Paul Dixon realised a long-held dream when he moved down south to join English Championship new boys Huddersfield Town, only to find himself back where he started – facing SPL opposition.
The 25-year-old could hardly believe his ears when his new boss Simon Grayson revealed The Terriers’ pre-season programme would include a quick-fire return to Scotland for the former Dundee United defender.
And having played his part in the first of those fixtures, setting up Scotland Under-21 striker Jordan Rhodes for the equaliser in Huddersfield’s 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, Dixon is now looking forward to keeping himself in Grayson’s eye when he faces Hibs at Easter Road tomorrow.
While it is Hibs’ final warm-up match before they kick-off the new season, coincidentally against Dixon’s old club at Tannadice a week on Sunday, the Yorkshire outfit are very much in the opening stages of their preparations, with their season not starting until two weeks after the serious action gets under way on this side of the border.
And that, Grayson disclosed, was behind his thinking in bringing his squad north this week. He said: “When you come to Scotland for pre-season you know that you are behind them in terms of fitness levels because their season starts a few weeks before ours. We knew that Kilmarnock would pass it around because they are a good footballing team and they gave us a good game – it tested our current fitness levels.” Dixon expects Pat Fenlon’s side to provide just as tough opposition despite the Easter Road outfit finishing last season in 11th place.
Although it is only a few weeks before he made his move to England, Dixon believes he will be facing an entirely different Hibs side to the one he faced with United last season, not least because of the changes Fenlon has made in terms of personnel. He said: “Hibs didn’t do at all well last season for a club of their standards. But it looks like a brand new team with a lot of players having left, and new boys such as Tim Clancy, Ben Williams and Paul Cairney having come in while both James McPake and Leigh Griffiths are back with them again. I’m sure they’ll be determined to do much better this year.”
While Hibs’ slump over the past few seasons has puzzled many, Dixon paid little attention to what had gone wrong at Easter Road last term, as he concentrated on ensuring United recovered from their own dreadful start to the campaign which had seen them win just two of their opening 13 league games. He said: “We didn’t get off to a good start and at one point a game against Dunfermline looked like a make-or-break match for us but thankfully we won it.
“I’d imagine the Hibs boys were probably thinking as they went along that there would be a turning point for them as well and maybe they thought they’d got it when we were 3-1 up against them in Edinburgh and they hit us with two quick goals to draw 3-3. However, it just did not happen for them.”
United, on the other hand, produced a storming end to the season, losing only two of their last 15 matches, a run which propelled them into fourth spot and with it a place in this season’s Europa League, where they meet Dinamo Moscow next week.
But Dixon revealed even the draw of European action wasn’t enough to convince the Aberdonian to stay on Tayside. He said: “I had four great years with United but I felt it was time for me to move on and take the next step in my career. I’d played in the Europa League in the previous two seasons and I’ve always been of a mind that I’d like to play in England.”
A visit to Huddersfield, bound for the Championship for the first time in 11 years after a dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Sheffield United, convinced Dixon that West Yorkshire was the place to be. He said: “The manager, the chairman [Dean Hoyle] and the staff made me feel wanted, everything felt really positive, their ambition and enthusiasm.
“However, when I signed [a three-year contract] I didn’t realise I’d be coming back to Scotland quite so quickly. I suppose it is somewhere different for the rest of the boys but we do have a few Scottish lads like Murray Wallace, Scott Arfield and Kallum Higginbotham, who were with Falkirk.”
Not to mention, of course, hot-shot Rhodes who netted an astonishing 40 goals for Huddersfield last season, while former Hibs goalkeeper Nick Colgan remains on Huddersfield’s books. Dixon said: “Nick lives in the same village where I am renting a house so he has helped me settle in.”
But as quickly as he gets to know his new team-mates, Dixon will also find himself up against plenty familiar faces with a string of former United colleagues now playing in the Championship. Huddersfield’s opening game, away to Cardiff, will see him come up against Craig Conway before, in quick succession, he’ll be re-acquainted with Prince Buaben at Watford, Morgaro Gomis at Birmingham City and Danny Swanson at Peterborough. He said: “There’s plenty of them about in the Championship and I’ll look forward to seeing them but, as far as Huddersfield are concerned, it’s a case of consolidating this season.”