ANOTHER week and another opportunity to take a giant stride towards Premier League safety spurned by Huddersfield Town.
Or, for those whose glass is half-full rather than half-empty, another week closer to avoiding the drop after the Terriers’ rivals once again all failed to capitalise on this latest setback for David Wagner’s men.
Either way, what simply will not go away is a daunting final week of the season that looks increasingly like deciding the fate of Yorkshire’s sole top-flight representative.
When the fixtures were published last June, there was a collective intake of breath around Huddersfield when their club was handed a trip to Manchester City on the penultimate weekend and a home assignment against Arsenal to bring the curtain down on the club’s first campaign back among the elite for 45 years.
This was before Pep Guardiola’s men had started sweeping all before them in such a devastating manner that 15 league games at the Etihad this term have yielded a phenomenal 43 points and 51 goals.
Now, though, it seems Town’s finale is about to become even tougher with a visit to Chelsea, postponed due to the Londoners’ involvement in the FA Cup semi-finals later this month, set to be dropped into the mix.
Even allowing for the possibility Arsenal may be distracted by the Europa League final in Lyon three days later, it has the potential to be the run-in from hell for any side battling against the drop.
Hence why even those who can find positives in yet another away defeat when Huddersfield rarely troubled the opposition goalkeeper recognise the need to accrue the points required to guarantee safety long before embarking on that tough final trio of fixtures.
“We have known all season we have the difficult teams at the end,” Jonas Lossl, one of two ever-presents in the league for Town this term, told The Yorkshire Post. “Okay, we all would like to reach our target as soon as possible.
“But you cannot plan in football. That is how it is in the Premier League. We have six games left and everything is still in play.”
You cannot plan in football. That is how it is in the Premier League. We have six games left and everything is still in play.Huddersfield Town’s Jonas Lossl.
That, of course, is true. But with those likely final three games – Chelsea expect to confirm the new date for Town’s visit in the coming days – looming larger with each passing week, there is now huge pressure on Saturday’s visit to Brighton & Hove Albion, followed by back-to-back home fixtures against Watford and Everton.
The reality is Huddersfield may only require one more victory and a couple of draws to be safe. West Bromwich Albion are, it seems, as good as down, while Southampton and Stoke City continue to show little sign of getting anywhere near the point-per-game return that in recent years has been enough to guarantee survival.
But if Town are to stay ahead of those currently residing in the bottom three then much more attacking gumption than was on display at Newcastle will be needed.
Martin Dubravka was not called on to make a save until stoppage time, and even then the Magpies goalkeeper had little trouble in keeping out Scott Mallone’s shot. It had been a similar story in Town’s previous outing, the 2-0 defeat at home to Crystal Palace a fortnight earlier that saw Rajiv Van la Parra register his side’s first shot on target with just nine minutes remaining. Again, it had been a tame effort that Wayne Hennessey dealt with easily.
In fairness, Huddersfield’s overall display at St James’ Park was much improved on that sorry surrender against Roy Hodgson’s Eagles.
But the quality required to open up defences at this level was again sadly lacking as Town failed to score for the 18th time in 32 league outings. Only Malaga in Europe’s top five divisions have fired more blanks.
Wagner may point to his side coming within 10 minutes of grinding out a goalless draw at St James’ Park but, in reality, this was more to do with the profligacy of Dwight Gayle in the first half than any great play on the part of the visitors.
First, he lifted a shot over Lossl after being played clear by a quick free-kick. Then, following neat approach play from Matt Ritchie and DeAndre Yedlin, Gayle hooked a shot over the crossbar from eight yards. Finally, the Magpies striker was unable to get his head to another cross from Yedlin that was just begging to be converted.
Not that Gayle was the only one in black and white to hand Huddersfield a let-off in those opening 45 minutes, with Ritchie wasting a glorious opportunity when he fired straight at Lossl’s legs.
Considering the closest the visitors had come to threatening the Newcastle goal had been Alex Pritchard being crowded out on the edge of the area following a delightful lay-off from Laurent Depoitre, it was no wonder Town faces betrayed relief when the half-time whistle blew.
After the break, Huddersfield were much more solid defensively. They also went close at the other end when Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen powered a header goalwards from a corner that was blocked by a scrum of black and white shirts.
Had that gone in, the afternoon could have panned out very differently. Instead, the hosts claimed the points their first-half display had warranted when Ayoze Perez fired in from close range 10 minutes from time after being set up by Kenedy. Mallone then had that late chance to level but, in truth, Newcastle were worthy winners.