THE opening day of a new season has seldom been a happy affair for Huddersfield Town in recent years. Just five wins and 11 defeats over the past two decades is ample proof of that.
None, however, has been quite as bad as this, a defeat of such epic proportions that Mark Robins became the first managerial casualty of the campaign just a few hours after his side had been jeered from the field.
“An absolute disgrace,” is how Robins described Town’s highest opening-day defeat outside war-time football in what turned out to be the final act of his 18-month reign.
He was right, a shambolic Terriers side being so outclassed from start to finish against Bournemouth that they were fortunate to escape with just a four-goal hiding.
Errors that would shame a schoolboy player, questionable commitment and an all-round inability to do the most basic of things – all these and more characterised a display so poor that, while few in the 12,371 crowd expected the axe to fall so quickly, the future of Robins was being questioned openly by supporters at the final whistle.
The general consensus was that the 44-year-old would have at least the opening month or so to get things right.
Robins, for his part, also spoke frankly to the media about how he would persevere in the weeks to come with the 3-4-1-2 formation that had been so badly exposed by Eddie Howe’s Cherries.
This, though, proved to be wishful thinking with the Terriers’ board, after meeting Robins on Saturday night, clearly feeling that there was no way back after such a comprehensive defeat.
All in all, therefore, as dramatic a start to a new season as possible at Huddersfield and for all the wrong reasons.
Certainly, the gloom that had descended on the John Smith’s Stadium come full-time, as the magnitude of Town’s worst opening-day loss since crashing 3-0 to Oxford (1984) and Reading (1993) hit home, was in stark contrast to how the afternoon had begun.
With the sun beating down, the noise levels had been cranked up ahead of kick-off courtesy of the new singing section that Town have set aside in the North Stand.
The thinking behind the initiative is that like-minded fans getting together in the lower tier behind the goal will improve the atmosphere.
All went well on that score, though, for just 25 seconds – which is how long it took Huddersfield to commit their first major defensive blunder of the afternoon and help hand the lead to Bournemouth.
Marc Pugh was the beneficiary of the Town back-line adopting statuesque poses as Matt Ritchie’s cross came in from the right flank, the Cherries midfielder timing his run beautifully before rolling a shot past Alex Smithies.
The Terriers goalkeeper was left similarly exposed just after the half-hour when, after barging Joel Lynch off the ball far too easily, Callum Wilson was afforded sufficient time and space to pick his spot in the home goal.
By this stage, Town’s attacking intent had amounted to a couple of tame efforts from distance by Adam Hammill and Danny Ward that barely tested Lee Camp.
Even though Oliver Norwood did then rattle the crossbar just before half-time, few in the crowd will have believed with any conviction that Huddersfield would be capable of fighting their way back into the contest after the interval.
So it proved, with Bournemouth taking just five minutes of the second half to extend their lead.
Once again slack marking was the problem as, first, Pugh was able to meet Eunan O’Kane’s right-wing cross with such force that Smithies did well to block the header. Then, as the flat-footed home defence looked on, Yann Kermorgant swooped to smash the rebound into the net.
The contest was over. Unfortunately for the Town fans, their suffering was not as Wilson added a fourth with a weak prod that Smithies inexplicably allowed to slip through his fingers.
The North Stand Loyal, the name by which the newly-launched singing section is going, had seen enough and decided that black humour was the order of the day by launching into a chant of “going down”.
It was meant tongue-in-cheek, as was the ‘off, off, off’ shout by the home fans 10 or so minutes later when Smithies tripped Wilson after the Cherries’ new £3m striker had latched onto a shockingly poor back header by Lynch.
By the letter of the law, the Town goalkeeper maybe should have gone because he had denied a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Referee Scott Duncan clearly felt Smithies had suffered enough and brandished a yellow card.
This meant the former England Under-21 international was able to make up for his earlier error by saving Wilson’s resulting penalty to prevent Town edging closer to the club record 6-1 hammering at Barnsley that kicked off the war-time season of 1942-43.
It was a rare chink of light on an otherwise gloomy day for Town, who for the third time in four seasons are now searching for a new permanent manager.