No amount of googling has found a German word – a schadenfreude or a Backpfeifengesich, say – which can capture the emotions of Huddersfield Town supporters right now, but the mingled joy and disbelief, fear that it cannot possibly last and hope that this is, in fact, the real deal surely deserves one.
An efficient, ruthless performance against a dreadful Leeds outfit had little in the way of entertainment, particularly in a dire first half, but David Wagner’s superb engineering allowed the team to lift 3 straightforward points from a fractious derby.
It was exactly the type of away performance produced by winners and promotion challengers as Town relentlessly reduced their hosts to a confused and directionless rabble. With and without the ball, shape was rarely lost and, by the end, 8 minutes of added time merely served to heap misery on the Whites as the hopelessness of their one tactic – aerial assault – was exposed for just a little longer.
Following a frenetic start to the game, with the home side trying to impose themselves early, Town had to deal with the threat of Sacko for all of 5 minutes – his power and pace was then almost entirely, and bafflingly, eschewed until he was substituted in the second half despite stripping Lowe and Van La Parra in the home side’s very first attack.
In a first half littered with fouls and far too many offside incursions by the visitors, both keepers were criminally under employed. Ward collected a few attempted crosses while at the other end, Green’s only moment of discomfort was when he collided with his own defender following a corner.
The hard working Kachunga and Payne tried to cause problems for the home side but despite the occasional promising move, including one which saw the ball in the net but ruled offside, Leeds’ back four were largely untroubled.
The same could be said of Town’s back 8. Employing his notable defensive block, Wagner could be pleased at the control his team increasingly exerted over the game. Comfortable in possession and rarely without passing options, whatever sting the home side possess was drawn very early and the partnerships between the sublime Schindler and Hudson and Hogg and Mooy are fast becoming stuff of legend.
The Australian belied his international travels – halfway round the world and back, no less – as he strolled through the game with poise and panache. He was, however, fortunate that a lenient referee didn’t see his lunging tackle on Bridcutt as excessively dangerous as half time approached. Clearly annoyed at a misplaced pass – his only flaw in the whole game – he flew in to his opponent with both feet drawing histrionics from Monk and his staff close by on the Leeds bench.
Shortly after his uncharacteristic lapse, Mooy produced the first half’s only moment of real class as he extricated himself from a tight spot by flicking the ball over a Leeds player then moving it on in one flowing movement.
While the first half had been a poor spectacle, Town’s control of the game became increasingly straightforward as Leeds seemed strangely reluctant to press the ball as it was passed around the back. Only a header from the largely anonymous Wood which flashed wide caused any trouble for the visitors, who were no doubt relieved that the home side seemed determined not to utilise Sacko, making life far too easy for the Terriers.
A free kick to Town at the very end of the half was wasted when Mooy’s clever ball to the unmarked Payne saw the ex-Shrimper leave the ball, believing he was offside. It may have been the case, but he didn’t allow the officials to make a decision as the ball drifted harmlessly out of play.
If the Leeds supporters hoped that their side could improve on a humdrum first half display, they were to be very sadly disappointed. Town took the game by the throat in another unspectacular 45 minutes, with no Leeds player given any time on the ball and often pursued by 2 or 3 snapping opponents. Reducing their opponents’ options, time and space laid the foundations for a narrow win which didn’t accurately reflect the visitors’ dominance of proceedings.
Perhaps the feature of Town’s remarkable early season form has been the fitness levels which not only frustrate the ambitions of opponents but allows the team to operate as a ruthless unit; always quickly back in to shape if possession is lost, highly developed trust in team mates and the ability to break with pace and threat are massively useful weapons.
Though chances for Town were rare, it still didn’t come as a surprise when the outstanding Mooy joined the joint top league scorer list (with 8 other team mates).
Following some Town pressure, the Antipodean latched on to Payne’s interception of a poor clearance, moved in to space and lashed the ball past Green. It was an excellent strike and earned him a place on that list of Elland Road scorers headed by Dave Cowling – wether it earns him a song like his 1982 predecessor is yet to be seen, but it is a pleasure to witness a rare talent in Town’s colours.
There was a long time to go for Town to hang on to their lead, but other than a poor header by Wood – which Ward saved unnecessarily spectacularly – Leeds second half display was woeful. They were unable to cope with Town’s pressing as the visitors tightened their grip on the game with relentless hard work and calm possession.
In contrast, the home side had little discernible shape and Town could and should have punished them more with several breaks which lacked cutting edge. Not that it mattered, but if there is a lingering doubt about this excellent team, it is their goal potential.
The win could have been crowned, however, by a superb effort from Van La Parra. A clearance came to him 45 yards out and his instinctive shot seemed destined for the net before a back pedalling Green tipped it over.
Van La Parra was also involved in a penalty appeal for Town as Ayling tugged on his arm for an extended period right in to the penalty area, but referee Roger East gave the defender the same benefit of doubt he had given Schindler in the first half.
By no means pretty, the victory gave Town their best start to a season in their history and the way it was achieved in hostile, local enemy territory was particularly satisfying. By the end, the home crowd had long turned on their team and manager which may have influenced Monk’s intemperate post match interviews which gave no credit to the victors and contained no acknowledgement that his own team were a directionless mess. No identity, Gary.
So our remarkable season continues. New and different challenges are met; for example, the disruption of an international break proved not to be a hindrance to momentum and, if anything, the unity and understanding within the team seemed to be even stronger than before.
The unity with the fans was also enhanced – others may scoff at the post match victory celebration but it is a crucial part of Wagner’s philosophies and creates a bond with the club which hasn’t been as strong since 1979/80 under Buxton.
On to the next, formidable, challenge on the south coast.