THE chill being felt by those Huddersfield Town fans who had made the trip to the Potteries could not be put solely down to the wintry weather.
Sure, Stoke City’s home for a little over two decades once again lived up to its reputation as a stadium where no amount of extra layers are enough to keep out the cold.
But despite the ever-present threat of frostbite caused by the exposed location of what the locals quickly dubbed the ‘Chilly House on the Hill’ following the move from the old Victoria Ground, the biggest concern for the 3,156 travelling Terriers at the final whistle was the growing threat of relegation.
Three straight defeats and six games without a win mean Huddersfield look every inch a club on the slide right now.
Toothless in attack and timid in midfield, Town were as obliging an opponent as new Stoke manager Paul Lambert could have wished to face on his return to the Premier League after almost three years away.
Only the reflexes of Jonas Lossl in goal and the sheer refusal of central defensive duo Christopher Schindler and Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen to buckle prevented the margin of defeat being much larger.
As it was, second-half goals from Joe Allen, the game’s standout performer, and Mame Diouf were enough to lift Stoke out of the bottom three and leave Huddersfield’s season at a crossroads.
The club’s next two league outings are as tough as they come, free-scoring Liverpool due at the John Smith’s Stadium a week tomorrow before David Wagner takes his side to Manchester United on February 3.
On current form, anything but two more defeats would be a major surprise – meaning, for the first time this season Town seem set to fall below the point-per-game par score that is usually enough to survive in the top flight.
A time, therefore, to rediscover the mentality that allowed Wagner’s self-styled ‘small dogs’ to prosper when tackling much bigger beasts.
There is no reason why our confidence should drop. We are in the fight to survive. Nothing has really changed so far.Huddersfield Town boss, David Wagner
“Since the start of the season we have known our aim is to survive,” said Wagner. “This means (the threat of) relegation is always in and around us.
“Even if some other people in England thought different we didn’t and this is why we can handle this situation as relaxed as is necessary.
“There is no reason why our confidence should drop. We are in the fight to survive. Nothing has really changed so far.
“This is a situation we didn’t want, but it is nothing that has surprised us. So, we will have to stay cool, try to recover, be focused on ourselves and know exactly how humble we have to be if we want to collect further points.”
Before tackling Liverpool, Town have an FA Cup fourth-round tie at home to Birmingham City.
Wagner could do a lot worse than give most of those involved against Stoke the weekend off in the hope it can re-charge a few batteries that looked to be running on empty.
Aaron Mooy, in particular, was a pale shadow of the player who has been Huddersfield’s talisman for much of the past 18 months.
The game largely passed the Australian by, his efforts perhaps best summed up by the miscued crossfield pass that led directly to Stoke’s second goal.
Not only was the execution way below Mooy’s usual high standard, but it also smacked of someone trying that little bit too hard to make amends for what he knew had been a poor afternoon.
He was far from alone in that respect. Little went right, either, for the attacking midfield trio of Tom Ince, Alex Pritchard and Rajiv van la Parra against a home side whose intensity and purpose had put the visitors on the back foot from the opening exchanges.
By the hour-mark, Ince and Pritchard had been withdrawn as Wagner attempted, in vain, to inject some life into a side that had just fallen behind.
Joe Allen made the breakthrough eight minutes into the second half, his neat finish rounding off a flowing move that saw Charlie Adam and Maxim Choupo-Moting cut Huddersfield apart.
Stoke doubled their advantage 11 minutes from time, Choupo-Moting again heavily involved after cutting out Mooy’s sloppy attempt to spread play to the Town right flank. The Cameroon international, once in possession a couple of yards inside the visitors’ half, quickly looked up and rolled a pass to Xherdan Shaqiri. Quick as a flash, he flicked the ball to Diouf, who coolly finished past Lossl.
In between the two goals, Lossl had saved well from Diouf and Shaqiri so Huddersfield could have few complaints at slipping to a 12th Premier League defeat of the season.
Not least because it took until just three minutes remained for their first shot on target.
Even then, Steve Mounie, who cut an isolated figure up front with little or no support from the midfield, could only shoot tamely at Jack Butland.
“It was a disappointing and frustrating afternoon,” added Wagner.
“We know that if we are to get something in the Premier League, we have to over-perform and this wasn’t the case against Stoke. We only performed at an average level and this is not good enough against a top team.
“We have a Cup game first and then we will think about the next two league matches, which are against Liverpool and United.
“Those next two games are very difficult, but we will try everything to maybe steal some points.”