AMID the euphoria and excitement that has characterised Huddersfield Town’s maiden voyage in the Premier League, there have been some horribly chastening afternoons.
This was one of those. Perhaps the most chastening of the lot, in fact, as an error-ridden display gifted West Ham United a victory so comfortable that it had the relegation alarm bells ringing all around the John Smith’s Stadium.
As news filtered through of precious victories elsewhere for West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace plus a battling point for rejuvenated Swansea City at Newcastle United, the glum faces in the stands told their own story.
Similar expressions had been seen in the away seats at Swansea, Bournemouth and Everton after poor defeats for David Wagner’s men on the road.
This time, though, the worry lines on those Huddersfield faces seemed that little bit more pronounced as the Londoners celebrated only their second away win of the season.
The players, too, cut forlorn figures when traipsing from the field at the final whistle.
Tom Ince was among those whose face betrayed the frustration felt at Town’s winless run being extended to five games. He does believe, however, a sense of perspective is also in order.
“We have to be realistic,” the former England Under-21s international told The Yorkshire Post. “The lads have done ever so well previously to get us here. This is a very small club in a massive, massive league.
“People can’t get carried away with things. We know what we are, where we are and what kind of squad we are. West Ham have (Marko) Arnautovic and (Manuel) Lanzini, they probably cost more than our entire squad.
“By being realistic, though, that doesn’t mean we can’t strive and go into every game believing we can win.
“That is the mentality we have in our dressing room, This was disappointing but we have another fixture coming up next Saturday (at Stoke City) to put it right.
“We have done that all season long. We can’t get to downhearted. I know a lot of the teams below us have been playing against each other.
“But we have some big games here – Swansea at home, (Crystal) Palace at home and Bournemouth at home. Teams in and around us who we feel we can keep behind us. There is a long, long way to go yet. A win at Stoke and West Ham is forgotten about.”
Town, of course, still sit four points clear of the drop zone. They have also never been lower than 16th in the table all season.
By being realistic, though, that doesn’t mean we can’t strive and go into every game believing we can win.Huddersfield’s Tom Ince
Both are notable feats for a team written off by all the pundits before a ball had been kicked. But, many more afternoons like this and Yorkshire’s sole top-flight representative will be in real danger of the drop.
Having started at a glacial pace as the back four contented themselves with passing to each other for much of the early stages, Town rarely looked like the feisty battlers who had beaten Manchester United in the West Riding and given runaway leaders City an almighty scare.
There was little intensity, little quality and, as the mistakes became more and more frequent, little hope of rescuing anything from a game that, before kick-off, had been firmly in the category marked ‘winnable’.
The first costly blunder came in the 25th minute. As Joe Lolley unwisely offered himself for a pass just outside his own penalty area, Jonas Lossl should have looked elsewhere due to both Arnautovic and Mark Noble being in close attendance.
Instead, the Dane rolled the ball to his team-mate, who was soon hustled out of the way. Noble accepted the gift, beating Lossl with a crisp drive.
Lolley’s response was impressive, the midfielder dragging Huddersfield back level with an exquisite finish five minutes before the interval following neat build-up between Aaron Mooy and Tommy Smith.
Any hopes, however, that this could kick-start Huddersfield belatedly into life disappeared within 12 seconds of the restart.
That was how long it took West Ham to restore their lead, as Arnautovic flicked the ball over Smith before firing past Lossl.
This time there was to be no way back for the hosts as Lanzini twice capitalised on further woeful defending inside five minutes around the hour mark.
First, the Argentinian, being played onside by Smith, finished with aplomb after Arnautovic had muscled his way through the Town backline.
Then, after Arnautovic had initially got the better of Christopher Schindler only to be halted by the German close to the penalty spot. Lanzini, ever alert, quickly swooped to beat Lossl.
That was Wagner’s cue to bring on Alex Pritchard and Terence Kongolo for their league debuts. Both must have wondered what had happened to the snappy Terriers that they had both been shown in the brochure when being courted by the West Riding club.
Ince, for his part, believes the two new boys will soon see the real Huddersfield – providing there is no repeat of the basic mistakes that proved so costly against the Hammers.
“We have to be better next week,” said the £7.25m summer arrival from Derby County. “Everyone knows that. We shot ourselves in the foot a few seconds into the second half and from then on we left ourselves too exposed.
“But Stoke is an opportunity for us. They are not in great form and recently lost their manager. We go there to try and win.”