An exchange between the two sets of fans was a reminder that Huddersfield Town and Leeds United’s glory days are in the dim and distant past.
The Terriers fans launched a stone from their glass house by reminding Leeds they had won nothing significant for 20 years.
This is the return of the West Yorkshire derby. I’ve no idea why it’s not taken place for the last couple of years.Huddersfield’s cheeky PA announcer before kick-off
If they erred slightly on the generous side, their guests did not: “100 years and you’ve won f*** all.” The three stars on Huddersfield’s badge were earned in the 1920s, but we got the point.
Saturday’s West Yorkshire derby offered hope of a more promising future, but a 2-0 win made Leeds’ seem more immediate.
Injury-ravaged Huddersfield had Steve Mounie, Demeaco Duhaney and Championship full debutant Josh Koroma making first starts this season. Their substitutes had one appearance between them for the club, in the League Cup.
So to give Leeds a testing workout was hugely encouraging for Danny Cowley as he looks to rebuild on deep foundations after a relegation and a start to this season which threatened another. But the way the Whites came through it after not inconsiderable problems themselves suggest they are getting things right now. They know only too well, though, it is the Spring that matters most.
“We cannot judge the team in this moment because the key is consistency and we need more time to test this,” said United coach Marcelo Bielsa. “A team can be consistent for 70 per cent of the season but if you lose the consistency in the last part it is not enough.”
With six Yorkshire clubs in the Championship, derbies are ten a penny this season – Leeds have another tomorrow against Hull City – but the Terriers made this feel genuine.
“This is the return of the West Yorkshire derby. I’ve no idea why it’s not taken place for the last couple of years,” said the cheeky PA announcer before kick-off. At full-time he offered his sincere hope that the clubs meet again next season – only guaranteed if Huddersfield escape relegation and Leeds fluff another promotion challenge.
When the football came out, their players were even more hostile.
They changed formation and tactics to be more stereotypically British, even if Benin’s Mounie was the focus of their aerial bombardment. With Karlan Grant, Josh Koroma and Elias Kachumba around him, at times it was almost a 4-2-4 which turned Leeds’ wing-backs into full-backs.
“We looked at Leeds and of the ten goals they’ve conceded, six were from corners, so we knew that the way for us to play against a team that are very man-orientated and press really aggressively and up at you was to go over the press,” explained Cowley. “It’s been different from how we have been playing, so congratulations to them for the way we adapted.”
There were dark arts aplenty, with the tackling matching the frenetic atmosphere. Ezgjan Alioski appeared to get away with an off-the-ball slap on Kachumba and Patrick Bamford angrily gestured to say he had been stamped on by Jon Gerec Stankovic. Players on both sides went down clutching their heads after contact elsewhere. It was not a game for the faint-hearted.
Leeds had injuries and a debutant – second-half substitute Oliver Casey – too and while their casualty list was shorter, it was arguably more disruptive.
They spent the week working on how Ben White would fill in for Kalvin Phillips as the holding midfielder but a late calf injury to captain Liam Cooper left White as the club’s only specialist centre-back, so he dropped into the heart of defence, and Leeds were left without an anchorman.
It left a vacuum White and Luke Ayling tried at times to step into, but Huddersfield made hay there. It did have a silver lining, with defender Casey not only promoted into the 18, but even making it onto the pitch when Leeds had a 2-0 lead to preserve.
That seemed way off in a first half the Terriers bossed, although even then Leeds hit the post with a low drive from Mateusz Klich.
Juninho Bacuna added beauty to Town’s brawn, and from his floated, curling free-kick Mounie forced the save of the match, Kiko Casilla tipping over the bar in the 20th minute.
When Casilla raced to the edge of his area and could only divert the ball to Grant before colliding with Mounie, Ayling did brilliantly to glance the shot to safety.
A scoreless half was a wasted opportunity for Huddersfield.
All Alioski needed was for Mounie’s clearance at a 51st minute corner to come his way to volley his side in front. The energy sapped out of Huddersfield and Cowley had little behind him to recharge it. Leeds who started to dominate midfield, Klich and Pablo Hernandez running off their men on the counter-attack.
Even though Casilla had to make an excellent save from Koroma’s header, it felt like the next goal would come from a Leeds player, Kamil Grabara having brilliantly kept out Bamford’s header from Jack Harrison’s cross.
If Leeds’ first goal was one of individual brilliance, their second was a real collective effort, a sweeping move ending with another Harrison cross which Hernandez stooped to head in.
During the 10 remaining minutes, Huddersfield went extremely close with two very good chances – Grant heading wide a free-kick and substitute Matty Daly fractionally off target on the turn. Mounie’s last act was just failing to stretch to a cross.
By then, though, they had mentally and physically been beaten into submission. Now they have a ruthless edge up front, Leeds can do that. For them it is about staying at those levels, for Huddersfield it is about reaching them.