As Huddersfield Town today eye a possible first appearance in the FA Cup quarter-finals for 45 years, head coach David Wagner admits the push for promotion remains the club’s number one target this season.
The Terriers host Manchester City in front of what will be their largest attendance since moving to the John Smith’s Stadium in 1994.
All tickets were sold within hours of going on general sale earlier this week to underline the sense of excitement generated by the visit of Pep Guardiola’s expensively-assembled side.
Wagner is adamant Town want to cause a major upset but, when asked where his priorities lay this season in terms of the Cup or the Championship, the German was unequivocal.
“Promotion,” said the Huddersfield head coach. “The reason I say promotion is that you work a whole year towards this and the Cup is just eight games.
“The FA Cup is great, but this is why it (the league) feels bigger for me as a manager, we want to get rewarded for months of work and get something out of it.”
Huddersfield’s rise under Wagner has been arguably the story of the season in the Football League.
He has transformed a club that had seemed locked in a perennial fight for Championship survival into a side with genuine aspirations of returning to the top flight.
Town sit just four points off the automatic promotion places, Wagner having brought about this remarkable upturn in fortunes despite spending a fraction of the money lavished by most of Town’s peers in the transfer market with even the purchase of record signing Christopher Schindler for £1.8m last summer being financed almost in full by selling Joel Lynch to QPR.
Today, the gulf Huddersfield must bridge will be even wider with the two Cup combatants operating in different footballing stratospheres. One still fits the traditional ownership model of local businessman made good who then buys his beloved club, whereas the other has been bank-rolled since 2008 by a multi-billionaire member of the Abu Dhabi royal family. This explains why Huddersfield’s £13m wage bill is dwarfed by the £225m that City shell out per annum.
“We are not comparable with Manchester City,” admitted Wagner. “I don’t know how many steps and levels are between us, but I think this is why everyone loves the Cup. You get a chance to meet an opponent usually you can only play in a friendly.
“Now, we meet in the oldest football competition in the world. We will do our best, and, in the Cup, everything is possible – that is what we say in Germany. But if we are to be successful then we need the fans to be our 12th man.”
Town’s highest crowd since leaving Leeds Road is the 23,678 who watched Liverpool’s 2-0 third-round FA Cup triumph in 1999. That will be eclipsed today, when the stadium’s record crowd of 24,126 – set by the 2003 rugby league international between Great Britain and Australia – is also under threat.
Victory over City would mean a first appearance for Town in the last eight of the Cup since losing 3-1 at Birmingham City in March, 1972. It would also represent a step towards not only a Wembley semi-final but also a potential fixture clash made possible by the scheduling of the final for Saturday, May 27.
Just two days later, the Championship play-off final takes place at Wembley – meaning Town could, in theory, face two of the biggest games in their long history inside fewer than 48 hours.
Asked by The Yorkshire Post about such a ridiculously tight schedule and whether it would be easier just to go out of the Cup against City, Wagner initially laughed before adding: “At the minute, I don’t have to think about this. But I will invite you for a beer later to discuss it.”
Wagner will be back in the home dugout today for the first time since the altercation with Garry Monk towards the end of the derby with Leeds United that left both head coaches facing misconduct charges.
The Football Association are yet to set a date for a hearing where Wagner and Monk – plus the two clubs, who were both charged with failing to control their players – can state their respective cases.
With a possible touchline ban hanging over Wagner, therefore, the big question is whether a late Town winner today will see him invade the pitch to celebrate with his players a la victory over Leeds.
“No I won’t,” smiled Wagner. “Never again. Hopefully, I have learned my lesson.”
Big-match preview: Page 3.