Huddersfield Town v Everton: Play-off mentality can steer Terriers to safety

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN head coach David Wagner insists there is no sign of his side feeling the pressure ahead of a fixture that has the potential to go a long way towards deciding the club's Premier League fate.

David Wagner.
 (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
David Wagner. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

The Terriers host Everton knowing victory could all but assure their place in next season’s top flight.

Six points separate Huddersfield from Southampton and Stoke City in the table, bottom club West Bromwich Albion no longer being able to catch the Yorkshire club. With Paul Lambert’s Potters tackling Liverpool at Anfield in the lunchtime kick-off and Southampton hosting Bournemouth, Town have a golden opportunity to strengthen their hold on top-flight status.

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The flipside, of course, is that defeat at the John Smith’s Stadium coupled with either Stoke or the Saints winning will cut Huddersfield’s cushion on the bottom three to just three points ahead of a daunting final trio of games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.

“It feels a bit similar to the play-offs,” said Wagner, who will be without Tom Ince through injury when tackling Sam Allardyce’s men.

“It is almost the end of the season, it is an opportunity to get nearer to the target and really do it. It was a little bit like this when we reached the play-offs.

“This is where I take my confidence. The players look totally focused and concentrated. We have momentum in terms of the results. Players have played games where they are able to collect something and they had something in their head.

“Everton is another opportunity. We are at home and this gives me confidence we can perform. No one can guarantee the result, but we will work our socks off.

Town players celebrate Tom Ince's winning goal against Watford (Picture: PA)

“I have no signs that anyone is starting to get nervous. We have played similar games to this in the past. We played Bournemouth after five defeats in a row. We played West Brom, who had to beat us. Watford was totally similar, and don’t forget the games we played last season in the play-offs.

“We are one of the youngest teams in the whole Premier League, but the players have experience of playing games in this situation for this football club.”

Asked about a final week that will feature trips to the Etihad and Stamford Bridge before culminating in Arsene Wenger’s Premier League swansong at the John Smith’s Stadium, Wagner added: “I would never rule out us taking points from those games. But now the focus is only on Everton.

“We have created this situation, which is a wonderful one. I am sure with a win we will be close. We have a great opportunity just in front of us.

Town players celebrate Tom Ince's winning goal against Watford (Picture: PA)

“Six points with four games to go sounds good. But nothing more. We need more points for the perfect scenario.”

Town’s last outing ended in memorable fashion as Ince netted a dramatic last-gasp winner against Watford. Results since then have largely gone for Huddersfield, too, and Wagner hopes for similar scenes of jubilation today. “Everyone should use his positive emotions,” he added. “After this game it made sense to show your emotions and celebrate in the dressing room. I pushed that, but now the focus is on the next game.”

Sam Allardyce, a former Town defender, chalked up his first win as Everton manager when the two clubs met at Goodison Park in early December.

The Merseyside club were five points clear of the relegation zone at the time of his appointment and in a downward spiral after some dreadful results under caretaker manager David Unsworth.

Everton have since climbed to eighth in the table and 16 points clear of trouble, but supporters have not warmed to Allardyce, who was recently the subject of a remarkably crass survey by the club’s marketing department.

Supporters were asked to rate their manager’s performance out of ten, something that Allardyce put down to an error by one employee. A couple of supporters, nevertheless, gave their verdict last Monday during the 1-0 win over Newcastle United by holding up a banner that read, ‘Our survey says...get out of our club’.

Wagner finds the criticism difficult to fathom, especially after Allardyce led the club to safety.

“What is going on at Everton is not what is relevant for me. But I don’t understand why Sam Allardyce gets criticism because the points collected since he was there are the seventh-highest in the Premier League, the best outside the top six clubs. Even I know what football you get from Sam Allardyce. Why does he get criticised? I don’t understand that.”

Pritchard’s hope: Page 3