IT IS a statistic that just will not go away, no matter how hard Tom Ince tries.
Since the opening weeks of the season the 25-year-old has carried the unwanted mantle of being the Premier League’s most profligate finisher.
No fewer than 38 efforts on goal have come and gone without the Huddersfield Town man finding the net, comfortably the highest tally of anyone in the top flight.
Ince is the first to admit this inability to break his scoring duck is a source of frustration.
But, after Brighton & Hove Albion had been beaten by a Steve Mounie double, the former Hull City winger is adamant the weekend’s only statistic with true meaning was the precious three points that the Terriers had added to their tally.
“It was a big win for us,” said Ince, who finished pre-season as the club’s top scorer with four goals.
“At this level you have to have good home form to give yourself a chance of achieving anything.
“We hadn’t been on the best run (recently), but this is the Premier League. It is not like the Championship last year where this team was capable of going into every game and dominating.
“You are not going to get that in the Premier League. There are going to be spells where you are going to lose three on the bounce and that is when you have to be strong as a team to bounce back.
“So there is no better feeling than to play in front of these fans and get the win.”
Ince’s scoring travails are not for the want of trying, as underlined in the win over Brighton by him having no fewer than six opportunities to put a deposit in his scoring account.
Seagulls goalkeeper Mathew Ryan kept out three of those, most notably just before the hour when a point-blank save left the Terriers midfielder scratching his head in bemusement as to how the ball had stayed out.
There was also a shot that Ince dragged wide, another he fired narrowly over from an acute angle and a fiercely-struck effort that found a yellow shirt rather than the net.
“It is obviously frustrating,” added the £7.25m summer signing from Derby County.
“I got double figures each year before I came here.
“On an individual basis you want to add goals to your game. I am still getting myself in situations and that gives me hope that one will fall in the net.
“I am hoping once the first goes in, whether it is off my ear or my bum, there will be a flurry. I will take any sort of deflection at the minute.
“That said, it is about winning games for this team and if I can perform and score goals or not score goals and we win it is not a problem. I will keep working and keep believing in my ability to score goals.”
On an afternoon when temperatures had plunged to teeth-chattering levels, Town fans must have been glad the visit of Brighton had been declared a ‘Scarf Day’.
“Bring ’em and swing ’em,” had been the gist of the club’s pre-match urgings, but this was very much a day for wrapping said blue and white garments round the neck to keep out the cold.
On the pitch, however, it was very much a different story with Wagner’s men ignoring the cold by rolling up their sleeves and setting about the visitors.
No one epitomised such a gritty approach more than Jonathan Hogg. There were plenty of heroes among the home ranks, not least Mounie after the record signing shattered his own goalscoring drought with a first-half double that, ultimately, claimed the three precious points.
But Hogg was outstanding, his ability to pop up amid a sea of yellow shirts and wrestle back possession a recurring theme of the afternoon.
His use of the ball was pretty much faultless, too, as the Middlesbrough-born midfielder ensured that even Aaron Mooy and Christopher Schindler, Town’s most reliable performers on a weekly basis, were outshone.
Not that this should be taken as a slight against either man, as both had a major role in each of Huddersfield’s two goals.
First, Schindler met Chris Lowe’s in-swinging corner on 12 minutes with the sort of near-post flick-on that gives defenders nightmares.
A fortnight earlier an identical header had led to Nicolas Otamendi putting through his own goal for Manchester City. This time Mounie was the grateful recipient as the Benin striker bundled the ball over the line with his knee.
Mooy’s big moment then arrived two minutes before the interval. Collecting a weak punch by Ryan wide on the left, the Australian embarrassed Lewis Dunk, being watched by England manager Gareth Southgate, with a delightful turn that provided sufficient space to whip in a dangerous cross that was met by Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen.
His header back across the penalty area found Mounie, whose effort squirmed under Ryan on the line.
The Australian’s part in the two goals – he was also rooted to the spot for the opener – begged the question as to why Brighton had allowed Leeds-born David Stockdale to leave the Amex during the summer after being unable to agree terms on a new contract.
After the break, however, Ryan made amends with a string of fine saves as the visitors’ goal came under siege.
Ince was far from the only Town man left cursing Ryan with the excellent Elias Kachunga also denied, but those three points certainly eased any sense of frustration.