WHEN Huddersfield Town embarked on their maiden Premier League voyage in August, there was a distinct lack of top-flight know-how among David Wagner’s crew.
Only Tom Ince of the 14 players who featured in the opening day win at Crystal Palace had previously enjoyed a taste of what life is like among English football’s elite.
Few, if any, promoted teams have started out with so little first-hand experience of just how choppy the waters of the Premier League can get.
Back-to-back victories over Palace and Newcastle United quickly silenced those pundits who had seized upon this glaring deficiency as proof that the Terriers would be relegated even before a ball had been kicked in anger.
Two months on, however, and those plain sailing days of August are becoming a distant memory.
Defeat to a distinctly average Swansea City and a continuation of Huddersfield’s goalscoring woes means the reality of just how tough navigating a passage to safety is going to be this term has well and truly hit home.
Town, it should be said, are far from sinking fast. David Wagner’s men still occupy a position in the table that, come the season’s end, would warrant the champagne corks popping all around the John Smith’s Stadium.
But, following this loss just a couple of miles from Swansea Bay and a coastal path that leads to the rather wonderful fishing village of Mumbles, there is a fear that Huddersfield’s inaugural Premier League expedition is being blown off course.
Manchester United and Liverpool laying in wait before the end of the month is only adding to the sense of unease. Time, therefore, for a sense of perspective from the one Terrier who started the campaign with first hand experience of the top flight.
“This kind of run can happen,” said Tom Ince, who spent a couple of seasons in the top flight with Hull City and Crystal Palace, as Huddersfield’s wait for a win was extended to two months.
“We are not a side who have been in the Premier League for years and years. This is our first run at it and we knew it would be tough at times. But there is a full belief in the dressing room that we can pick up points. We showed that in the first six games.
“Swansea was a game we knew we were capable of getting a result. Unfortunately, silly mistakes and silly errors cost us but there are still 30 games to go.
“People from the outside have put us down already and that is fine. A lot of other teams have struggled at times in a season but we can soon get back to doing what we do best.”
Just one goal in seven league and Cup outings, four of which have been lost, screams louder than any ship’s foghorn as to what is undermining Huddersfield right now. Solving that problem, however, is proving rather difficult.
Town are creating chances, just not enough of them. And when those precious few opportunities do come along, no-one in Wagner’s side seems capable of capitalising.
Swansea was merely the latest instance of this costly inability to punish teams coming back to haunt the Yorkshire club, as one glaring opportunity was squandered by Ince and another couple of promising situations went awry due to either poor decision making or execution.
Ince’s big moment came when the game was goalless and 26 minutes had been played. The Terriers had weathered an early storm of pressure that included Jonas Lossl denying Tammy Abraham with a smart save and, by now, there was little between two sides who seemed well matched.
Rajiv van La Parra created the opening with some smart wing play on the left before whipping in a cross that evaded Laurent Depoitre but found Ince perfectly.
The finish wasn’t easy, as Ince had to take it on the half-volley. But, from six yards out, he simply had to do better than fire wildly over with the goal at his mercy.
If, however, Ince was culpable in that instance then there was plenty of sympathy for the Town man just five minutes later when Lossl’s raking pass set him clear only to be brought down by Martin Olsson right on the edge of the area.
“It was a red card,” was Ince’s emphatic post-match verdict but referee Paul Tierney, 35 yards behind play due to the speed of Huddersfield’s attack, disagreed and waved play on.
Ince added: “The referee said it was a side-to-side tackle but, funnily enough, he didn’t even win the ball and took me out completely.
“I don’t understand why I would go down in that situation. It was on my left foot, going into the box and one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
“For me, that is a very poor decision and a game-changing one.”
If that was galling for Ince and the 2,000 fans who made the long trip to south Wales, it was nothing compared to the mess that was Swansea’s opener as a dreadful howler by Lossl presented possession to Tom Carroll.
A quick dart into the area and pass later, Abraham was breaking the deadlock with a shot past Lossl. Abraham then doubled Swansea’s advantage three minutes into the second half with a close range finish after Jordan Ayew had dinked the ball over Town’s goalkeeper.
Huddersfield did threaten after that, most notably when van la Parra’s deflected shot clipped the bar. But Swansea held on to leave Town with work to do to get their intended path towards Premier League safety back on course.