed way too involved for a casual commentator, unless they’d commentated on every game. If you’ve been to every home game this season John, commiserations! There have been some dire performances this season, the best I’ve seen unfortunately was brentford’s first half an hour against us!

  12. maccafan says:

    Really well put together article which mirrows my thoughts since the news was released. we have to trust DH to hopefully get the right man in toreally gell the team together and take us to promotion that is required because of the salary cap coming in nect season. Marcus

  13. Marcus D says:

    A very well written and astonishly to the point! It sums up the feeling of a huge amount of Town fans to the tee.

  14. KWolf says:

    Great article.
    Always interesting to hear what the match going fans actually think.
    As a Wolves fan we’ve been getting stick for sacking Mick but I think the 2 scenarios are similar in many ways.
    Poor defence not invested in.
    No philosophy/plan/ideology of any kind.
    Side stagnating/declining despite investment.
    Raised expectations by the club not matched by the manager.
    From the outside it can be spun to look harsh but I think there aren’t enough bold decisions like this made. For example Rioch did quite well at Arsenal but they sacked him and appointed Wenger. If you appoint your Wenger, nobody will even remember Clark.
    Best of luck.

  15. Ben says:

    Not half as controversial as had been imagined, then, LR! While we’ve not been critical of the decision over on our Toon site, we have expressed surprise – but, admittedly, we haven’t been close observers of the Terriers’ games. Still, to an outsider it does seem harsh and my word of warning would be: be careful what you wish for. It’s not so long ago that some Villa fans were glad to see the back of Martin O’Neill, and before that Charlton supporters were welcoming Alan Curbishley’s sacking on the grounds that the club was stagnating in mid-table in the Premier League. In fact, we know the feeling ourselves – those who felt that Sir Bobby Robson’s removal with the club fifth in the table was a sad but necessary step soon came to regret it…

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