FOUR business visits to Huddersfield Town have now yielded four consecutive clean sheets for Carlos Carvalhal’s teams.
The exemplary defensive attentiveness showcased by his Swansea City side at the weekend was every bit as striking as that displayed by the Sheffield Wednesday team who Carvalhal brought to Huddersfield Town for three previous appointments.
Just as on Carvalhal’s previous visit to HD1 almost 10 months earlier, this match ended scoreless, with the Portuguese again able to reflect on a job well done by his side – albeit in differing circumstances to the Championship play-off semi-final first-leg stalemate between Town and Wednesday last May.
After seeing Jordan Ayew receive his marching orders on 11 minutes for a high and mistimed challenge on Jonathan Hogg, which seemed to owe much to poor technique as opposed to malicious intent, the odds on Carvalhal masterminding another defensive shut-out in Huddersfield appeared long on Saturday.
But it is to his immense credit that his Swans side delivered a text-book rearguard performance that left connoisseurs of back-four play positively purring.
When Swansea’s red sea was parted luck befriended them on a couple of key occasions with Steve Mounie and Thomas Ince hitting the woodwork in the second half as Town desperately sought a breakthrough.
But after playing for the overwhelming majority of the game with a man disadvantage those visitors from the Principality will suggest that they earned it.
Understandably for Town, the immediate emotions at the final whistle were ones of sheer frustration.
At the start of a seminal run of fixtures against sides around them in the table this was an opportunity lost and the 16th occasion when Huddersfield have failed to find the net in a top-flight fixture this season – the most in the division.
But a third goalless stalemate on home soil in 2017-18 possessed merit, too, on an afternoon when Town’s possession glut was remarkable.
A staggering statistic of 80.84 per cent possession told a story.
A total of 162 hardy Huddersfield supporters had braved the elements to sleep rough at the John Smith’s Stadium on Friday for the ‘Big Sleep Out’ event to raise thousands of pounds for homelessness organisations.
The following day, Town’s players camped out in Swansea’s half for the best part of 90 minutes.
But despite 30 efforts on goal, the visitors obstinately would not budge and there was no breakthrough – not for the want of trying.
It was a great opportunity for us, but the manager said to us that we tried everything, gave everything we had, stuck to what he said, but it just was not our day.Huddersfield Town’s Aaron Mooy
On whether the result, in the circumstances, constituted a missed opportunity, returning midfielder Aaron Mooy acknowledged: “Yes, it’s a bit like that. It was a great opportunity for us, but the manager said to us that we tried everything, gave everything we had, stuck to what he said, but it just was not our day.
“We had everything. We tried everything to score, but it just was not our day. We went close a few times.
“Once they got the man sent off they just sat. They were already defensive before the sending-off and the sending-off made it even more difficult.
“A lot of the shots we had were from distance because they were so compact. We need to score goals more often.”
Town’s application could not be faulted, but their execution and final ball did leave something to be desired for spells.
A haul of 25 goals in 30 league matches, the joint second-worst record in the division behind West Brom, also highlights a lack of cutting edge.
But after a decent haul of seven points from their previous four matches, perspective has to be afforded, according to Mooy, who believes that Town are still extremely well placed to achieve their mission of top-flight survival.
He said: “We are not in the worst position. We have a great chance. We will just keep going and look forward to the next game. He (Wagner) said the last time we played against 10 men we lost 4-0, against Bournemouth earlier in the season, so this was much better. We could not score, but he did not want any negativity about the game. He wanted us to be positive.”
Ayew’s early dismissal effectively shaped Swansea’s game plan for the rest of the match, with central defenders Alfie Mawson, Federico Fernandez and Mike van der Hoorn being almost touch-tight, and full-backs Kyle Naughton and Martin Olsson also showing admirable defensive discipline on the flanks.
Town’s first-half efforts to break down Swansea lacked wit and conviction, with the closest moment seeing Mounie’s flicked header fly just over.
On the resumption Town showed more purpose for spells, with a drive from Hogg flashing inches wide before Mounie’s stinging volley was tipped onto the bar by Lukasz Fabianski.
Florent Hadergjonaj then went agonisingly close with a shot following a neat short corner.
Carvalhal memorably alluded to Swansea putting more “meat on the barbecue” in throwing on several attacking options in their win over Burnley last month and this time it was the turn of Town, with Collin Quaner and Laurent Depoitre going on as the hosts frenziedly sought a winner.
It almost came when Ince headed against an upright late on, but Swansea were not to be moved.