AT the highest professional football ground in England – some 551 metres above sea level – the view was exhilarating and the air was clean for Huddersfield Town.
As Town’s ecstatic 2,717 travelling support drunk in another delicious Premier League moment and filed away precious mental images at the final whistle when players and staff staged their traditional post-match victory celebration in front of them, the mood was rather more corrosive among their West Bromwich counterparts.
In its own way, it showcased two clubs – firmly bracketed together as relegation candidates before kick-off – at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of togetherness and outlook. One is severely fractured and the other touch-tight and with half a chance.
The West Brom inquest may be full of rancour as fans increasingly resign themselves to life back in the Championship, but Huddersfield were left to savour a day of hope on a historic afternoon of significance.
After a performance brimful of character and heart, despite playing the final 33 minutes with 10 men, to triumph in the reverse fixture in West Yorkshire, Town produced another memorable display en route to their first double over a top-flight rival since April, 1956 when they triumphed 2-1 at Tottenham Hotspur.
A hearty second-half chant of “Town are staying up” showed what the away end thought of developments, while, by contrast, a cry of “You’re getting sacked in the morning” directed at beleaguered West Brom chief Alan Pardew towards the end showed what aggrieved home patrons thought of it all.
The Lord’s My Shepherd is Albion’s unofficial anthem, but the words of Psalm 23 hardly provide comfort. Pardew, in contrast to Town head coach David Wagner, is certainly not leading his side to pastures green and still waters.
On another special occasion for Town and their fans, who staged a love-in at the end, defender Christopher Schindler said: “It was unbelievable. I can’t remember when the away fans were that loud, even in my time in Germany.
“It was just amazing how they pushed us and I think they felt it was a crucial game. They knew it was difficult for us and we were not at our best and they knew they needed to support a little bit more.
“After we gave them two goals, the way they pushed us forward was amazing and this is what we need.
“We need to use every single game as we know we do not have the opportunities of the other teams with the most money, but we have other strengths.”
Indeed, Town do and their playing ranks are blessed with qualities of togetherness and desire in which West Brom seem wholly deficient.
Boasting a desperate return of one league win in 13 games in charge ahead of kick-off, Pardew was sage enough to accept that he had a “bag and a half” packed before the game. Hardly inspirational words for his charges.
After the recent ‘taxigate’ fiasco during a mid-season ‘bonding trip’ to Barcelona that saw four West Brom players – cheekily referred to as the ‘Cab Four’ – break a midnight curfew and allegedly steal a taxi, Albion’s stressed support were clearly ready to arrange that mode of transport to take Pardew out of town, should the hosts fail to beat Huddersfield.
We need to use every single game as we know we do not have the opportunities of the other teams with the most money, but we have other strengths.Huddersfield’s Christopher Schindler
Pardew, dressed in undertakers’ black, did not see much to enthuse him in a scrappy, stop-start first half that exhibited West Brom’s nerves and clear lack of confidence and quality.
Huddersfield looked the more likely and were unfortunate when easily the best move of the half saw Collin Quaner and Florent Habergjonaj combine to set up Alex Pritchard, whose goalbound shot hit team-mate Steve Mounie before Ben Foster blocked Rajiv van La Parra’s follow-up.
The Baggies’ sole chance saw James McClean volley wildly over following Matt Phillips’s centre and home boos at half-time were understandable.
The mood got more febrile soon after the restart when a scuffed low shot from van La Parra – goal hero in the meeting in late October – from Quaner’s cross flew past Foster and it soon got a whole lot worse.
A moment of quality saw a lovely reverse pass from the effusive Pritchard send Mounie clear – and after timing his run exquisitely, the Frenchman coolly stroked the ball past Foster for his eighth, and arguably most important, strike of the season.
This was enough for some home fans to head for the exits while others vented spleen with a loud chorus of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’.
Brief hope arrived when Craig Dawson beat Jonas Lossl to nod in a viciously inswinging corner from substitute Chris Brunt, but Town continued to inspire with Danny Williams – a Trojan in the middle with Jonathan Hogg – going close with a thumping volley.
Lossl redeemed himself to keep out Brunt’s free-kick and Dawson almost produced a carbon copy of his earlier goal, but Town stayed resolute, strong and on message.
Everything that West Brom were not, in fact, as Town, for the second year running, were left to reflect on an uplifting February.
On a key day at the office, Town forward Quaner added: “It was definitely one of the most important wins of the season. We did very well in the second half and defended well when we had to and took our chances and that was the most important thing.
“Every win gives you confidence for the players and team. It is really important, especially away from home.”