When it was put to him in his pre-match press conference yesterday, ahead of a trip to Middlesbrough, how he was mentally finding the challenge of a poor run of form in his first job as a head coach, Huddersfield Town boss Carlos Corberan politely bristled at the inaccuracy.
“First of all I’m not coaching for the first time – I coached before,” he said with an awkward smile and a wave of the hand. Keen as he might be to emphasise that he is no rookie, his spells in charge of Cypriot sides Doxa and Emir probably didn’t prepare him fully for the pressures he is currently under.
For the first time since his appointment last summer, leaving behind Marcelo Bielsa’s coaching team at Leeds United to go it alone again with their West Yorkshire neighbours, Corberan is under fire.
A run of seven Championship matches without a win since the turn of the year have turned the Terriers from a side quietly confident of a top-half finish, to a team nervously sliding towards the relegation zone that is coming ever closer into the rear-view mirrors.
That gap is now just five points after surely the worst defeat of Corberan’s tenure at the John Smith’s Stadium – a 3-2 defeat to the division’s poorest side, Wycombe Wanderers, in which they meekly surrendered a two-goal lead.
The first 40 minutes of that match were a demonstration of his Huddersfield team at their best; technically excellent, able to control the tempo, and creative when it counts. The final 50 minutes were a demonstration of his Huddersfield team at their worst; physically weak, unable to impose themselves, and utterly lacking control.
Their attacking strength has not been in question this season, and no side in the bottom half of the table has scored more than them. But the fragility of their defence, beaten only by Wycombe themselves in the Championship’s porosity stakes, has long been a concern, and never more so than after a match in which physical opponents were able to bully them with ease.
There are mitigating circumstances as to why Huddersfield are struggling so badly in this area, effectively missing their top three defenders to long-term injury. Richard Stearman returned to the bench against Wycombe but Christopher Schindler and Tommy Elphick (out for 14 months already) remain a long way off.
Naby Sarr has his strengths but needs a guiding older head alongside him. Richard Keogh was brought in as an emergency addition in January to do just that, but has struggled to re-adapt to the pace of the Championship.
With a fully-fit squad, things would surely not be so dire, but Corberan does not have time to wait for his luck to turn and his hand to improve. He has shown that he can reinvigorate an attack that had lacked threat for several years, but he now needs to find a solution at the other end of the pitch, and quickly.
The Spaniard has questioned the mental and emotional resilience of his side but they need to have confidence in their own approach, and not just when things are going well and they are controlling a game. As soon as they come under pressure they look horrendously brittle at the back, and that anxiety spreads to the whole team like it did against Wycombe.
Huddersfield were not afraid to act last season when a relegation battle appeared on the cards, and they will back away from Corberan’s long-term vision if another one looms this season. He deserves time to turn things around but Huddersfield’s serious defensive issues need to be resolved soon, or that time will be up.