It was tipped by many to be another season of struggle for Huddersfield Town.
After that two-season dalliance in the Premier League there had been an 18th-placed finish in 2019/20 and then 20th last season in the Championship under Carlos Corberan.
His second campaign, however, has been little short of remarkable. Huddersfield are currently 16 unbeaten in the league, third in the table and in with a real shout of automatic promotion.
They have won four on the spin heading to West Brom on Friday night. Corberan, for his efforts, has just picked up the Sky Bet Championship Manager of the Month award for February.
The Spaniard, just 38 and in his first head coach role in England, is typically understated about their achievements so far.
“It’s very complicated to try and give one reason why things are so positive, because there are so many aspects helping us create such a good dynamic,” he tells Sky Sports.
“If I had to tell you one reason, it would be the mentality of the players. They have so much commitment, and humility to keep growing and be self-demanding. The club has done an incredible job with the group we’ve created to be a competitive team.”
He is not wrong. This is not a club that have gone out and splashed the cash in search of success. Arguably their standout success of the season – Sorba Thomas – was brought in from non-League last January, while there have also been a mixture of loan signings, free transfers and other savvy bits of recruitment led by head of football operations Leigh Bromby to help steer them into this position.
Most importantly, they backed their man Corberan to develop and grow last season at a time most clubs would have panicked and dispensed with a head coach who was struggling at the lower end of the table.
It has been a lesson in patience which other clubs in similar positions could take note from.
“Of course I’m no different to any coach in that the one thing we want is time to develop our ideas,” Corberan says. “But we know at the same time that we depend on results.
“It’s important we’re together with the players for a period of time to build our ideas, to reflect on things we are doing well and the things we need to do better.
“We have to keep doing the things we’re doing well, improve the things we are not doing well and erase or eliminate what’s not working.
“Every single time after every game we need to keep doing these things, and the more we demand of ourselves and the more we analyse our behaviours, the more we will be able to improve.”
Huddersfield are once again in contention for promotion to the Premier League
Before Corberan joined Huddersfield in 2020 he was on the coaching staff at Leeds under Marcelo Bielsa, so has some experience in helping to guide a side out of the Championship.
The Argentine – who left his old club last month – was a daily source of inspiration to Corberan. Pep Guardiola is another with ideas he reveres.
But he is still keen to be his own man.
How Huddersfield are defying the odds again
Huddersfield are the only unbeaten team in the top two divisions since December and chasing a Premier League return. Leigh Bromby explains how they are doing it…
“I worked with Marcelo for two years and the knowledge I gained from him was so high it would be impossible to give back everything I learned from him,” Corberan says.
“Of course there is also Guardiola. His influence on football has been massive. Everywhere he has been he has done incredible things. He’s someone you can learn off of and analyse to pick up different things. But there are also so many coaches in the world doing unbelievable things, and you can take different ideas from them to try and approach different situations.
“I think every coach wants to bring his own personality to the club and tries to implement their football ideas throughout it.
“If I had three main points in my philosophy to work they would be to try and be an aggressive team, try to be a solid team when we cannot be aggressive in defence, and try to be brave when we have the ball and to try and create as many chances as we can. Braveness to attack, aggressiveness as a team and solidity in defence.”
Corberan worked under Marcelo Bielsa on the coaching staff at Leeds
Of course, unlike Guardiola, Corberan does not quite have the luxuries to work with to pursue his ideal philosophies. If you are going to make a success of things in the Championship you need to become an expert at working with the resources you have at your disposal.
This is where Corberan this season has excelled, perhaps beyond any other head coach or manager in the league.
“You always have to adapt and we always do adapt,” he says. “To have the skill to adapt is one of the strongest we can have as a team, as a coach myself, and for the players.
“We need to create ideas based on the people we are working with. If we have three centre-backs and no full-backs it would be a mistake to play with full-backs.
“You have to understand the possibilities you have to find a way to create what you want, and to create how you want to play.
“But the key is to always keep being brave in attack and to dominate the game with the ball. To be aggressive and be solid in defence. And to keep doing this with the different possibilities you have within the club.”
Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between Huddersfield Town and Peterborough United
It seems Corberan has created those possibilities as Huddersfield look to defy expectation again this season. The more they win, the more hopes will continue to rise. He is keen to play it down.
“In life and in football if you start to create expectation then it will only lead to frustration,” he says. “I just want the team to be as competitive as it can be. My mind cannot work to achieve more than that.
“We aim every time to be as competitive as we can on the pitch, and if it works it will add points onto the table for us. The more points you add the better position you will be in. The key is just to perform well in games. If we forget this and stop being competitive, the position in the table will not look so good.
“It’s true that things have been working well in some moments, but we still have so many games in front of us, the season is still going, and our full concentration is to keep going. We need to keep pushing and growing to extend and create a positive dynamic every time we are on the pitch.”
With the amount of games in hand Bournemouth have they are still in control of second spot, but you can see with Corberan that Huddersfield will not be taking their foot off the gas.
Hope has turned in part into belief. And with him at the wheel the Terriers faithful are dreaming of the Premier League again.