Day Trips

Huddersfield – One Wonder Strike, Two Contrasting Teams

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Huddersfield Town 1 – 0 West Brom

Kirklees Stadium

With my team not playing for 10 days after being knocked out of the FA Cup, I made sure I got my Saturday fix of football by snapping up the last ticket in the away end at Huddersfield Town. The Kirklees Stadium, currently known as the John Smith’s Stadium for sponsorship reasons, has been at the forefront of my tour wishlist for a while. With Huddersfield in the Premier League and selling out their ground for every home game, I felt lucky to grab a seat as part of a vocal Baggies following.

Highlights

The setting – Getting off the train, I was immediately reminded where I’d be heading. Banners on the streetlights read: ‘Welcome to Huddersfield. We are Premier League’. They continued on the walk to the ground. Slogans such as ‘We never give in’ and ‘We have no limits’ really stirred something in me. Being amongst the Terriers’ fans added to that. This was a town which really loved its football club. Men, women and children were all wearing the blue and white stripes of Huddersfield, so proud of their team and relishing their top flight experience.

As well as this, the stadium surroundings were beautiful. I felt like I was going on a country walk as I exited the town centre. I headed over the River Colne whilst the sun shone on the array of autumn trees that stood over the town on the Yorkshire hills. I don’t think I’ve been to a more scenic location for a football stadium. It felt like it was in the middle of a forest.

Inside the ground was impressive too. With the corners not filled, you could still see the woodland scenery. Huddersfield helped fuel the atmosphere by cranking up the tannoy and playing some great anthems. A 24,169 attendance – a few hundred short of capacity – provided one hell of a noise with their free paper clappers. The West Brom fans contributed too. They all stood up for the 90 minutes and sang throughout. I enjoyed standing with them, it felt like a proper away day.

Goal of the month contender – There wasn’t a lot to write about in terms of game action in all honesty. However, one special strike from Rajiv van La Parra is worth writing about over and over.

I was on the opposite side of the pitch when he fired in his 25-yard screamer, so I wasn’t at the best angle for it. But I could tell it was something spectacular. The accuracy of the shot was astounding. He couldn’t have placed the ball anymore perfectly had he thrown it in from six yards. It was right in the top corner and left Ben Foster in the West Brom goal with no chance of saving it.

Before the game, I figured it was a dead certainty to end in a 0-0 draw. Thank you van La Parra for saving the day. I’ll definitely be voting for you to win goal of the month on Match Of The Day, don’t you worry.

David Wagner – The game marked nearly two years since the Huddersfield boss took over a side 18th in the Championship. It’s been quite a turnaround in fortunes since then. They won the play-offs last May and have since established themselves as a solid force in the Premier League. A 2-1 win over Manchester United – backed up by this consecutive home victory against West Brom – show the side has what it takes to stay up this year. Which is against most people’s predictions before the season started.

I really like Wagner. He’s the kind of manager you’d love to have in charge of your team. He’s passionate, talks sense, encourages hard work and brings the whole club together. I thought his pressing tactics really nullified West Brom. None of their players had any time on the ball as they were hounded by the Terriers (pun intended).

Aaron Mooy typified this for me. He ran himself into the ground over the 90 minutes. West Brom were forced to play it long all too often because of his work rate in front of their defence. But most of the team were like that, to be fair. They seemed to have more hunger and were quicker to every ball.

When Christopher Schindler was sent off for a second booking with half an hour left, their energy levels didn’t drop. In fact, they were still the better team. It was only set pieces which threatened to snatch their victory. But in Jonas Lossl, Wagner has picked up a great goalkeeper. His save from James McClean’s header during added time was phenomenal. It looked in all the way from where I stood, whilst he also stopped Matt Phillips scoring with a shot he saw late.

At full-time the whole team paraded the pitch for a lap of honour. When Wagner and his squad reached the end where I was, they stood hand-in-hand before the Huddersfield section of the stand and celebrated with them. Then the American-German carried on walking and applauded the West Brom fans. That’s a man with class. It’s hard not to like him.

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Disappointments

Poor Tony Pulis – In stark contrast to the reception that Wagner received, the Baggies manager was utterly lambasted by his own fans throughout the second half.

I like Tony Pulis. I think he’s a good manager and a great guy. So it was tough to be amongst such a barrage of hatred towards him. However, it must be said that West Brom were awful at times. Yes, they were against an effective pressing team but some of the players gave the ball away far too easily. Their passing was also very slow and play always went backwards. It was very frustrating to watch. If you add in the fact that West Brom haven’t won a league game since August, I can kind of understand the Albion fans’ frustrations.

I don’t think they’ll get relegated, Pulis is too good a manager for that to happen. But I’ve read some fans saying they’d rather be relegated than watch the kind of defensive football that Pulis likes to use. One supporter at the game was backing Huddersfield to score another to further increase the pressure on him. It certainly was an interesting insight on West Brom and their fans’ way of thinking. Although, personally, I felt it was over the top.

Last on MOTD – Despite saving Match Of The Day according to this BBC Sport update…

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…Huddersfield v West Brom was given the infamous tag of last game on the show. This was despite there being three other games which finished 1-0 and none of which had a sending off or spectacular goal.

I don’t know what the atmosphere was like at the other matches but the editing seemed to really downplay Huddersfield’s. There may not have been a lot of chances but some interesting stories were there. Pulis making a triple substitution, for example. Or the West Brom fans protesting against him. I may not have enjoyed hearing it but I think it should have been reported.

Not much was made of Huddersfield’s win either. It’s like they only want to mention how good they are when it’s against Manchester United. As if getting three points from West Brom isn’t that massive, when it’s probably a more important victory.

Perhaps I’m being biased since I was in the crowd. For me though, I couldn’t see much else in the other 1-0’s that warranted Huddersfield to be last.

Overall

I really enjoyed getting a taste of Huddersfield’s debut Premier League campaign. Their stadium lived up to my expectations and their fans exceeded it. The game did too, actually. It wasn’t a boring watch by any means. There were incidents, talking points and a superb individual strike. I’d recommend anyone to head up there as an away fan or to sample the passion with the home faithful.

I also want to give a mention to the three West Brom fans who sat with me on the train home. They were a great laugh and in good spirits despite their team’s defeat, offering me a beer and inviting me on their night out in Manchester. I didn’t even mind them calling me Ed Sheeran (I do get that a lot). Or getting me to sing them a tune on the train (I don’t get that as much). Hopefully their team’s results pick up soon to give them something to celebrate.

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