HEAD COACH David Wagner believes neutral football fans will be backing Huddersfield Town in Monday’s Championship play-off final.
The Terriers will be bidding to end a 45-year absence from the top flight when they take on Reading at Wembley.
Victory would secure not only a place in next season’s Premier League but also an amazing ending to one of the sport’s more unlikely promotion pushes of recent years.
Tipped by the bookmakers to struggle this term, Town have confounded those downbeat expectations to keep pace with the leading pack despite being huge outsiders in a division where money has played an increasing role in deciding final positions.
This underdog status is why Wagner, enjoying his first full season in English football, believes the neutrals will be behind his players against a Royals side attempting to earn their third promotion inside the past decade.
“We are the small dog,” said the 45-year-old German to The Yorkshire Post. “That never changes, even though Huddersfield Town are in the final. I have a feeling that nearly everyone – not just in this town but also in Europe – hopes this fairytale comes to a happy end.
This was another example of us and Reading proving that experience and what happens in the past is irrelevant. It is about the moment and in this moment we both deserve to be in the final.David Wagner
“Only if you are a Reading supporter, maybe not. But everyone else hopes that this will now have a happy ending.”
Should Huddersfield prevail at Wembley, only Bradford City (77 years) and Cardiff City (52) of the clubs promoted in the Premier League era will have waited longer for a return to the top flight.
It is a tantalising prospect and one Wagner admits even he did not think possible until Christmas.
His side have turned into an art form the ability to overcome the odds this season, not least in the semi-finals when Town were dismissed by many pundits following a run-in that had brought six defeats from the final ten games.
“Everyone expected Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday to be in the final,” added the German, appointed by Terriers chairman Dean Hoyle in November, 2015.
“There were a lot of statements before the semi-finals about momentum, form or whatever.
“But this was another example of us and Reading proving that experience and what happens in the past is irrelevant. It is about the moment and in this moment we both deserve to be in the final.
“They did a great job against Fulham, like we did against Sheffield. As we know especially in Huddersfield, the pundits do not always get it right. Now it is Reading v Huddersfield and we are very happy to be there.”
Both teams will go into Monday’s finale to the Football League season with a victory apiece from their two previous meetings this season.
In October, Reading triumphed 1-0 at the Madejski on an afternoon when Rajiv van La Parra was dismissed after 26 minutes for collecting two yellow cards in quick succession, the first after a foul and the second for dissent.
Van la Parra was also heavily involved in the return, missing a penalty only for his blushes to be spared by a late winner from Philip Billing.
“I think it will be a close game,” said Wagner about the Wembley meeting. “Both semi-finals were very tight and I don’t think this will be any different at Wembley.
“Both our games against Reading were good games. The results, 1-0 for Reading one time and for us in the other, was maybe not right, it could have been 3-2 or 2-2.
“There will be no secrets between us and Reading. We know everything there is to know about Reading. Sometimes they change their formation from 4-3-3 to 3-5-2, but we will be prepared.”
Town recently spent a few days in Portugal, Wagner whisking his players away for a training camp the morning after booking their place in the final with a penalty shoot-out triumph against Sheffield Wednesday.
Wagner also invited the players’ families along and he believes those four days on the Algarve will ensure Town are in the right frame of mind come 3pm on Monday.
“It was a very good experience when we took the whole group, including families, to a camp that allowed us to train in the morning and afternoon, but also spend time together,” he added.
“There is a great togetherness in this whole group and they spent all the time together even when they could be separate.
“Once we were back, we could really feel the excitement in the town. This will develop and will not drop. Maybe if we had spent too long here that excitement may have dropped at the end.”