On the evening of 29th May 2017, Wembley fell silent, and with one astute swing of Christopher Schindler’s boot – upon Huddersfield’s fifth and decisive penalty at the playoff final – the Terriers became the 49th club to join the Premier League.
In dispatching Sheffield Wednesday and Reading on penalties in the FL Championship playoffs, Huddersfield Town showed nothing short of the steeliest nerves and the sternest resolve, garnering the universal respect of neutrals in the process. Regardless, sports betting companies already have the Terriers as firm favourites for relegation in next season’s Premier League.
Celebrations aside, it must be noted that – apart from a Leeds United team that topped the league on Millennium Eve and finished third – Yorkshire clubs have never experienced sustained success in the Premier League. Twenty years ago, for instance, Barnsley went down after just one season. In 2000/01, Bradford fared little better, going down with a whimper in last place after performing a remarkable escape act the previous year.
Hull City’s most recent relegation means that Huddersfield Town F.C is indeed Yorkshire’s only representative in the top flight for the 2017/18 football season, and the Terriers must defy history with the same character shown throughout 2016/17. However, the more optimistic Huddersfield fan can simply look to the likes of Bournemouth and Leicester for inspiration, ahead of what will regardless be an historic season at the Kirklees Stadium.
Leicester’s meteoric rise to a 5000/1-priced league title, after avoiding relegation in 2014/15, needs no introduction. Quite simply, if Huddersfield can control the midfield and play directly, with anywhere near the same ferocity as Leicester’s class of 2015/16, then survival will not be an issue for David Wagner and his charges. In part, they too have already emulated Leicester’s achievement, gaining promotion just one year after finishing a lowly 19th – three places above the FL Championship relegation zone.
Today, less notice has been taken of Bournemouth, with Eddie Howe’s men building on a comfortable first-season survival with a top half finish this year – above the aforementioned ex-champions. As such, it is the Dorset club, with by far the smallest and humblest home stadium capacity in the top flight, which must serve as Wagner’s model for success in the Premier League.
Like Huddersfield, Bournemouth’s playing system is simplistic, and has been reliant on the preservation of stamina to succeed. For two years, that has particularly been the case with Bournemouth when faced with more seasoned Premier League teams, most notably during the Cherries’ 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in December 2015. In Josh King, the Cherries have also had a very real and effective focal point for attack, and this too has been an important component in grinding out vital wins.
At times, Huddersfield will need to take a similar approach next season, with a strong target man up front. When newly promoted, and faced with snarling, swaggering talents such as Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez, playing like Barcelona circa 2008 is not an option, and subsequently, long ball tactics often become the key to preservation. Such a mode of defence will suit an intelligent backline like Huddersfield’s, with a German defensive trio – alongside Tom Smith – having lived up to the Teutonic reputation for efficiency in no uncertain terms this year.
The German connection
Perhaps it was merely a tongue-in-cheek comment from Mark Chapman, but listeners of BBC’s Radio 5 Live would have heard a glib remark about Huddersfield’s German players being the decisive factor in the playoff final. Indeed that was the case, but their influence has extended far beyond the penalty spot for Huddersfield over the last nine months. Along with penalty hero Schindler, Michael Hefele and Chris Löwe changed the way Huddersfield defended in 2016/17.
With a final goal difference of -2 in the regular league, Huddersfield did not boast a particularly miserly defence. However, in Huddersfield’s winning streaks of August 2016, the Christmas period and February, a majority of the wins were by a single goal. This demonstrated just how efficient German defenders can be, preserving energy for the latter stages of the match and ensuring that any lead can be more thoroughly protected.
Up front, Wagner’s German contingent is completed by Colin Quaner, but with just two goals in nineteen appearances for Huddersfield, he is surely bound for the exit door. Nakhi Wells and Elias Kachunga plundered twenty-two goals between them in 2016/17, but now a player with far greater experience of top-level European football will be needed if Wagner’s men are to hit the standard required for Premier League survival.
Tamhas Woods is a BTJC-accredited Sports Journalist with a MA in Journalism from Staffordshire University.