If you wanted pretty passing, the John Smith’s Stadium was the wrong place to be. If there was peace on earth on the final Saturday before Christmas, no one told Town or Nottingham Forest.
Gamesmanship was rife, tackles spiteful, the aggravation in the technical areas even greater. Forest had more possession and more shots.
Town’s goals came from two players who rarely find the net, and just as unusually, from set pieces. Only goalkeeper Kamil Grabara’s brilliance kept the damage at their end to one.
These might be valid criticisms after a defeat, but shrugging off all of them and a crippling injury list to secure a vital victory fuelled by team spirit is a huge plus.
This year has been miserable for the club, for the most part more poodles than Terriers, but they are fighting against the tide that looked not too long ago like sweeping them into the third tier. On Saturday, fight was the word.
The clubs fought on the pitch, in the tunnel at half-time and on the touchline at the final whistle.
Even a ball boy got dragged into it, crushed under an electronic advertising hoarding when Tiago Silva barged Jonathan Hogg into touch. The youngster was invited into the home dressing room at full-time to receive the early Christmas presents of a signed ball and the midfielder’s shirt.
Having been at Huddersfield since the summer of 2016, centre-back Schindler – hero of the 2017 play-off final win – knows a thing or two about their mentality, and likes what he sees.
“I think the main difference (with much of 2019) is we play more together as a team,” he said. “It’s almost never a one-against-one situation because we all help each other out.
“We’ve got so many problems with key players out but we still manage to stay in games.”
For the first quarter of Saturday’s match, that was tested.
At times Huddersfield had to rely on Sammy Ameobi’s inability to put the final ball to searing runs and they needed him, Matt Cash and Samba Sow to miss the target. Florent Hadergjonaj unceremoniously wellying a cross into the stands highlighted the Terriers’ attitude.
But they got through it, and had becalmed Forest by the time Schindler reacted to Trevoh Chalobah’s shot bouncing off Ben Watson to volley home.
“I didn’t really know what to do,” the defender smiled. “I ran to the Nottingham Forest fans, then realised it was the wrong stand!”
Schindler’s second goal this season was followed shortly after a half-time interval which began with some unseemly jostling down the tunnel by Steve Mounie’s first, heading in at the far post from a corner he won.
Huddersfield were now at their best, Juninho Bacuna taking the fight to Forest in a more aesthetically pleasing way, with a rabona cross, a long-distance shot and a dribble down the left which warned the rampaging Cash to be careful about leaving his right-back station unmanned.
Only a third goal would put the game out of sight.
Once Joe Worrall headed in at the near post from another corner, after 75 minutes, the Terriers rocked onto the back foot.
“It became like a basketball game, it came back way too quickly so we never had control of the game,” lamented Schindler. “This is what we have to work on.”
Cowley knew his players needed the fans, whirring his arms to whip them up after 81 minutes.
“It helps so much when there’s an electric atmosphere,” said Schindler. “It puts the referee and the opponent under pressure.
“If you look at other clubs in our situation in the table, the stadium’s half-empty. Not here.”
They had to thank Grabara too, burying his costly howler at Wigan Athletic by turning an 85th-minute shot from the brilliant Joe Lolley around the post, holding Joao Carvalho’s shot, beating out Lolley’s cross, radiating authority claiming a 96th-minute corner, and saving with his foot from Cash.
If he was lucky Ryan Yates and Tobias Figueiredo got in each other’s way at the corner, he had earned it.
“After a long-suffering period I’m glad we can win tight games,” said Schindler. After a difficult 2019, Huddersfield now look capable of arresting their freefall.
“It was a tough period, this transition with the change of chairman, players coming in and out, relegation from the Premier League to the Championship (not to mention two managerial changes),” reflected Schindler.
“It’s still difficult because we have a lot of key players injured and our squad is young but we find a way to win games, to stay in games and to integrate players.
“If I’m completely honest we had no right to be in the Premier League. Nobody said we were a Premier League club and probably we weren’t.
“Everybody said we couldn’t stay up and we did and there was kind of this atmosphere which grew the expectation and we started to suffer.
“Going back to a very, very tough league where every three days you have a massive physical battle and long balls, it’s a different style and it’s not that easy. We have to appreciate how we have found a way out of this mess for now and we want to make this a solid continuous growth.
“We knew we were going to suffer on Saturday but it’s worth it. We have enough players who enjoy this kind of play.”
There were plenty in the stands enjoying it too. Sometimes a win you have to really fight for is more satisfying than an exhibition.