FIRST, a reason for festive cheer at Huddersfield Town.
Despite losing two-thirds of their 18 outings this term the Terriers will not occupy the Premier League’s most perilous position at Christmas. Instead Fulham will tuck into the turkey and trimmings tomorrow propping up the table.
History suggests the London club will not find it easy to recover, just three of the 26 previous sides to have been in such an ignominious position at Christmas having gone on to survive come May.
As Huddersfield prepare for the Boxing Day trip to Manchester United this is at least a positive to which they can cling. That, though, is probably as good as it gets right now for Town following a fifth straight defeat.
Southampton were the latest to get the better of head coach David Wagner’s men in December. Goals from Nathan Redmond and Michael Obafemi either side of Danny Ings’s penalty were enough to clinch a precious victory that lifted Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men five points clear of Town.
What set this loss apart from the others this month, however, was that the Saints barely had to break sweat to prevail in what many had expected to be a keenly-fought relegation encounter.
Where Huddersfield could look back ruefully at a spurned opportunity or questionable refereeing decision in those previous defeats to Brighton, Bournemouth, Newcastle and even Arsenal, this time around there was no such consolation.
Put simply, Town’s display was way, way short of the level required even to be competitive at the top level, never mind harbour serious hopes of surviving.
With Jonathan Hogg having joined Aaron Mooy and Danny Williams on the injured list with a knee problem, the home side struggled horribly in midfield.
Little went right for Juninho Bacuna, while Alex Pritchard occupying a deeper than usual role nullified much of his attacking threat.
It definitely is hard to be positive after a defeat like this. It is hard for everyone, but, if we want to turn it around we need to stay positive.Jonas Lossl
Only Philip Billing, the scorer of the goal that briefly gave Town hope in the second half, put up any serious resistance in the face of the high-pressing game that Hasenhuttl has quickly instilled in his new charges.
Things were not much better elsewhere on the pitch, either, with Steve Mounie looking every inch a striker whose last goal came on April 7.
Isaac Mbenza, deployed as a second forward in an attempt to pep up the Premier League’s most impotent attack, also struggled to underline why January must yield reinforcements if there is to be any hope of Huddersfield getting out of trouble.
Adding to Wagner’s woes at the final whistle was how all three Southampton goals had come courtesy of a basic error from each member of his three-man defence.
First Terence Kongolo got himself in an almighty tangle on 15 minutes when trying to cut out a slide-rule pass from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg intended for Redmond.
The upshot was Town’s record signing tripping over his own feet, allowing Redmond sufficient time and space to beat Jonas Lossl.
Southampton’s second goal three minutes before the interval could be laid at the feet of Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen. Or, to be specific, the Dane’s right boot as he lazily dangled a leg in an attempt to recover his own loose touch.
Ings went down, referee Stuart Attwell rightly pointed to the spot and Ings got back up to send Lossl the wrong way from 12 yards.
The third helping hand offered to Southampton came as Huddersfield were enjoying comfortably their best spell of the match, Billing’s second goal of the season having sparked the hosts into life sufficiently that Alex McCarthy had to display tremendous reflexes to beat away Mbenza’s shot.
Christopher Schindler was this time the Terrier left looking crestfallen after he allowed Redmond to dispossess him where the goalline met the left edge of the penalty area.
Redmond, not requiring a second invitation, jumped to his feet and rolled an inviting pass to Obafemi.
The Saints substitute had spurned an excellent opening moments earlier after being released by Jannik Vestergaard.
This time, though, there was to be no let-off for Huddersfield as 18-year-old Obafemi coolly shot past Lossl to become Southampton’s youngest Premier League goalscorer.
With that historic 71st minute finish went the all-too-brief hope that Huddersfield had been given by a Christmas cracker from Billing that, in the end, proved a mere consolation for a side who goalkeeper Lossl admits are badly in need of a festive lift.
“It is definitely the worst point we have had in the 18 months that I have been here,” the Danish international told The Yorkshire Post with the Terriers only off the bottom on goal difference following Fulham’s draw at St James’ Park.
“This was an important game for us, an opportunity, but we lost this game in the first half. What we must do now is show character, show what we are made of and stand together as a team, and as a club as well.
“I do really think that we can turn this around because we have performed very well this season – and we have the quality in the team.
“It definitely is hard to be positive after a defeat like this. It is hard for everyone, but, if we want to turn it around we need to stay positive.
“I do not want to go down. I want to turn it around – and to do that we need to keep positive.”