Terriers not expected to beat Wigan
17 February ~ When the Sky cameras arrive in West Yorkshire today they will find a very different Huddersfield Town from six weeks ago. Huddersfield at home to Wigan Athletic may not sound appetising for the neutral but for home fans there is renewed mid-season hope. Officially this is Mark Robins's first match in charge at the club, Town's third permanent manager in last 12 months following the sackings of Lee Clark and Simon Grayson. He has been coaxed from Coventry, where he was doing a fine job at one of the perpetual crisis clubs.
Against a backdrop of financial uncertainty Robins had transformed the Sky Blues from relegation candidates into League One play-offs challengers. A history of fighting fires there and at Rotherham and Barnsley suggest his appointment was with a view to preserving Town's recently established Championship status, rather than a Cup run. Yet Sunday's match offers him the chance to have a first crack at the team when points are not at stake and a noble defeat would be satisfactory.
It would be easy to characterise Huddersfield's fluid approach to their dugout as a sign of panic or carelessness. In truth the club's likeable owner (really, they do exist) Dean Hoyle can be seen as having traded up, albeit modestly, with each changing of his most important member of staff. Clark was liked by Huddersfield fans, though no longer trusted to deliver promotion from League One after nearly three full attempts with one of the division's strongest squads. Grayson was brought in with the task of finishing Clark's job last season, which he did via the play-offs.
A sensational start to life in the Championship took Huddersfield supporters off guard. Consolidation was the watch word but by October they sat in the top six. Ambition and expectation, as they do everywhere at such times, were swiftly recalibrated. A winless run of 12 matches was, then, a disappointment rather than a cause for rancour, but once Grayson had lost the feel-good factor he was unlikely to last long.
His sacking coincided with Nigel Adkins leaving Southampton and, with two and two put together, few other names were discussed at matches. Robins was not on the radar but he seems in many ways the perfect fit: his experience fighting relegation, his relative youth despite games under his belt, a shared belief in how the game should be played. It all fits with what Hoyle wants in a way that Grayson never did, meaning Robins starts with a free pass. Should he take Huddersfield into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for only the fourth time since the war he will be a hero, lose and it was to be expected.
For Wigan the tie is a tricky one. Praised for their technical approach under Roberto Martínez, a Premier League team playing keep-ball should be able to better a young squad with many good attributes but someway short of the strongest teams in the Championship. Yet they are not used to winning matches and were one of Bradford City's victims in the League Cup.
Jermaine Beckford, a player with pace, strength and an affinity with the competition, is available after missing the midweek replay over his parent club Leicester City, which gives hope to Huddersfield. As does Sean Scanell's recent form on the wing. Promising goalkeeper Alex Smithies is unavailable due to a family bereavement but his deputy, Ian Bennett, is more than able. Sky may have selected the game assuming Leicester would be the venue and a shock, even if not that shocking, was on the cards. But perhaps they'll have a bigger one on their hands, with Robins enjoying a perfect first day at the office. Steve Wilson