While many people will see any criticism of Lee Clark as sticking the knife in, these people do not realise what has gone on at Huddersfield Town over the past three or four months and possibly over Clark’s tenure as manager of the terriers.
In my previous blog I detailed the reason Clark was sacked after an apparent breach of contract, but this is all about his failings at Huddersfield Town and how he managed to spend spend spend and only get us to be losing play-off finalists.
Clark managed to go through a total of 44 transfers in only just over three years and turn a team that once played attractive football, into a side that returned to play hoofball and struggle to overcome the likes of Chesterfield and Notts County. It also seems that Clark was willing to settle for a point rather than trying to win a game just to keep up the unbeaten record. Personally I got sick of him saying that we had only lost twice in 50 games when he was criticised by the media and towards the end his attitude towards legitimate questions from BBC Radio Leeds broadcaster Paul Ogden, was to be frank, pathetic.
Town had lost that flair and creativity that scared a lot of sides in the early days under Clark. We also lost pace up front and Clark tried to shut up shop at the back and ensure that his side avoided defeat rather than go out and try and take all three points. His tactics were becoming mundane and although Alan Lee provided a good foil for Jordan Rhodes at times, Clark’s side had that temptation of playing the long ball.
At the start it was different, when Lee Clark was appointed manager it was a surprise to many of us Town fans, but a breath of fresh air compared to our previous manager Stan Ternent who claimed “you can’t play champagne football on beer money”. Clark though tried to play attractive football and got the best out of players we had including Michael Collins who scored double figures from midfield that season.
The next season continued with the attractive football and signings that looked like they would make a key difference. The arrival of Anthony Pilkington, Lee Peltier, Jordan Rhodes and Peter Clarke to name but a few and scoring six or more goals on three occasions against Brighton, Wycombe and Stockport. A sixth place finish saw a play-off semi-final against Millwall who we had beaten live on sky only a few week previously.
The Millwall play-off games was the start of a more conservative Lee Clark, as he dropped the one player who had scared the Millwall defence in previous games, Theo Robinson. So there was the first play-off failure and Clark tried to rectify this failure through the transfer market. But instead of bringing in players to compliment the ones that Town already had, Clark chose to sign other players and create a huge squad. I spoke with our former midfielder Michael Collins, who was always a goal threat when he was at the club, just before he left and he told me how Clark was trying to get him to operate more defensively and not play his natural game.
Instead of trying to add a bit of experience we craved the season before, Clark went overboard bringing in the like of Joey Gudjonsson, Damien Johnson, Alan Lee and Lee Croft to name but a few. It all started off well against Notts County but slowly went downhill until that fabulous run started. In that time we lost Derek Fazackerley to Leicester and in my belief that was when the brains behind the operation left. Terry McDermott seemed to be more interested in living in his past whilst supping tea behind Clark and his dedication to the club has to be questioned when he only commuted down from Newcastle instead of living in the area like Clark does.
Despite the 43 league game unbeaten run it wasn’t all smelling of roses for Clarks side. Too many draws cost Town promotion last season including a four game drawing run where we let a two goal lead slip against Leyton Orient and failing to beat then bottom of the league Dagenham and Redbridge. These games which ultimately cost us automatic promotion.
This season has proved to be much of the same with Clark going for players who are solid rather than players who can provide a bit of flair. He also failed to address issue that the squad still had including trying to bring in a striker with pace and to form both a solid foundation in the centre of midfield and finding two centre backs that worked together.
Clark also has failed to bring in or have players in the centre of the park who can create chances and goals. We have gone from having the likes of Michael Collins and Danny Drinkwater to playing Anton Robinson and Tommy Miller in the centre of the midfield who are solid at best. Oscar Gobern does have that creative instinct but many of the others don’t and Clark’s decision to play Scott Arfield out wide is a baffling one when we had three wingers at the club, before McDermott left, when he was seen as a direct replacement for Michael Collins and was supposedly a much better player.
Whilst Lee Clark’s sacking is more than just his failings as a manager both on the field and in the transfer department, with the money at his disposal he should have got us promoted. Sadly that isn’t the case and by going through 44 players in his three years and the negative tactics the have crept in over the past year and a half, Town fans understand why he has left. Sadly a lot of the uninformed footballing world doesn’t, especially when you get certain individuals like Sky Sport’s Bryan Swanson bringing up his win ratio at Town. Look at his draw ratio since 2011!
Clark did learn one lesson from the Millwall play-off defeat that his side had to be more solid and a young side required experience, but he went overboard and got rid of that flair and creativity that was once tagged alongside Huddersfield Town. Whoever comes in must address this whether it is through the odd loan signing or tactically, until then I expect another rollercoaster ride in the play-offs.