In many ways 2015 has so far been something of a disappointing year for Town. A threadbare squad has struggled to create anything in the way of momentum, resulting in disjointed performances on the field of play and apathy and disillusionment among supporters.
Despite important wins against Watford, Wigan and Millwall, it is the defeats – and indeed the manner of defeats – against the likes of Wolves, Charlton and Rotherham that have caused some fans to seriously question whether they will renew their season ticket next season.
Away from the field of play, it was recently announced that Director of Football Operations, Ross Wilson, would be leaving for Southampton in the summer. Wilson has proved to be a divisive figure among Town fans with some fans struggling to understand just what exactly he has brought to the club. The majority, however, recognise the important groundwork Wilson has laid in establishing Town as a Championship side after a 11 year absence from English football’s second tier.
To lose such an influential part of Town’s off-field operations will come as a bitter blow, particularly to Chairman Dean Hoyle who has been effusive of his praise for the diminutive Scot.
Nevertheless, despite some inconsistent displays from the first-team and the loss of an influential figure in Wilson, there are still plenty of reasons to believe that Town’s future is a bright one.
For one, although Town have a threadbare squad, I feel there is a strong core of players to build a team around. Alex Smithies, Joel Lynch, Jonathan Hogg, Jacob Butterfield and James Vaughan all represent quality players at this level and if Town can keep them consistently fit then they are halfway towards a quality Championship team.
When you add players like Nahki Wells, Sean Scannell, Harry Bunn and Conor Coady, who have all shown glimpses of their promise this season – although not always on a consistent basis – it becomes apparent that Town are not a million miles from having a competitive Championship XI.
Indeed, Harry Bunn and Conor Coady in particular have impressed in their first full seasons with the club.
Having made just three substitute appearances in the second-half of last season, few would have anticipated the impact that Bunn has made this season. Handed his opportunity under caretaker manager, Mark Lillis, Bunn has grasped his chance with both hands scoring 9 goals and establishing himself as the club’s first choice left winger.
Although he can be somewhat one-footed and inconsistent, Bunn has added a much needed spark to a team that can often be described as functional rather than exciting. With a low centre of gravity, and a willingness to run at defenders, Bunn has the requisite attributes to become a key player for Town. At just 22 Bunn is far from the finished article, but if he can keep progressing at the rate he has this season then Town might just have a gem on their hands.
Equally, although an entirely different type of player to Bunn, defensive midfielder Coady has firmly established himself as a rock at the heart of Town’s midfield. Like Bunn, Coady’s form has been up and down at times, but it is easy to forget that this is his first full season at this level. A confidence and stature that belies his relative inexperience, Coady has all the attributes to go on to be Huddersfield Town captain and I can only hope he goes on to be a Town player for many years to come.
To put all this into context, it is worth pointing out that the average age of Town’s strongest 11 is just 24.72. This is indicative of the fact that most of Town’s team are either just approaching their prime, or still developing as footballers.
Furthermore, only one player aged 30+, captain Mark Hudson, has started for Town on a regular basis. With the exception of Hudson, the most experienced players are Alex Smithies, Jonathan Hogg, Joel Lynch and James Vaughan, who are all aged 25 to 27 and should be approaching their footballing peak.
The fact Town have managed to compete - albeit sporadically - in the Championship with such a youthful and inexperienced squad can only bode well for the future, and the experience that Town’s younger squad members are gaining could prove invaluable.
What is even more exciting, is the prospect of homegrown players making the step-up from the academy to the first-team. Both the Under 18's and Under 21's have once again performed strongly this season, and it is surely only a matter of time before some of those who have excelled at youth level are given an opportunity in the first-team.
Jake Charles and William Boyle have already made brief cameo appearances for the first-team this season, whilst the likes of Joe Wright, Philip Billing and Sondre Tronstad continue to earn rave reviews. Without wishing to pile too much pressure on these young players, you cannot help but be excited by the prospect of a potential midfield of Coady, Tronstad, Billing and Charles.
The fact that Town’s youth setup is in such rude health is in large part due to the work of the aforementioned Ross Wilson. Prior to Wilson’s arrival, Town were feeding off scraps with regards to recruiting young talent - mainly due to the fact there are a number of much larger clubs who operate in the same geographical areas as Town.
Since Wilson’s arrival, however, the club has established scouting networks in places as far afield as Denmark and Ireland, whilst also managing to convince more local players that Town are an attractive proposition for young players.
The work that Wilson has done with regards to scouting and recruitment is put into context by Dean Hoyle's comments on the scouting setup that existed prior to Wilson's arrival:
Before Ross arrived, we had a handful of regional scouts looking purely at senior domestic players and a part-time Chief Scout looking mainly at the opposition – that was it! Other elements of our football operations were equally straight from the 1970s and 1980s.
Wilson’s departure leaves Town at something of a crossroads with regards to what Town’s off the field strategy will be going forward. Nevertheless, the groundwork that Wilson has laid in terms of scouting and recruitment, is one that should endure and is something that he deserves a good deal of credit for.
When you add this altogether, you start to realise that Town are perhaps better shape than some would have you believe.
On the field, Town have young squad consisting of a strong core of players approaching their peak, supplemented by a host of exciting youngsters. Although far from the finished article - as emphasised by some of the dire performances this season - and in need of some new recruits in the summer, there is a great deal of potential within the current squad. The performances against the likes of Nottingham Forest, Watford and Norwich have hinted at this potential, but the key thing now is that Town start performing to their potential on a more consistent basis.
Another season of inconsistency and lack of attacking flair will not help win back those fans who have become disillusioned with what they have seen over the last 12 months.
In order for the club to continue to progress, and to eradicate the sense apathy that has seemingly engulfed the club in recent times, it is vital that the club’s youth setup continues to thrive and that those players who do perform well are given their opportunity in the first-team.
There is nothing more exciting than seeing 'one of your own' progress from the academy and into the first-team. This was evident last season whenever Duane Holmes was given a chance in the first-team, and his cameo appearances would often give Town fans a lift.
The groundwork laid by Ross Wilson - and Mark Lillis et al - means that there should be a steady stream of talented youngsters emerging from the academy who are capable of making the transition to the first XI.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that Town are definitely going to kick on as a club in the next few seasons. After all, the football this season has been generally poor, the jury is still out on Chris Powell, the influential Ross Wilson has departed for pastures new, and Chairman Dean Hoyle has repeatedly talked about how hard it is for Town to compete at this level.
Nevertheless, there are at the very least signs that the club is moving in the right direction. A young and developing first-team squad, a flourishing academy and relative financial solvency off-the-field. There are certainly some positives for Town fans to cling to after what has been a largely underwhelming season for the club.