Huddersfield Town proving they can prosper in the Premier League

Burnley players appeal for a penalty after Burnley's Jeff Hendrick (centre) is brought down in the area during the Premier League match at John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield. (Picture: PA)
Burnley players appeal for a penalty after Burnley's Jeff Hendrick (centre) is brought down in the area during the Premier League match at John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield. (Picture: PA)
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THE year 2017 will remain ingrained on the minds of Huddersfield Town supporters for ever more.

Christopher Schindler’s promotion-clinching penalty at Wembley stands out as the iconic memory of what was a quite remarkable 12 months.

But there were plenty of other highs to savour along the way, from the stunning victory over Manchester United through to Danny Ward’s decisive penalty save from Fernando Forestieri at Hillsborough and even the celebrations by David Wagner that so incensed Garry Monk following February’s dramatic late derby win over Leeds United.

What is unlikely to make a poll of even the year’s top 50 favourite moments for Town fans, however, is the goalless draw at home to Burnley that brought the curtain down on 2017.

Maybe, though, it should feature, as if anything typified the spirit and resolve that has taken the Terriers to unparalleled heights under Wagner then it was this battling point against the Clarets.

Town were second best throughout this battle of two old Roses foes. Yet, despite Huddersfield looking more jaded than a reveller who had been out every night over the Christmas holiday period, Yorkshire’s sole top flight representative dug deep for 90 minutes and came up with another unlikely result against all the odds.

Burnley's Nahki Wells (second left) has a shot on goal saved by Huddersfield Town goalkeeper Jonas Lossl (right)

Burnley's Nahki Wells (second left) has a shot on goal saved by Huddersfield Town goalkeeper Jonas Lossl (right)

Such spirit is why the New Year dawned with Huddersfield sitting 11th in the table and handily placed to push on to secure Premier League survival.

“It has been a whirlwind 2017,” said Joe Lolley, the substitute who seemed the one player in blue and white capable of causing problems for the Burnley defence.

“Or 18 months, really. To go from the position we were in to where we are now, with sell-out crowds in the Premier League and us competing week in and week out with all these clubs, is incredible.”

That Huddersfield, dismissed by every pundit in the land as little more than relegation fodder last summer, ended 2017 six points clear of the bottom three is astonishing.

It has been a whirlwind 2017. Or 18 months, really. To go from the position we were in to where we are now, with sell-out crowds in the Premier League and us competing week in and week out with all these clubs, is incredible.

Joe Lolley

Equally unexpected for those who consider themselves to be in the know is Burnley being the side most likely to break the Big Six’s stranglehold on the European places.

Against Huddersfield, however, it was easy to see why Sean Dyche’s well-drilled outfit have prospered this term. Every man in claret and blue knows his job down to the finest detail. Add in a terrific work ethic, plus the attacking flair of talented players such as Johann Berg Gudmundsson, and Burnley look the real deal.

All that was missing against Town, in fact, was the trait that separates the good from the great at the very top level. Namely, an ability to ruthlessly finish teams off when on top.

Had Burnley possessed such a quality then this contest would have been over by half-time. Instead, Gudmundsson and Steven Defour rolled efforts just wide when well placed, Kevin Long headed straight at Jonas Lossl from point blank range and then Scott Arfield somehow missed the target with another close range effort.

Such profligacy is why Huddersfield were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief when Paul Tierney blew the half-time whistle with the scores still level.

Similar emotions met the referee’s decision to wave play-on when Jeff Hendrick went down over Lossl’s out-stretched leg in the penalty area just after the hour.

“I spoke with Jonas and he said there was contact,” admitted Wagner. “It looks like we were lucky in this situation.”

Earlier in the second half, Lossl had used more conventional means to keep out Arfield after an out-of-sorts Tom Ince had been caught in possession upfield.

The Danish international was also in the right place at the right time late on to deny Nahki Wells, making only his second appearance for the Clarets since his £5m move from Huddersfield towards the end of the summer window.

The best Wells’s former club could muster in attack was an early shot from Collin Quaner that Nick Pope helped over the crossbar.

Still, come the final whistle, Huddersfield were able to reflect on holding seventh placed Burnley to a goalless draw for the second time this season. It should act as a decent pick-me-up for tired legs ahead of today’s meeting with Leicester City, the 2016 champions.

Facing Leicester just 48 hours after tackling the biggest surprise package of this season’s top flight offers a tantalising glimpse as to just how far Huddersfield can go if the upwards trajectory of 2017 can be maintained.

Lolley, however, refuses to entertain such thoughts. Instead, the level-headed 25-year-old, playing non-League football with Kidderminster Harriers just four years ago, insists nothing has changed from last August in terms of what is driving Town forward.

“As a club, first and foremost we have to stay in the Premier League,” he said. “That is the big target.

“Of course, Burnley have done fantastically well. Leicester also won the Premier League and are a very good side. These two show what can be achieved so, again, Monday will be a good test.

“But, for now, all we need to concentrate on is getting the points we need to stay up. That is why it was so pleasing to get a point in difficult, windy conditions against a Burnley side who are tough to play against.”