Where did it all go wrong?

After just 16 months, 68 games and 23 wins, Mark Robins became the fourth managerial casualty of the ‘New Era’ following a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of AFC Bournemouth on Saturday. To the ill-informed it may have looked like Robins’ departure was a knee-jerk reaction made on the back of one bad result.

In truth, however, things had been gradually deteriorating under Robins for some time. A dismal end to the 2013-14 season, which saw Town record just 6 wins after the turn of the year, and culminated in the sacking of Robins’ backroom staff, has left few Town fans surprised that Robins and Town have parted company.

To be fair to Robins, he initially did well as Town manager and I think he deserves a lot of credit for helping preserve the club’s Championship status. When he arrived at the club in February 2013, he inherited a squad short of fitness and confidence from his predecessor, Simon Grayson, and relegation was an all too real danger.

It wasn’t always pretty, indeed Robins’ first game in charge saw one of the most harrowing performances of the season as Town were thumped 6-1 by Nottingham Forest, but Robins ultimately did just enough to keep Town in the Championship.

As 2013 faded into 2014 the team seemed to be improving with each match whilst playing a brand of attractive passing football. Some fans were even talking about a push for the play-offs.

To put into context just how much of an impact Robins had on keeping Town up, it is worth pointing out that Town picked up 21 points from his 15 games in charge – including memorable wins at Elland Road and Molineux – compared to just 10 points from the 15 games that preceded his appointment. It would therefore be churlish to argue that Robins did not play a huge part in keeping Town in the Championship in 2013.

Furthermore, it is hard to overstate just how important keeping Town in the Championship was. After years of struggling to get out of League One and playing the likes of Stevenage and Dagenham, it was imperative that the club did not slip back to this level at the first time of asking.

Many fans did not have the stomach for another season in League One and the financial ramifications of relegation would have seen Town miss out on millions of pounds in match day income and TV rights. Having achieved his initial mandate of survival, it was abundantly clear that the objective for the 2013-14 season would be to ensure that Town would push on and not find themselves in a relegation battle for a second successive year.

An encouraging first-half of the season, built around the excellent form of James Vaughan and the creativity of Adam Hammill, saw Town nicely poised in mid-table at the turn of the year and there was a real sense that the club was moving in the right direction.

As 2013 faded into 2014 the team seemed to be improving with each match whilst playing a brand of attractive passing football. Some fans were even talking about a push for the play-offs.

Although this was always likely to little more than wishful thinking, few fans could have predicted just how spectacularly Town’s form would fade away in 2014. Although many Town fans had expected the side to have a blip at some point, it was the manner of the performances, and the fact that Robins seemed unable to stop the rot, which were particularly worrying.

Each week the same old excuses were made in the post-match interviews and the constant assertion that Town were “a work in progress” and that the club were “on a journey” wore increasingly thin with the fans. 

Furthermore, by the end of last season, it was increasingly apparent that the vast majority of the players Robins had signed were either not performing or simply not up to standard. Jon Stead, Martin Paterson and Cristian Lopez, for example, all struggled to make an impact on the first-team. Indeed, of the signings Robins made in the 2013 off-season only James Vaughan and Adam Hammill – two players who had already been on loan at the club the previous year – could be deemed successful signings.

Although the January window did see Robins sign two players who look to have plenty of potential in Nahki Wells and Joe Lolley, his subsequent management of these two players can only be described as poor. For example, for all Nahki Wells did exceptionally well for Town last year, he was often left marooned up front on his own, or with winger turned striker Danny Ward as his only support.

It was abundantly clear that Town were not playing to Wells’ strengths and although I admit that Town may not have had the budget to bring in someone to bring the best out of Wells last season, it should surely have been one of the top priorities for this summer to bring in a strike partner to help get the best out of Wells.

The fact that Town kicked off the 2014-15 season with Danny Ward as Wells’ main strike partner is, in my opinion, nothing short of criminal and a real waste of his undoubted talent.

Equally, Robins’ reluctance to utilise Joe Lolley was particularly strange. Lolley arrived full of confidence after a fine start to the season with Kidderminster, yet Robins gave Lolley only the occasional cameo appearance. 

When Lolley did play he displayed a willingness to make things happen, but despite many fans calling for him to be given more game time, Robins obstinately refused to give Lolley anything more than the odd substitute appearance. 

Nevertheless, although the good football of the first-half of the season had all but disappeared, and some of his tactics were increasingly perplexing, the vast majority of Town fans were happy that Robins was the right man to lead the club into the 2014-15 season.

And yet, here we are. One game into the new season and Town are bottom of the league and manager-less. Although it would be wide of the mark to say that yesterday’s defeat to Bournemouth was the sole reason behind Mark Robins’s departure, it was certainly a contributing factor.

Ultimately, however, it seems that it was Robins who decided to call time on his reign at the club, citing that “he didn’t feel he could bring success within the vision of the club.”

Town’s performance yesterday was so utterly abject that you had to question what Robins had been doing with his squad all pre-season. The baffling decision to play academy graduate Matt Crooks – a midfielder by trade – and full-back Lee Peltier as part of a 3 man defence had many inside the stadium questioning whether Robins should immediately be put in a straight jacket.

Yesterday’s result, and utterly bizarre tactics, confirmed to many Town fans that Robins was no longer the right man for the job. Ultimately, however, it seems that it was Robins who decided to call time on his reign at the club, citing that “he didn’t feel he could bring success within the vision of the club.”

Although this will come as a bitter blow to Dean Hoyle who prides himself on the vision and stability of the club, it is a statement that I do not really buy into. Whilst I appreciate that he was operating under a tighter budget than the vast majority of club’s in the division, it is not as if Robins hasn’t been backed in the transfer windows he has had at the club. In my opinion, Town’s decline under Mark Robins has been more down to poor player recruitment and erratic tactics, rather than the “club’s vision.” Simply put, there is no excuse for performances like Saturday’s debacle.

There were good times under Mark Robins, and he deserves a lot of credit for keeping the club in the Championship, but it is hard to be too upset with his departure after some of the performances over the last few months.

Indeed, it is becoming something of a trend that Town are hiring managers who are initially making a positive impact before losing their way over time and failing to build on an encouraging start – a criticism that can be leveled at Lee Clark and Simon Grayson as well as Mark Robins. 

Although Dean Hoyle has done so much good for the football club, the hiring of managers has been one area that has left something to be desired. With this in mind, it will be interesting to see just who is lined up as Mark Robins’ replacement, and whether they’ll be able to succeed where Robins failed and bring “success to Huddersfield Town within the vision of the club.”


By James Thornton