HUDDERSFIELD TOWN have scaled some steep footballing heights under the inspired watch of head coach David Wagner.
Restoring the club to the top flight for the first time in 45 years and then joyously securing Town’s Premier League status represent the two most spectacular missions to date and there has even been time for a brief, but luxurious, spell in the sun as the joint-best team in the land.
That arrived amid a golden August when Town were co-leaders after two games last term, from which they accrued six points and they even briefly held top spot on their own after their third game with Southampton.
Should Wagner’s side top the table after their opening two Premier League fixtures of the 2018-19 season – which see them host Chelsea, league winners in 2016-17, and travel to current champions Manchester City – then even their stellar early heroics of last season will be eclipsed.
Should they need inspiration it is not hard to find. Written off by many ahead of May trips to City and Chelsea during their parlous safety quest last term, Town provided a wonderful riposte. The obituaries were binned.
In a campaign that palpably lacked late-season drama here was the most dramatic top-flight story. It would be another bewitching tale if Town were sat top of the pile after facing Chelsea and City again.
For all that wonderment those in the corridors of power remain realists. Asked what is Town’s aim, chairman Dean Hoyle said: “To secure our Premier League retention before the second to last game of the season.”
Marquee games against the likes of City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal may have been the ones that most Town fans gravitated towards when the fixtures were unveiled yesterday.
Hoyle, in an admirably grounded response, suggested otherwise. On what caught his eye he instantly quipped: “Probably the international breaks. It gives me a rest, to be fair.”
This was the chairman in Hoyle as opposed to the fan. But with both hats on his excitement ahead of Town’s second campaign back in the top flight is clear, as is his resolve as his club eye a third successive campaign of league football at the top level for the first time since 1955-56.
Hoyle said: “To see Chelsea in the first home game is a wonderful occasion and then Man City away. Man United on the last game of the season at home is also a wonderful occasion. As is welcoming Wolves, and Neil Warnock, too, as a Premier League manager.
“It does not matter when you play these teams it is always going to be a challenge. Hopefully we are wiser for last season and I believe we are. Hopefully we can take another forward step, as hard as it will be.
“Everything about the Premier League is great, it is the biggest league in the world.
“You look at the fixtures and it gives you a bit of a tingle down your spine. There is so much which is mouthwatering to look forward to.”
As with last season, Town’s fixture itinerary is prominent for some daunting double-headers against the heavyweights, but also segments of games against perceived rivals that are likely ultimately to prove definitive.
As much as the club’s opening two games and back-to-back late season fixtures at Liverpool and at home to Manchester United are striking, the discerning eye is drawn to a run of late autumn, late winter and early Spring matches against sides expected to be in Town’s vicinity.
Whereas Town largely avoided the division’s big hitters in the opening two months of 2017-18 it is different this time around.
The only top side who Town faced early last term were Spurs. Before the end of this September they will have played Chelsea, Manchester City and Spurs.
Factor in trips to Everton and Leicester and it constitutes a much more arduous start.
But if ever a side revelled in defying the odds it is Wagner’s ‘underdogs’, who find out on July 6 if any of their games in August or September will be switched due to TV coverage.
It remains to be seen if Antonio Conte is the one striding out into the away dugout with Chelsea at Huddersfield on the opening weekend, but one new face definitely in situ in London is new Arsenal manager Unai Emery, who starts his Gunners reign with a mouth-watering home opener against Manchester City.
Spurs’ first home game will be against Fulham at Wembley on August 18, with their first match at their new stadium, on the site of White Hart Lane, against Liverpool on September 15.
Town have to wait until April 13 to tick off a visit to Spurs at their new home. They have not visited White Hart Lane for a league fixture since August 1971.