18 May ~ Often in play-off football recent history is overlooked while past events take on greater currency. So it is for Huddersfield Town fans as they prepare to welcome Bournemouth tonight. The confidence of being without argument the third-best team in League One this season is tempered by the painful knowledge from personal history that such standing counts for little in the harum scarum end of season shoot-out. You have to look back 27 games and into another calendar year to find the last time Huddersfield tasted defeat in league football.
Lee Clark's team won more away matches than Chelsea and Manchester United combined in the season currently in its death rattle. A points haul of 87 would have taken them up in virtually any other season. Only the persistent and infuriating quality and consistency of Southampton and Brighton (who were beaten home and away by Town) prevented a merited promotion.
The 1-1 draw in the away leg at Bournemouth, in which Huddersfield seemed to settle for taking the tie back to Yorkshire all square midway through the second half before ending the game hanging on for that unconvincing result, has bred an uneasy mood of muted triumphalism. All the talk has been of taking nothing for granted, of course. Of the tie being finely poised. Of respecting the opposition. Yet there is a worrying sense that many at the club actually believe the job has been done. It shouldn't be so. Anyone in Huddersfield need only look back to the first time they were involved in the play-offs for a better warning against complacency than the lip service given to it by the management and chairman this week.
In 1992 Huddersfield had, as this year, finished third in the third tier. As this year, a drawn away leg, at Peterborough, seemed to bode well. An early goal on a balmy spring evening at Leeds Road had the home fans celebrating a trip to Wembley. But two goals from the visitors ended that party quicker than a drunk West Ham fan with a strong sense of how modern footballers should behave. They have been warned.
In truth – and shamelessly contradicting most of the above – Huddersfield should have too much for Bournemouth in the second leg. In the latter, successful part of the season Clark has shown a tactical intelligence many at the Galpharm still question he possesses, in playing a midfield-heavy formation on the road and unleashing the club's full attacking array of talent, particularly in the wide areas, at home.
A near full house, more than twice the size of the crowd that watched the first leg, will help the home team, too. Unless things start badly and nerves set in. The two sides have shared three draws so far this season and should the game go to extra time Huddersfield's strength from the bench could also be a factor. Nothing is being taken for granted, then, publicly at least. Those making the long trip north will be hoping to take advantage of any private hubris that lies beneath that veneer. Steve Wilson