ON CURRENT form, Huddersfield Town and Rotherham United could be heading in opposite directions come the end of the season, but the former’s head coach David Wagner refuses to countenance the suggestion his side are favourites for tonight’s derby.
The Terriers were knocked off top spot in the Championship last weekend after a five-week stay, but still remain in an automatic promotion slot.
Rotherham, in contrast, have won just once in nine games under Alan Stubbs and sit second bottom of the table.
Despite that huge disparity between tonight’s two combatants, Wagner insists Huddersfield cannot be considered as favourites ahead of taking on the Millers.
“Did we start (the season) better than Rotherham? Yes. But are we favourites (for this game)? No,” said the German ahead of an all-Yorkshire contest that is set to be watched by a bumper crowd of 18,500.
“I have a lot of respect for Rotherham and I know this is a difficult opponent because they have real quality in the offence.
“For me, it is even. It starts at 0-0 and that is why we are not favourites.
“What happened is in the past and we have to leave it there, in the past. Stay focused on what we have to do and cause Rotherham some problems. That is what we have to do.
“What I will say is we are in good form and that we have proved we can trust ourselves. We can be confident because of that, but this is a new game and we have to deliver.”
Town have been hit by a trio of suspensions for the visit of the Millers with Rajiv van La Parra banned following his red card at Reading.
Also missing are captain Mark Hudson and left-back Chris Lowe after the defensive duo collected a fifth booking of the season at the Madejski to incur a one-game ban.
Wagner confirmed yesterday that Michael Hefele will partner record signing Christopher Schindler at centre-half with Tareiq Holmes-Dennis making his first start at left-back.
One thing the change of personnel will not affect, though, is the gegenpressing system that Wagner imported from Germany on taking over last November.
Liverpool, managed by Wagner’s close friend Jurgen Klopp, destroyed Hull City with the same approach last weekend and Huddersfield’s head coach admits to being flattered when opposition teams change their tactics to try to counter the ploy.
“I did not see the game you mentioned,” replied the 44-year-old when asked by The Yorkshire Post about the masterclass of gegenpressing that was Liverpool’s first-half display against Hull on Saturday.
“But Jurgen did call me on Sunday and he told me about this unbelievable 45 minutes. He said it was one of the best he has ever seen.
“It is a part of our style, of course. Part of our philosophy and we both love this style of football. At Huddersfield Town, opposition teams have tried to create some ideas against us. And we have found in the nine games that there are different ways they have tried against us. Some teams try to press us very high, some teams play very deep and sit back. For those that play high, we have some quick players and for the others then we have good technical players to try and get through.
“Different opponents have different ideas, but we have to handle them both. But it is a good feeling when the opponent feels they have to do something different against you.
“It shows that they are giving us respect. That is nice to see. But, again, we have to be focused on ourselves. That is what matters. If we win, we can go to 22 points from 10 games and that is a really good start.”
Whether Rotherham change their own tactics to try to nullify Town remains to be seen, but Stubbs appreciates his side need an upturn in fortune after taking just six points from the opening nine games.
United’s goals against column of 22 is also comfortably the worst in the Football League and the club’s manager is demanding a big show of character from his players at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Stubbs said: “We have to be more resilient and stick our chests out. There will be no one feeling sorry for themselves here.
“They have to show everyone that there is character there. I know it is, but it needs to be on a much more consistent basis.
“I do feel as if I am standing here saying the same things. You can work morning, noon and night, but you can’t make decisions for the players.
“We have to look at ourselves. If we do, results will come. You can’t take the lead as many times as we have by not doing something right.”
Lee Frecklington is ready to start his second game inside four days after suffering no reaction to the calf injury that ruled out the Millers captain from the first few weeks of the season.
Dexter Blackstock will start on the bench, while Tom Adeyemi is available again after sitting out the home loss to Cardiff City.
Last six games: Huddersfield Town WWWLWL, Rotherham United WLDDLL.
Referee: S Attwell (Warwickshire).
Last time: Huddersfield Town 2 Rotherham United 0; December 15, 2015; Championship.