There is no way of avoiding it. Hear the words “Mark Robins” and “FA Cup” in the same sentence and that goal comes to mind, the one without which the legacy inherited so uncomfortably by David Moyes would never have been built, or so the story goes.
The “Mark Robins moment” has become part of football’s vocabulary. “It would be nice to be remembered for something else,” Robins says, although without resentment. Apart from the significance it may have had for Sir Alex Ferguson’s career, the goal he scored at Nottingham Forest to drag Manchester United into the fourth round 24 years ago paved the way for his first medal as a player.
As he seeks to develop his own career in management, Robins does not undervalue the lessons learned from the maestro. “You remember all the managers you work for – I played for 11 clubs, too, so I’ve had a fair few – and I was lucky enough to work for the best one.”
He already has four clubs on his cv as manager: he joined Huddersfield Town last February after spells with Rotherham, Barnsley and Coventry. He reversed faltering fortunes at all three and in 15 matches last year repeated the feat with the Terriers, avoiding relegation from the Championship with a point on the last day.
This season has brought a transformation, not only in a new playing style that is productive, flexible and pleasing on the eye, but in results too. Huddersfield face Charlton at home in the fourth round of the FA Cup tomorrow and, after a narrow defeat at Queen’s Park Rangers, travel to Bournemouth next Tuesday, armed with two new strikers and hopes of a tilt at the Championship play-offs.
They have signed the 23-year-old Nahki Wells, a club-record capture from Bradford City who has scored in his first two games, and the 21-year-old former Kidderminster front man Joe Lolley, who hit 88 goals in 83 games for his previous non-League club, Littleton.
“We try to pass the ball and try to entertain people,” Robins said. “We want people to come through the turnstiles and enjoy it. Dean Hoyle [the chairman] and the board have a vision for the way they want things done. When they spoke to me last year our outlooks married up. We’ve moved forward at real pace. If we work as hard as we can do, as a group, who knows what can happen?”
Perversely, it was a 5-1 defeat that convinced Robins he wanted to pursue a path he describes as more “a vocation” than a job. “I was head of youth at Rotherham when Alan Knill was sacked and they asked me to be caretaker,” he said. “We won my first game 4-1 and you think you’ve cracked it but then we lost 5-1 at home to Port Vale.
“That’s when you learn whether you can cope. I’d been successful with Rotherham as a player and this was a heavy defeat in front of supporters who were going to be critical. But that galvanised me and gave me the real belief that I wanted to be a manager.”
Since then, there has been some frustration. Robins might well have won promotion with Rotherham but for the points docked for going into administration, and he resigned at Barnsley in 2011 after a disagreement over spending plans.
After a year out, he was tempted back by Coventry, guiding them from 23rd in League One to seventh in four months before their financial meltdown persuaded him to move on. “That was a tough call but I had been through an administration and points deductions before.
“When Huddersfield came in it was a case of weighing the two up. But it was the right call because this is a stable working environment where I know I will be given every chance. You don’t know how often that will come along.”