HUDDERSFIELD TOWN may not quite enjoy ‘king-maker’ status with regards the trio of Yorkshire clubs chasing promotion to the Premier League.
But, thanks to a quirk of the fixture list that sees the Terriers take on Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough and Hull City inside the next eight days, there can be no doubting the potentially huge say that David Wagner’s men can have in the White Rose trio’s quest to reclaim a seat at the top table of English football.
A defeat at this crucial stage of the season can do untold damage, especially with the travails of Hull and Boro over the past month having left both with little margin for error in the hunt for a place in the top two. Likewise today’s visitors to the John Smith’s Stadium, with Carlos Carvalhal’s Owls knowing the merest of stumbles could open the door for Birmingham, Cardiff or Ipswich.
All three of the county’s promotion hopefuls will tread warily against a Town side brimming with confidence following that spectacular 4-1 derby mauling of Leeds United a fortnight ago. Something that Harry Bunn, one of the goalscorers at Elland Road as Town claimed their biggest triumph at the home of their neighbours since 1960, believes is the least that Huddersfield are due.
“We have three games coming up in a week that are very tough,” said the 23-year-old to The Yorkshire Post when chatting at Town’s Canalside training base earlier this week. “The season is into what is basically the final push and all three of these teams are chasing promotion.
“This is our chance to throw a spanner in the works. That is our aim. And we are definitely a good enough side to approach all of these games with a chance of upsetting our opponents.
“Hopefully, we can do that. We want to win games and to finish as high up as we can. That is the simple target. The boys are all refreshed after the international break and we are ready to go again.”
Town’s victory at Leeds was their ninth in 22 league outings under Wagner. The German’s managerial bow came at Hillsborough in November and ended in a 3-1 defeat, albeit one that only saw the hosts equalise through Lucas Joao with 12 minutes remaining on the clock.
That afternoon in the Steel City was the first glimpse of his favoured gegenpressing system, an approach that the Town fans have quickly taken to their hearts judging by the 11,000 season tickets that were snapped up for 2016-17 within the first week of sales at the cut price of £179.
“I think people can see the progress being made,” said Bunn. “A club like Huddersfield is always going to try and keep moving forward. You only have to look at the last few years, this club has progressed every single time. That will only carry on in the coming years.
“Just look at the season ticket offer. The lads think that is brilliant. For us, as players, the more fans we have in the stadium the better because the atmosphere will be great and that helps.
“Credit to the way the club is run for coming up with the idea. Everyone here has the same goal, which is to improve. You can see that in how hard all the lads work. The supporters play a big role, too. All of us are united in wanting to be the best we can.
“Next season is going to be a really exciting one for us. Everyone has seen how we have played lately and the season ticket sales. That gives the place a buzz.
“But we have to build on the excitement that there is around the club.”
A measure of how far Town have come as a team will come today. When taking on the Owls earlier in the season, the Town players had, basically, had 10 or so days to implement the ideas of their new manager.
The squad had spent an intensive week of training in Spain during the international break but, even so, there was a lot of new information for the players to take on board and that is why Bunn believes Wednesday will see an even more impressive Huddersfield outfit today.
“That game at Hillsborough was our first under the new manager,” said the Oldham-born attacker. “We played well. It was tough because we hadn’t had that long to get to grips with the tactics. But I felt we did well. It was only in the last ten to 15 minutes that they got the goals and we struggled a bit.
“We have improved a lot since then. As, I am sure, they have. That is why I think it will be a great Yorkshire derby. We enjoyed our last derby at Leeds and now we can’t wait for another to come round.”
Ah yes, that win at Elland Road. A result that was every bit as comprehensive as the final score suggests, with Town even able to miss an early penalty through Nahki Wells before hitting back to claim such a resounding triumph.
“Leeds was a great day for everyone,” added Bunn, whose 69th-minute strike was his 15th in Town colours. “A massive game for both teams but we probably owed them one for the result earlier in the season (when Leeds won 3-0 at Huddersfield).
“Thankfully, we got the result we wanted. I do think that sort of result had been coming. And it will come again, too.
“We know every game can’t be won and that there will be days when we perform well but don’t probably get what we deserve. But, equally, there will be days when we get both – which is what happened at Leeds.
“Some teams are not able to handle us, where others know how to deal with us better. Leeds didn’t seem to know what to do and we got the result we wanted.
“I also felt it was an afternoon when we showed our character. The manager is big on that. It isn’t just about playing nice football. He wants us to fight as well.
“It is a massive part of the game, especially in the Championship. Every game is a tight game and there is not a lot between teams most weeks. You have to fight for everything and I felt we did that well against Leeds. Now, though, Leeds is gone. We want to win the next three games. Our tails are up.
“Sheffield Wednesday are a good team. They are a big club as well that has spent a lot of money. But I don’t think we should be scared of playing them, We have more than enough to beat them and, hopefully, we can do that.”