The manager must carefully balance his long-term playing-style objectives against not overloading the players with too much information – but the basics come first. If it takes time for us as fans and reporters to adjust to a new manager’s phrasing and way of thinking about the game, imagine what it must be like for a footballer to have to modify their entire style of play whenever a new manager arrives at a club.
Huddersfield Town’s players have had to adjust to this for the previous 18 months or so. Following Carlos Corberan’s unexpected departure last summer, Danny Schofield had a brief and unproductive tenure.
Mark Fotheringham had a longer but marginally more fruitful tenure. The Scot was replaced by Neil Warnock in February, to little surprise; and now, perhaps controversially, Darren Moore has taken over, the club believing the former Sheffield Wednesday manager was more in line with their long-term objectives of returning to the Premier League.
Huddersfield Town must grab the focus from Darren Moore’s Hillsborough comeback.
That lofty goal appears to be a long way off at the moment, as Moore has yet to guide Town to win in three games. He is eager to minimize the obvious storyline around his return to
Hillsborough this weekend as he seeks that elusive first win, maintaining it is simply another game – and that means doing everything on the training pitch the same way he always has.
“We will always work off the ball, and we will always work on the ball,” he remarked. Why? Because the game has two components: a game in possession of the ball and a game off the ball. So we’ll keep working at it – and not just because we want to develop as a football club and as a team; there’s a drive and motivation to improve.
“It won’t be like a light switch where you switch the light on and it comes on and off and you see the performances. There’s a continuation of work, and we’ll continue to work day in day out, and the reason we continue to work is we want elements to make us better and we need to be better.
“Going round in terms of the football club, that’s our desire, and that’s our temperament here: we want to want to be better as a team and as a football club going forward. Ultimately that always, always will be done on the training ground.”
Moore acknowledges that it will be a particular challenge to implement more of a possession-based style on a team that was so successful playing on the counter-attack under Warnock – to the point that Town never once had more than 50% possession in a competitive game under the veteran manager.
The new boss is keen not to rush into moving away from Warnock’s methods wholesale all at once: midfielder Ben Wiles commented last week that the side had not yet entirely eschewed Warnock’s unique man-marking system, for instance.
Town’s poor work on the ball in the final third was a constant minor gripe of Warnock’s, too, and while there were signs of improvement in their approach play in the second half against Coventry and especially against Ipswich, Town regressed badly against Birmingham City in midweek. A 4-1 defeat was the result.
“That’s why I use the phrase ‘it won’t be like a light switch effect’ in terms of seeing that immediately,” Moore says of the challenge facing his side in trying to learn new habits on the ball. “It takes time, it takes work, and it takes a lot of information and detail and learning to produce that.
“Is that a route that we will be going down? Yes, we will be going down that route – but also at the same time, it’s something that’s done over the course of time and we will be consistently working on that. And again, it’s another area of the game that I’ve spoken about working off the ball – and there’s a part of it working on the ball, and we will be doing that.
“It’s where my desire is in terms of how I see the game and how I feel the game should be played, and as I said, we’ll be trying to implement that into the squad.”
First, though, Town need to make sure they do not neglect the fundamental parts of the game: things like routine saves, simple passes, and staying alert to runners into the box. Centre-back Tom Lees – the only player in this squad with prior experience working under Moore – admitted as much after the Birmingham game.
In an effort to put that right, Moore sat his players down to rewatch video of the Birmingham game and compare it to better performances in the matches prior, pinpointing where things had gone awry. Is there an argument, though, that these are things to which Championship players should not need to dedicate so much time?
Moore points out: “Yeah, but you can still work on the basics. You can always still work on the
basics and the fundamental basics can go a long, long way. Any sports professional at the very, very highest level at the game, there’ll be an element of doing the basics well. “So I agree with what Leesy was saying in terms of getting those basics right, and even the simple basics you can get undone with – it certainly felt that was the case the other night. Certainly the goals that we’ve conceded, we certainly feel that they were avoidable from our perspective. From Birmingham’s perspective they played well as well on the night and that led to the goals, but certainly from our perspective, we felt they were avoidable.”