NEW YEAR, new start.
Huddersfield Town kick off 2019 tonight with the visit of Burnley knowing that the clock is already ticking on their Premier League status.
Eighteen games may remain this season but the Terriers, with just 10 points and 12 goals to their name, are in grave danger of being cut adrift.
Seven straight defeats in December have inflicted huge damage. Not just in terms of the table, either, with morale looking to have hit rock bottom on Saturday evening in the wake of a dreadfully disappointing defeat to Fulham.
Dean Hoyle, the club’s chairman, chose New Year’s Eve to release a rallying call to supporters and players alike, insisting that Huddersfield will not be allowed to “sleepwalk into relegation”.
The message was timely, as something had to be done to lift sagging spirits after a horrible end to 2018. And no-one in the town carries quite as much respect as Hoyle, a lifelong fan who turned dreams into reality for thousands upon thousands of his fellow supporters.
Hopefully, Hoyle’s words will ensure the atmosphere tonight is every bit as positive as it has been since Town reached the Premier League. If ever a team needed the backing of their supporters then it is the Terriers, as Hoyle made clear in his New Year’s Eve missing. “If we lose that togetherness now, then it’s over,” he said.
It is a sentiment shared by Elias Kachunga, a bit-part player this season but the top scorer in the season that ended in promotion from the Championship.
“Everyone has to fight for this club,” said the 26-year-old.
“Everyone has the chance to play in this league and everyone wants to fight to stay in this league.
“We have to win this game (against Burnley) and have a proper fight against the other teams. Now, we don’t have to speak any more. Just work hard.”
Hoyle’s New Year message rightly backed David Wagner. Murmurings of discontent have been heard in recent weeks as the defeats have piled up.
Some claim Town are too negative, others that the recruitment last summer was poor. Both points may carry merit but they also ignore just what Huddersfield are up against among the elite.
When the Terriers opt for a safety first pass, as happened over and over again at Craven Cottage, it is a reflection of how virtually every team at this level is able to hurt Wagner’s men if offered the slightest chink in their armour. Better players allow teams to do that.
Everyone has to fight for this club. Everyone has the chance to play in this league and everyone wants to fight to stay in this league.Elias Kachunga
Fulham spent £100m last summer and that brings quality, even if turning such a talented squad into a team is proving harder than many expected.
As for last summer’s new faces at the John Smith’s Stadium, only Erik Durm has looked anything like Premier League class. But, again, Town are not operating at the same level as their rivals in the top flight. Adama Diakhaby cost £8m and Ramadan Sobhi £5.7m. Both are sizeable fees by Huddersfield standards but in today’s market they buy little more than potential.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, last Saturday’s matchwinner for Fulham, cost £22m from Newcastle United and the Serb represented only the third highest outlay by the London club in last summer’s window.
Hoyle, in his message to fans, did promise Town would be “active in this window, but not at the financial risk of the club”.
Such an approach is sensible. If Huddersfield are to be relegated, tonight’s opponents offer a blueprint to bounce straight back and an important factor was Burnley going down in healthy, financial shape compared to others who remain marooned in the Championship.
What could give the Terriers a bit of leeway in January is the knowledge that big fees are likely to be recouped for Philip Billing, Terence Kongolo and Aaron Mooy should the worst happen. All three players will be in demand after making their mark in the Premier League.
That, though, is for the future. What matters now is ending this club-record-equalling seven-game losing run by beating Burnley and then doing the same to Cardiff City on January 12.
Jonas Lossl, for one, still believes that Yorkshire’s sole top-flight representative has the fighting spirit to stick around among the elite.
“Fulham was hard to take, with or without the penalty save,” said the Danish international, who looked to have earned Town a point by keeping out Aboubakar Kamara’s spot-kick nine minutes from time.
“It was probably the hardest defeat. Losing like that against that team when we had all the possession and, in general, had a good game is very, very tough.
“But we have to go again. We are professional footballers, every one of us. So, we need to lift ourselves. We want to.
“If we want to have any chance of saving this, then we have to stand up against Burnley. December has been difficult. Not what we hoped for but we have character in this team and we need to show it.
“We have to work hard and make up for those losses.”
Last six games: Huddersfield Town LLLLLL; Burnley LWLLLW.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Last time: Huddersfield Town 0 Burnley 0; December 30, 2017; Premier League.