As we count down to the start of the Play-Offs, Wednesday Weeker James Marriott previews The Owls’ short trip to Huddersfield Town…
On paper, everything points in Wednesday’s favour. Huddersfield suffered a mini-collapse after securing their play-off place, losing the last two games of the season and facing suspension for their first choice goalkeeper.
They’re the first team to ever qualify for the second tier play-offs with a negative goal difference.
Add to that The Owls’ form (minus the Fulham blip) and our incredible recent record at their gaff, and you can see why confidence could be high.
I’m proud to be a happer clapper. As regular Wednesday Week listeners can testify, at times this season I’ve been an almost lone voice of positivity among a sea of teddy chucking.
Something strange happens when we approach occasions like Sunday. While the rest of the fan base don their happy hats, I go the opposite way and sink into a state of nervous caution. I’m not being negative. I just can’t help it. Consider it some sort of coping mechanism.
I hate all the stats. For someone who loves a good stat, I know that doesn’t make sense. But so overwhelming seems to be the evidence, that I’m convinced it’s actually to our detriment.
Ultimately stats – and to an extent, even form – count for little in the play-offs. It’s a knock-out competition. You know all the cliches – form goes out of window; it’s about who turn up on the day; the list goes on and on.
I have no shame in saying I admire David Wagner. He’s taken a very average Huddersfield Town and on a modest budget, turned them into a top six side. For large parts of the season, they looked like the only side in with a sniff of disrupting the top two.
Tactically, this guy knows his stuff. He’s created something at Huddersfield that looks strangely familiar to us Wednesdayites – a team with no fear, no real pressure, who excel in being the underdogs and surprising people.
When Huddersfield dropped out of the play-offs earlier in the season, pundits were clambering over themselves to declare the bubble burst. Except it wasn’t. They turned it around and were odds-on to finish third until their recent hiccup.
I’m nervous. They’re a tidy team, a well drilled unit, who play a style of football which has claimed many a scalp this term.
Ultimately, it’s all down to Carlos and his staff. They’re the ones who have to get the team focused and in the right zone. How should we approach the game? I don’t bloody know, I’m not a football manager.
What I do think is they will look to attack us from the get go. Be prepared for something not similar to the opening stages of away leg at Brighton last season. I swear my heart rate has never quite returned to normal after that 20 minutes, by the way.
We’ll need a bit of patience – as a team, and as supporters. Call it negative, but keeping their column to nil has to be the priority. A goalless draw would be a great result. If we can nick a goal or even two, brilliant – going into the second leg with a lead would be a dream. We know it tends to us when a team comes at us, so maybe, just maybe, we’ll thrive on it.
Yes, they have a substitute keeper in the nets. Yes, we should take any chance to test him. Shoot on sight – damn it, just give it to Wallace at every opportunity and let him let rip. One of them will go in.
Yes, their negative goal difference suggests that when they fall to bits, they really fall to bits. We’ve seen it happen in their home games against Fulham and Cardiff.
But that’s about the extent of the analysis I can offer, for what it’s worth. Now for the rallying call.
We have our job to do. If – like me – you’re one of the lucky 2,000 to have got a ticket for Sunday, you know the drill. I have no doubt we will make the noise of thousands.
If we’re under the cosh, or heaven forbid, fall behind, we’ve gotta make sure the lads can still hear us. We have their backs. We still believe.
Back at Hillsborough on Wednesday promises to be one of the best atmospheres at Hillsborough for many a year. Indeed it could far surpass Brighton last year – a first leg lead guarantees nothing in this competition – but as Wednesday night unfolds we may well know that we’re heading down to the smoke again.
But, what if…? What if Huddersfield are ahead? What if whatever we try, we can’t make the break through? This isn’t the time for lobbing those teddies. Keep your boos to yourself. Look inside yourself, remind yourself of the hurt of the last 20+ years, and consider where we are right now. Ignore any burning negativity, and throw every bit of energy you can muster into getting behind the boys.
Football is a funny old game. It’s so cliched, but so true. A game can turn in an instant. We can be that 12th man and help create that moment. We need to believe. We have to believe.
Besides, it beats a cold Tuesday night in Exeter, doesn’t it?