Huddersfield Town must buck trend to cross the bridge to Premier League survival

THERE can be few more pleasant strolls to a football ground than the one through Bishops Park to Craven Cottage.

Huddersfield Town goalkeeper Jonas Lossl
Huddersfield Town goalkeeper Jonas Lossl

Even on a cold winter’s afternoon when the wind is whipping off the Thames, the congenial setting feels entirely in keeping with a historic venue that, even allowing for it now being all-seater, provides a welcome throwback to a time before off-the-peg stadia started to dominate the game’s landscape.

Fulham’s home is not the happiest hunting ground for Huddersfield Town, whose last 10 visits stretching back the best part of three decades have yielded just one victory and four goals.

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But that will not prevent the 2,500 Terriers fans heading to the capital tomorrow from enjoying a vista that includes not only the nearby park but also the Cottage and adjoining Stevenage Road Stand, one of the few still surviving designed by the same architect who laid out Town’s old Leeds Road home, Archibald Leitch.

Once inside Craven Cottage, however, minds will be focused solely on the tussle between the Premier League’s bottom two clubs as the Terriers embark on a three-game run that is likely to make or break their season.

With Burnley’s visit to the John Smith’s Stadium on January 2 being followed 10 days later by the long trip to Cardiff City, David Wagner’s men will face the other three clubs in deepest trouble at the halfway stage of the campaign.

A minimum seven and probably nine points are required by Yorkshire’s sole top-flight representative, not least because the month that follows the visit to south Wales features meetings with Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.

“We have not one but two very important games coming up this week,” admitted goalkeeper Jonas Lossl in the wake of Huddersfield suffering a sixth straight defeat when losing 3-1 at Manchester United on Boxing Day.

Manchester United's Nemanja Matic (left) and Huddersfield Town's Elias Kachunga battle for the ball (Pictures: PA).

“Of course, we can only focus on the one at the moment. Fulham is going to be a big game. We have to be brave and play for the chances to come along. That is what the manager said before our last game.”

A glance back at the past 20 years in the Premier League underlines how serious Huddersfield’s plight has become even with a half of the season still to play.

For a start, only one team has reached this stage of a campaign with the same number of points as the 10 collected by Town and survived. Likewise, with 19 games remaining, only one club has bridged the five-point gap that currently separates Wagner’s men from fourth-bottom Cardiff in the table.

Hence why this run of fixtures simply has to yield points to go with the plaudits that have come Huddersfield’s way for much of the past few months.

“We knew we had to bring a positive performance (at Old Trafford),” added Lossl. “Of course they had more chances, more possession than we had, but I think we did all right. I think we played a good game.

“We did our best. What we didn’t do is score with a couple of small chances that we had and they did.”

Terence Kongolo missed Town’s best chance at Old Trafford early on when the score was goalless. Philip Billing also squandered a good opening late in the first half, and Laurent Depoitre was only denied a first goal of the season by a fine save from David De Gea.

Had one of these three openings been taken then Boxing Day could have panned out very differently. But, as has been the case for much of the season, Huddersfield’s profligacy in front of goal proved costly.

This simply cannot continue if the Terriers are to buck the general trend of these past 20 years by surviving from such an unpromising position.

Seven teams have had 10 points or less at the corresponding stage and only one, West Bromwich Albion 14 years ago, has stayed up.

The lowest tally belonged to Sunderland in 2005-06, their six points from the opening 19 games being one less than how many Derby County had garnered a year later. Both clubs’ fate had been sealed way before the end of those respective seasons.

Sheffield Wednesday (nine points in 1999-2000) and Aston Villa (eight in 2015-16) are the two other clubs whose points tally was in single figures at this stage of a campaign and, again, both went on to be relegated.

Reading and Queens Park Rangers complete the list of clubs to go down after both collected 10 points apiece from the opening 19 games of the 2012-13 season, leaving the Baggies as the one glimmer of hope from the past two decades for Huddersfield to cling to owing to the Midlands side recovering from an identical position to the one facing Wagner’s men, to finish fourth bottom.

“We have to (have spirit), right?” said Lossl when asked about Town’s prospects in the second half of the season. “We have to keep the spirit, we are representing the club. That is our job and it is one of our strong sides.”

Town, who are set to loan Rajiv Van la Parra to Middlesbrough after he underwent a medical yesterday, will need that bravery tomorrow or the return walk through Bishops Park, a location for scenes in The Omen film, will mean the club’s season is in danger of descending into a horror show.