HUDDERSFIELD Town’s head coach David Wagner has laughed off suggestions from Newcastle United counterpart Rafael Benitez that the hosts will start to suffer from promotion pressure ahead of this evening’s encounter with the Championship leaders at the John Smith’s Stadium (5.30pm).
The Magpies manager, whose side are eight points clear of third-placed Town having played a game more, may have been indulging in a spot of mind games in his pre-match press conference by stating that expectation could now afflict Wagner’s surprise packages following their stunning rise to top-two contention.
Reacting to yesterday afternoon’s claims by Benitez, a plainly amused Wagner offered a clear sense of perspective by stating that the only feelings of pressure he has felt at Huddersfield were when his side were attempting to steer clear of the Championship relegation zone last Spring.
And offering a contrasting take on suggestions that tonight’s game will represent his side’s most difficult game of the campaign, Wagner countered by saying it would be one of the easiest, with no expectation on his side at all against the title favourites.
Wagner, whose side will be roared on by a record league attendance at the John Smith’s Stadium – which will eclipse the 22,400 who attended the derby with Leeds United last month – said: “The last time I felt pressure was 12 months ago and maybe the players as well. I am not sure when the last time Rafa Benitez was in a club where he played to avoid relegation.
“This is pressure and what we have at the minute is only excitement and it is very enjoyable what we are doing.
“To be fair, it feels like one of the easiest (games). It is against top of the table Newcastle United.
“If you play as Huddersfield Town, altogether we know where we come from and how humble we are; there is only real excitement and no real expectation.
“The expectation I have is that we try our best and that we have an atmosphere which everyone is speaking about after the game.
“We know that we have some quality and hope that we can be a competitor and hopefully we will get the result which we would like to have.
“We are playing against the biggest ‘dog’ in this division. The small Terriers against the ‘big dogs’.
“This excites everybody in this town to show how good we are and that we are able to be a serious contender. This is our aim and hopefully we will be successful.”
Wagner, who serves the second game of a two-match touchline ban, will watch the action unfold from the main stand, but remains confident in the ability of his side and his coaching team to manage the game successfully.
Against a Newcastle side who have proved highly proficient on the road this term – and are seeking to add to earlier victories in Yorkshire at Leeds, Barnsley and Rotherham United, in which they have not even conceded a goal – Wagner believes that his team must perform to a high, error-free standard to give themselves a chance of winning.
Wagner, whose side are eyeing their fourth significant home league victory in a row after previously beating fellow promotion chasers Reading, Leeds and Brighton, said: “We have to be concentrated and have to get all the details right in our game.
“I think everybody knows this. But I think that the atmosphere will help us be focused and concentrated.
“It looks like that it is a tight match where details make the difference. This is why we have to make nearly everything from our details right.
“But the most important thing for me is that we perform and totally stick in our game plan and identity.”
Wagner’s only injury casualty is Kasey Palmer, with influential midfielder Jonathan Hogg in the reckoning to start following his cameo from the bench at Manchester City following a groin injury.
All of the leading lights who were rested in midweek are likely to return to the starting line-up for Town, aiming to post a league double over Newcastle for the first time since 1953-54.
Huddersfield’s home encounter is not the only game of consequence at the top end of the Championship in Yorkshire today, with Sheffield Wednesday hosting play-off chasing Norwich City in another game of key importance.
Victory would see the sixth-placed Owls, who have lost back-to-back matches, move nine points clear of the eighth-placed Canaries.