Huddersfield Town’s season ended much like it began, in eventful fashion.
While we await the Football League’s verdict following the abandonment of their season finale at crisis club Blackpool, Chris Powell and his side can begin to turn their attention to the summer break after reaching the primary goal once more of securing Championship safety.
In a division where every club has proven capable of beating one another, Town can be considered about the norm for the Championship, having experienced a series of highs and lows with the search for consistency proving difficult.
A minority of supporters have held reservations about Powell since his arrival in the autumn due to a perceived preference for defence over attack, but the stark truth is that his managerial methods have secured a fourth season at this level, by hook or by crook.
It has not been an easy ride at times admittedly; Town fans have had to endure some dour performances and can rightly point to a need to improve a leaky backline, but ultimately they will once again compete in the second tier next season and deservedly so.
With a squad whose average age is comfortably one of the youngest in the division, in a league where relegated Premier League clubs’ continued parachute payments continue to blur the financial landscape and with Powell having overseen just one January transfer window so far, progress has been tangible.
Finishing 16th – or 15th and above Leeds United dependent on the Blackpool outcome – is the highest Town have closed at this level since the 1999/2000 season and as the old adage goes, the league table does not lie.
Town have secured three doubles this season against Millwall, Reading and Nottingham Forest and have also claimed notable scalps, not least wins over three of this season’s top six.
And who could have predicted that when Powell stepped into the void left by Mark Robins following the opening-day 4-0 humiliation to eventual champions Bournemouth?
It feels a long time ago now since the toxic atmosphere inside the John Smith’s Stadium on that fateful afternoon and how fitting that it should be Town’s hosts for their season finale who provided the animosity as Town looked to relish the serenity they have come to enjoy under Powell.
Powell has proven a hit with the players, with Sean Scannell and Oscar Gobern the most notable beneficiaries of his man-management skills, and can point to a seven-match unbeaten run this season for further evidence that he has got this side back on track.
His work in the transfer market to date has been mixed but plenty of the groundwork for this new-look squad had already been laid by the time he took the reins, with the likes of Mark Hudson and Jacob Butterfield both instrumental this season.
Adam Clayton and Oliver Norwood had formed the fulcrum of Robins’ 2013/2014 side but many Town fans would now agree that the moves for Conor Coady and Butterfield – which also netted a profit for the club – have helped upgrade the midfield engine room.
Following the latest brief interim tenure of Mark Lillis, Powell arrived in time to veto fellow Londoner Scannell’s proposed move to Millwall, before Hudson completed a deadline-day switch from Cardiff City ahead of his unveiling.
A late 2-1 home defeat to Middlesbrough, turgid 0-0 draw with Wigan Athletic and the desperately disappointing 3-0 defeat at Leeds United in his first three games illustrated the size of the task Powell faced but he used the week interlude between the Elland Road mauling and a home clash with Millwall to positive effect.
The gamechanger was a 3-1 win at Wolves four days after a victory over the Lions as new loan signing Grant Holt starred and the resulting seven-game unbeaten run showcased every facet of Town as they secured gritty stalemates on the road and were at the peak of their powers in dynamic displays to swat aside both Blackpool and Nottingham Forest.
An inconsistent winter followed, with Town unable to string together the sort of form which may have put them in contention for a top-half berth but Powell’s charges were still able to carve out victories over high-flyers Brentford and Watford in that time.
Powell has been candid in his assessment of the defence this season and expressed just as much frustration in the aftermath of narrow defeats at both Fulham and Bolton Wanderers as he did when seeing his side hit for five at Norwich City and pegged back late on in a 2-2 Boxing Day draw at Rotherham United.
His summer recruitment strategy will centre on refining his rearguard, but Town have proven too that they can go away from home and grind out points when they’re up against it.
While form continued to concertina in the ever-unpredictable Championship, the best acid test for Town under their new manager was at the home of their tormentors from the first day of the season and the 1-1 draw at the Goldsands Stadium will undoubtedly rank highly in supporters’ memories of this campaign.
That draw against Eddie Howe’s side had helped wipe away the cobwebs from a second defeat of the season to Leeds and the 4-1 midweek home defeat to Wolves which went before it.
And morale increased still further when Town notched back-to-back clean sheets for the first time with a 0-0 draw at home to Cardiff City followed by a 3-0 win over Reading which propelled Powell and his men into the top half for the first time in 2014/2015.
A return to Charlton for Powell quickly turned into a nightmare as his side were found wanting and it set in motion an alarming dip in form at just the wrong time with March proving their worst month in terms of a points average.
Town fans’ worries over being dragged into a relegation battle lingered amid a seven-game winless run but the international hiatus between the extraordinary 2-0 home defeat to Fulham and a battling 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday was another crucial phase in the season.
Powell has thrived on any pressure he has found himself under and delivered the results when it has mattered most.
To recover from such a poor run of form when a scrap for survival was becoming a gradual reality is testament to the rapport he has built with his players and the trust both parties have in one another.
That much was reflected in a run of six games without defeat in April as key players stepped up to the mark and delivered a series of courageous performances.
Mark Hudson was imperious in helping Town to only their second set of consecutive clean sheets with a shutout down at Brighton and that arrived just days after a Tommy Smith masterclass in shackling Michail Antonio in the 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest.
The upcoming close season will be a crucial one for the club, with Powell entering the transfer market without the shrewd operator Ross Wilson as part of his transfer committee following the Scot’s switch to Southampton.
But they have stood themselves in good stead by finishing the season well and completing a remarkable journey from the travails of day one in the process.