‘RETRO GAME’ is how Huddersfield Town billed last night’s clash with the Championship leaders amid an appeal for fans to turn back the clocks by sporting old replica shirts.
On the pitch, however, the Terriers produced a performance very much in keeping with the modern era under head coach David Wagner as Brighton & Hove Albion were swept aside with contemptuous ease.
Town were simply superb, playing at a tempo and with a panache that the Seagulls, reduced to 10 men by Lewis Dunk’s dismissal midway through the second half, simply could not handle.
The victory was enough to nudge Wagner’s men six points clear of Sheffield Wednesday in seventh place and sets up perfectly Sunday’s West Yorkshire derby against Leeds United.
With the programme cover featuring an image of Michael Hefele mimicking Michael J Fox’s famous pose in the posters for the Back to the Future film trilogy, Town’s performance was entirely fitting in that it transported supporters of a certain vintage back to the days when cultured footballers such as Frank Worthington and Trevor Cherry graced the famous blue and white shirt.
Aaron Mooy and Jonathan Hogg were, as ever, the heartbeat of the Terriers’ play. But it was the manner in which the hosts sprayed the ball around at pace that really caught the eye.
Brighton, in suffering a first loss in 10 meetings with Huddersfield, had little answer to the probing and pressing of their hosts. But for goalkeeper David Stockdale, the margin of defeat would have been much more emphatic..
The tone was set inside 20 seconds, as Bruno Saltor was left with little alternative but to hack down Rajiv van La Parra as the Dutch flyer had raced down the left flank.
That earned the Seagulls defender a yellow card and for the rest of the night his team-mates looked equally uneasy against what equated to a tide of blue and white shirts.
Town had already struck a post through van La Parra when Tommy Smith opened the scoring in the ninth minute.
Van La Parra created the opening with a slide-rule pass but it was Smith’s tenacity and ferocious finish that proved too much for Stockdale after the full-back’s initial shot had been blocked by Sebastien Pocognoli.
A calamitous error from the otherwise superb Mooy handed Brighton a lifeline midway through the first half, Tomer Hemed duly taking advantage by rounding Danny Ward to score.
Huddersfield could have been left deflated by being pegged back after such an impressive opening quarter but, instead, the hosts merely dusted themselves down and got back to taking the game to Chris Hughton’s men.
Two goals in nine minutes just before the interval ensured the half-time scoreline accurately reflected the Terriers’ dominance.
First, Mooy’s pass took a deflection to find Wells, who made no mistake from 15 yards out.
Then, as a visibly furious Hughton prepared to deliver what witnesses in the tunnel area later described as an “absolute rollocking” in the away dressing room, Mooy again drove the home side forward for one last attack in stoppage-time.
Wells was played in down the left and, although Stockdale got a hand to his cross, Elias Kachunga was on hand to head in the rebound.
Considering the decibel levels heard outside the away dressing room during the interval, a response was expected from the visitors on the restart.
Instead, Huddersfield merely carried on where they had left off albeit without being able to add to their first-half tally of goals.
Brown, van La Parra and Wells all went close before Dunk was dismissed for earning his second yellow card of the night after clattering into Brown, who had been on the end of a similarly reckless challenge from the Seagulls defender in the first half.
Mooy hit a post with a 25-yard shot and Stockdale denied Kasey Palmer before Brighton’s suffering was finally brought to an end by referee James Linington.
Around 100 Seagulls fans may have been spared their side being outclassed by the closure of the M23 in Sussex earlier in the day that had caused a couple of supporters’ buses to turn back.
Thanks to Sky TV, however, the rest of the watching Championship was served warning that Huddersfield are deadly serious in their quest to return to the top flight after 45 years away.
Huddersfield Town: Ward, Smith, Hefele, Schindler, Lowe, Hogg, Mooy; Kachunga, Brown (Palmer 71), Van la Parra (Lolley 77), Wells (Quaner 82). Unused substitutes: Whitehead, Holmes-Dennis, Stankovic, Coleman.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Stockdale; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Pocognoli; Knockaert, Kayal (Sidwell 46), Norwood, Murphy (March 63); Murray, Hemed (Akpom 63). Unused substitutes: Huenemeier, Tomori, Skalak.
Referee: J Linington (Newport).
Results and table: Page 22