Why Huddersfield's survival rests on next five games
Huddersfield Town rightly earned plaudits from all sides for surviving the 2017/18 Premier League season against the odds. David Wagner’s team finished four points clear while working with one of the top flight's lowest budgets. Ultimately, a one-goal draw led to celebratory scenes in the North of England. The next match against Arsenal at the John Smith’s Stadium was a party in the stands. Joyful fans saluted the team and manager for their achievements.
Fast-forward five months and the feeling around Huddersfield has something to do with frying pans and fires. The Terriers rest at the Premier League table's bottom. When Newcastle beat Watford on Ayoze Perez's 65th-minute header on Saturday, Town became the only club without a win in the Premier League. They can correct that tonight against Fulham but, going on their body of work to date, it won't be easy.
Huddersfield own a league-low four goals while also conceding 21, more than two per game. A 3-0 defeat last week to the same Watford side Toon dispatched on the weekend sent them to the bottom. Preseason concerns the club would face a relegation fight are being realised.
While the view is bleak, a glance at coming fixtures offers optimism. Huddersfield’s opening games included battles against Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as a trip to take on Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium that should have been attended by Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. All three opponents remain unbeaten. The Terriers also faced Tottenham, Everton and Leicester, all teams in the top ten this season and last.
While the difficult start is not ideal for any club, the Terriers' next five games comprise Fulham, West Ham, Wolves, Brighton and Bournemouth. All are contests from which players, staff and fans should feel they can take points.
Fulham come first and, just above Wagner's side in the table, are arguably most important. If Huddersfield can pick up their season's first win against the Cottagers, it may serve as a springboard going forward.
Afterwards, Huddersfield can build momentum. Last season saw them pick up six points in their return fixtures against West Ham, Brighton and Bournemouth. If they can repeat that this season, as well as taking valuable points from newly promoted Fulham and Wolves, they'll be in a much better position going into the Christmas period.
If they fail to take three points from Fulham, the pressure increases in the following matches. The longer the Terriers go winless, the harder it will be to break their duck. In addition to external pressures, the squad's confidence will erode. Wagner cannot afford for his team to remain bottom when this stretch is complete.
In order to record that much-needed first win, play in the two important areas, the final third and their own box, must improve. Wagner must focus his squad on the small details that paint a picture where the team is scoring and not conceding.
Picking up wins over the coming weeks may very well decide where Huddersfield plays in 2019/20.