Lee Clark reached the end of his four-year tenure at Huddersfield Town with the West Yorkshire club in fourth place in the middle of a promotion push to the Championship. Clark had previously led Huddersfield to two play-off campaigns, coming agonisingly close against Peterborough United last May at Old Trafford.
The 1-0 loss at home to Sheffield United, are currently in second place, was the final straw for Town chairman Dean Hoyle, as the Terriers slumped to just their first loss in ten matches – of which they won four including a 6-0 rout at Wycombe.
It’s fair to say this is not the form of a manager who is on the edge of being sacked. Clark’s previous seasons at Huddersfield created high expectations which sadly resulted in his unemployment – the Town contingent were fully hoping for a push for automatic promotion this season after a three failed attempts in five years at the League One play-offs.
Huddersfield only trailed Sheffield United by four points and in two games, a lot could’ve changed. Only at the end of the season will we learn if this move is a shrewd or foolish one.
Let’s not forget Huddersfield are trailing three Championship quality teams. In the past decade, all three have been established Premier League clubs in their own right – a level which, admittedly, Huddersfield aren’t at yet. Maybe with the sacking of Clark the Terriers will never reach this level, but his successor could finally break that glass ceiling Clark and his coaching staff have been trying to break through for some time now – promotion to the Championship.
If Clark was in this position last season he would almost definitely not have been sacked. Take two seasons ago for instance. Town were embroiled in a fight for the last remaining play-off place with both Southampton and Colchester United – two good sides who have had Championship experience in the past. Clark fought off those teams only to be defeated in the semi-finals by Millwall, a team who have made the FA Cup final in recent years and are now an established Championship team. I believe that if Huddersfield had won promotion to the Championship under Clark next season, they would have finished in mid-table if not better.
We have seen Norwich City rise to successive promotions and in a match I attended in March 2010, the likes of Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan demolished Town. Little under two years later they are plying their trade in the Premier League.
Just look at Southampton now, they’re looking to replicate Norwich’s successive promotions whilst Brighton are on a good FA Cup run and Charlton are currently running away with League One.
Merely the hope of automatic promotion and the lack of backing and impatience from the board and fans has resulted in the conclusion of Clark’s sacking. Just look at his recent run of form, he has manufactured the longest undefeated streak in the Football League along with only a handful of defeats in the past year or so in the league.
Cup runs haven’t been a sore spot either, they battled to the death with Cardiff in September in the Carling Cup, battling with the Championship promotion hopefuls, only to lose 5-3 in the end.
Also look at the names Clark has dealt with in the past four years – Anthony Pilkington and Jordan Rhodes for instance. Pilkington has started the season in the Premier League brilliantly with Rhodes being touted as the next big thing for both Scotland and in the top leagues – chased by the likes of West Ham and Liverpool.
Who could be in line to replace Clark though? One of the big favourites for the job was former Town manager Neil Warnock, who has since been appointed as Leeds United manager. A name on the lips of the media as of late seems to be current MK Dons boss, Karl Robinson. Robinson, however, has stated that he wants to stay at MK Dons, that he hasn’t been approached and doesn’t want to leave his respective side as they are currently plotting promotion via the play-offs.
A controversial name being tossed around in pub discussion is Simon Grayson, who is of course formerly of Leeds United. The switch across West Yorkshire would add to the tension and animosity between the two rivals and is a move that Hoyle possibly wouldn’t want to make in fear of upsetting the fans. You can’t doubt Grayson’s credentials though. He has gained promotion from League One with Leeds and enjoyed a good spell at Elland Road.
Another slightly unrealistic manager to enter the Galpharm would be Steve Bruce. Whilst at the club in the late 1990’s and early 21st century, Bruce almost manufactured a return to the Premier League for Huddersfield. Town hit top spot in the Championship at the turn of the millennium and with an FA Cup third round loss to Liverpool at the then-McAlpine Stadium, the Terriers’ fortunes altered somewhat. Bruce has since got a foot in on the managerial door and has vast top flight experience, something on a new level for Huddersfield, so would he be willing to dip a level?
Other managers in the running with a Yorkshire background and top experience are Mick McCarthy and Phil Brown, both also out of a job. These two men, along with possibly Ian Holloway, could do a shift for Huddersfield and finally reach the Championship.
Whatever Hoyle’s decision is, Huddersfield will almost certainly be in the running for promotion, if not gaining automatic promotion – he just needs to select the right man of the job.