Given how busy the Championship season is, there isn't really very much time afforded to take stock of what's gone on, or to put a campaign in to proper context. With the mini-run in the FA Cup added in to the mix, this has been one of the most eventful Huddersfield Town season's in living memory, with memories and moments piling up thick and fast, the next hurdle approaching before the last has even been fully cleared.
Yet, here we are regardless; with a week to stir crazy between the drama at Hillsborough at whatever awaits at Wembley, keeping your mind on a leash isn't as easy as it sounds. It's absurd, in reality, that this is the situation the club find itself in, but that only adds more to the achievement. Pre-Wagner, this wasn't a club with direction. Not all too uncommon in the Football League, doing enough to survive in your league and stay afloat as a business were the primary concerns, but what existed beyond that didn't appear to be a concern. Or, at least, the club couldn't afford for it to be one.
Perhaps then, that frustration of being stuck on an unknown path is what ultimately lead Huddersfield to making the appointment they did back in November 2015 - the first foreign coach in the history of the club, a man known only as Jürgen Klopp's mate from Dortmund, a coach with the most minimal of profiles in English football. It was, to say the least, a risk from the outset. Huddersfield weren't so much flirting with relegation as taking it home in a taxi, and David Wagner broke every rule going in the relegation survival hire handbook.
What's more, Huddersfield didn't just parachute a new coach in and hope he worked a miracle, but they actively pursued giving him the tools needed execute the job in hand. Internal restructuring took place, training was reorganised, equipment upgraded and the academy given an overhaul - it'd have been far easier to let Wagner sink or swim before altering the club to be in his image, but there's not much value in asking a man to climb Everest if you're not also willing to provide him a coat.
It can't be understated, then, looking back knowing what we do now, just how vital than initial change of direction helped propel the club along, and those responsible deserve immense credit for having the belief to do so.
It's true, however, that results weren't the greatest in Wagner's first half season. The devastating 1-4 display away against Leeds aside, marquee victories were few and far between, but that was understandable given Wagner was effectively having to manage another coach's team. Where results lacked too, performances didn't.
A recurring theme early on, Huddersfield were regularly the better side despite often leaving matches in defeat, with Wagner using those initial months to instil his tactical identity and wider footballing philosophy on the squad, which was never going to happen overnight. Allowing adequate time for the manager to access what he had and plan ahead for the summer also, there's no way Town would've acted as decisively in the summer had those few months not happened first.
There was, funnily enough, a feeling about Huddersfield all the way through last summer. Although the club never publicly disclosed their confidence, it was evident that the mood and outlook had changed for anyone lucky enough to visit the training base during that period, and that was equally reflected in the fanbase. To undergo such a ruthless squad overhaul on a shoestring budget will've taken extended periods planning, with research needed, negotiations vital and, most of all, trust. It's not unheard of for the management team at a club and those who preside over its board to disagree on who to buy and for how much, but from day one, Wagner and Hoyle have presented a united front, without it ever feeling at all forced.
Perhaps the shrewdest decision of the summer, the manner in which the club extended a hand to its fans and invited them in to the project by lowering ticket prices and encouraging participation was the only spark the touch-paper needed. Those who'd seen how Wagner was pushing his side to play were never going to turn away, so rather than sell an improved product at what men in suits would likely describe as market value, they made it far more affordable, instead. This is, of course, far from an affluent area, so rather than being a token gesture, it was a necessary one - and the appreciation of it being such was best shown in the sales figures.
It's at his point, perhaps, that one Dean Hoyle deserves his overdue pat on the back. While he may be far richer than you or I will ever be in our lives, his funds are far from bottomless. To take such a hit on gate receipts whilst simultaneously helping bankroll one of the busiest transfer periods in the clubs recent history is all the evidence one needs of how committed Hoyle is to getting the best for his club and its supporters. While it's not unique, there are far more examples of clubs being negligently run and falling in to ruin both on and off the field in the Football League than is comfortable, and it's not so long ago that Town had money troubles of their own.
In the sphere football exists in now - especially at the highest level - to have a local businessman not only successfully running the club, but growing it, is an oddity. This is a sport that's become a playground for sheikh's, tycoon's, magnate's and oligarch's, so for the former owner of Card Factory to be sat on their doorstep is quite something. It's one thing to have success as an owner of a club when you've endless resources and the mineral wealth of a nation to call on, but Huddersfield Town are a minuscule business compared, with self-sustainability and financial security at the heart of almost every decision the club has to make.
Nobody is a bigger fan of David Wagner than Hoyle, and he's done everything within his power to keep the most coveted coach in the division at his club, while others may've taken the compensation money and run. From giving him a fresh contract after only half a season to backing him in any and every way he can possible, Wagner would've likely walked away from a club who hadn't worked as hard to make his job as easy as physically possible, and that mutual appreciation and respect between the two men is the relationship most central to this present success.
All this to celebrate already, before a ball had even been kicked. By the time the season rolled around, and Wagner was able to put in to effect what he'd spent the summer preparing for, few could've expected it to have gone quite so well quite so quickly. New players had gelled well, the vast majority of the signings made looked like clear and obvious improvements on what had been before and existing talent had benefitted from a pre-season under Wagner, looking far fitter and sharper than they ever had before. It's one thing to try and create a perfect storm, but it's another thing entirely to actually pull it off.
While the accepted wisdom in the Championship is to play two men forward, prioritise percentage play - set pieces, crossing at high volume, long balls forward - and build a team around players who've proven themselves in that division, Wagner quickly proved that there was more than one way to skin a cat. His side, in their more European style 4-2-3-1, used the counter-press to their advantage, suffocating teams with possession and using attacking fullbacks overlapping inverted wingers to get in behind unprepared defences. What they lacked in star power, they more than made up for as a unit, with a far more sophisticated, pragmatic and multi-faceted approach to the game than most teams can manage.
While a million miles away from the biggest sides in the world off the field, Town were aping how they organised themselves on it, and Wagner deserves huge credit for believing in his players and recruiting well enough to pull that off. While most Championship squads would struggle to comprehend the additional technical and tactical instruction, the Huddersfield squad lapped it up, which is the finest endorsement possible for a player to give a coach. With those initial results came belief, and with belief came the season we've all just witnessed. And, lest we forget, it's still not over yet.
Putting the somewhat highfalutin talk of tactics, systems, ideology and identity to one side for the moment, the area in which Wagner has surprised the most is his ability to improve players beyond what we ever thought was possible. Jonathan Hogg, who's always been an incredible athlete and the hardest worker player on the field, was given some much needed focus and direction, and was all the better for it. Rather than trying to be all things to all men, he was able to concentrate on playing one role and doing one job to the best of his ability, and few could argue that he's been one of the more impressive defensive midfielders in the division this season.
Tommy Smith, too. One of the weakest links in the Town defence pre-Wagner, most had expected him to be replaced in the summer, when in fact the exact opposite happened. Whether it was finally being given an exact job to do, or the freedom afforded to him via his immediate partnership with Kachunga blossoming, there's no doubt that he was by far the most improved player at the club this season. Having kicked on to the extent that few batted an eyelid when he was given the de-facto captaincy in the prolonged absence of both Mark Hudson and Dean Whitehead, he is one of Wagner's greatest individual successes.
The tagline for this season has been no limits, and that couldn't be more fitting. Speaking to Wagner in preseason, he kept his cards extremely close to his chest, but there was always a grin, smirk and glint in his eye to accompany any statement made about the limitations he saw ahead. No matter how positively he spoke about his players, their plans or how easily he'd found it to come in to the club and run things his way, he never once overreached when pushed on what his goals or targets were going in to the campaign.
Avoid relegation? No limits. Mid-table? No limits. Top half? No limits. Top six? No limits. Automatic promotion? Well, at this point his reaction was to pretty much laugh in your face, but, you get the idea - no limits. Setting a goal, said Wagner, was a ceiling, and he'd rather take things as they come, as what will be will be. Yet again, he was probably right.
The culmination of this all, of course, is still yet to come, but there's a date at Wembley set where Town will seal their fate, one way or another. Many will be pleased to have avoided Fulham, with Reading seen as the more compatible opponent, but just as we saw against Sheffield Wednesday - much to our delight - what has come before isn't always the clearest indication of what is to be. This final represents the biggest game in the modern history of the football club, with the chance for promotion a potentially future altering prize. Loss, too, as much as it pains to comprehend, would offer its own set of hurdles, which might well knock the club on to a different path altogether.
Despite what happens, this season will've been a success for all involved with Huddersfield Town, regardless. With the budget available, the time frame they've turned their fortunes around in, the ups and downs across the campaign, injuries, losses and countless attempts to poach the head coach away, to call it a miracle may well be an undersell. With the way money works - not only in football but in this country as a whole - a small northern town gatecrashing the Premier League is rarely ever seen. There's not been a team called 'Town' in the Premier League since Ipswich were relegated fifteen years ago in 2001/02. Before that, the only other was Swindon.
What they've achieved as a club so far has been unprecedented, and promotion would be the perfect end to what has truly been a fairytale story. Not wishing to take anything away from Reading, who've their own story and journey to be proud of, this game surely means more to both Huddersfield as a club, and as a town. One match stands between all those currently connected with the club and virtual immortality - and all we can do now is wait.