THE sight of a motionless Christopher Schindler staring into space on the halfway line for a full two minutes after Huddersfield Town’s defeat in this Premier League basement battle brought to mind an altogether happier occasion for the German defender.
Wembley and the 2017 Championship play-off final was the last time a Terriers game had ended in such contrasting scenes of despair and jubilation.
Then Schindler and his Huddersfield team-mates had partied with as much vigour as their exhausted bodies would allow after seeing off Reading on penalties to clinch promotion to the top flight.
This time around it was Fulham doing the celebrating as manager Claudio Ranieri ran onto the field and made straight for goalscorer Aleksandar Mitrovic.
All around the Italian his players embraced as the home fans in the 24,423 crowd rose as one to salute their team.
The sheer relief of getting over the line was clear for all to see, as was the utter sense of dejection being felt by those sporting red and black.
Laurent Depoitre, lost in the moment every bit as much as Schindler, also stared back at the Hammersmith End goal where Mitrovic had scored in the first minute of stoppage-time to settle a game that had only sparked into life during the final quarter.
Thirty yards away Erik Durm fell to the turf and had to be dragged to his feet by a member of the Town staff. Ditto Elias Kachunga, like Schindler a veteran of that glorious day at Wembley and now experiencing a very different side of football.
They knew, as did the 2,700 visiting supporters standing in stunned silence next to the Thames, that this defeat was so much more than the loss of three points to a rival in the final game of the year.
Instead it felt like the end. Not the beginning of the end for Town in the Premier League, but the end.
Everyone has to show the passion that got us up and also last season kept us in this league. There is still a chance. Nothing is done after this game.Huddersfield Town’s Elias Kachunga
It is not, of course. Huddersfield are back in action on Wednesday at home to Burnley, the first of 18 remaining games this season. Victory over the Clarets and hope will return to a club who have achieved a footballing miracle in each of the last two campaigns.
But really this defeat to a poor Fulham side feels like a defining moment for Town in 2018-19.
Not for the first time a big opportunity against a relegation rival had been squandered and the sullen looks on the faces of the players when filing out of Craven Cottage an hour or so later ahead of the flight home spoke volumes.
Lifting those same players in time for the visit of Sean Dyche’s men will not be easy, but Kachunga is adamant Town can bounce back.
“To be left with nothing in our hands was hard,” said the 26-year-old to The Yorkshire Post. “We are really disappointed. This was a really important game for both teams, a chance against a team in front of us.
“We lost and that is not an easy situation. Not only for me, but the club because we are not getting the results we want.
“But now everyone has to go home, try to clear our heads and try to go on. The next game is in a few days and we have to try everything to turn the points back in our direction.
“Every single person in this club has to still believe in each other – and do everything for each other to give us a chance to stay in this league.
“Everyone has to show the passion that got us up and also last season kept us in this league. There is still a chance. Nothing is done after this game.”
Town’s despair at the final whistle was accentuated by the major reprieve they had been handed 10 minutes before Mitrovic struck with the winner.
Chris Lowe’s reflex action to raise his arm when challenging Aboubakar Kamara meant referee Kevin Friend had no option but to point to the spot when the ball struck the Town left-back.
What then followed was high farce as Kamara tucked the ball under his arm and waved away the appeals of Mitrovic, Fulham’s designated penalty taker, to hand it over.
Captain Tom Cairney and Calum Chambers then became involved in the heated discussions, pleading with the French attacker. Kamara, however, won the argument, but then missed the kick as Jonas Lossl pulled off a fine save.
“I wanted to kill him,” said Ranieri afterwards and the next few minutes saw sections of the home support jeer Kamara’s every touch.
This discontent, together with the visible impact the penalty row had made on the home players, gave Huddersfield sufficient hope to believe a late winner could be theirs that they went away from a game plan designed to contain and frustrate.
Bodies poured forward and this proved Town’s undoing shortly after the fourth official had indicated there would be a minimum five minutes of stoppage-time.
Durm receiving the ball in a promising position was the cue for the Terriers to pour forward, meaning when his cross failed to find Depoitre, and Philip Billing subsequently slipped, Fulham suddenly had a break on.
Cairney found Ryan Sessegnon, who looked up before threading a defence-splitting pass for Mitrovic to chase.
Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen tried to block the path to goal, but the Serb was too strong and he finished coolly past Lossl. Cue those contrasting post-match scenes as Town slipped ever deeper into the mire.