Huddersfield send Manchester United crashing to first Premier League defeat
They gave everything to see it out. They were quick to the ball, strong in the challenge and utterly determined not to let the game have a dramatic, late twist. And, finally, Huddersfield Town, the team whose glories all belonged to another era, could soak up the euphoria of a win against Manchester United, their first since March 1952, and one of those joyous occasions when football reminds you of its ability to conjure up a rare kind of excitement.
The last time Huddersfield beat a team from Old Trafford, Manchester, came just a few weeks after Elizabeth II was pronounced Queen, in the same year that London was covered in its worst smog and some bright spark at the New Musical Express had the idea of printing the firstever Top 40. Huddersfield were relegated that season and United won the league, Sir Matt Busby’s first title, despite a 3-2 defeat at Leeds Road. On this evidence, do not be too sure it will be the same again this season for either club.
José Mourinho made the same point when he seemed horrified that any side with title ambitions could be so feeble. His team, he said, had lost because one set of players had the correct attitude, and the other side did not, and it was noticeable that he took care not to make a scapegoat of Victor Lindelof on a harrowing day for the club’s £31m summer recruit.
The point he was making was that it was a collective failure – “I don’t even remember a friendly match where our attitude was so poor,” was one line – and for a team with United’s aspirations, with Manchester City powering on at the top of the league, it was a calamitous result.
The damage was inflicted in a five-minute spell in the first half when Aaron Mooy and Laurent Depoitre punished some atrocious defending. Marcus Rashford’s header, after 78 minutes, set up a nerve-shredding finale. Even then, there were only sporadic moments when it seemed as though an equaliser would follow. No team, Sir Alex Ferguson used to say, scored more late than goals than his own. The modern-day side does not have that yet. Not here anyway.
The most startling part, however, was that United had kept seven clean sheets in their previous eight league fixtures and had arrived in west Yorkshire knowing that if they could manage one more it would be the first time a top-division side had started a season that way.
Instead, it probably was not a coincidence that they disintegrated at the back once Phil Jones went off with an injury and within 10 minutes of Lindelof’s introduction they had conceded as many league goals as the previous two months. Jones has rarely seemed so important and here was the evidence why Mourinho has been so reluctant to use Lindelof during the early parts of the season.
The damage to his confidence will be considerable but this was a traumatic day for Juan Mata as well bearing in mind it was his mistake that led to the opening goal. Until that point David de Gea had scarcely been threatened but United were vulnerable as soon as Mooy dispossessed Mata. Huddersfield suddenly had a three-versus-two breakaway and when Mooy slipped the ball to his left Tom Ince turned Lindelof inside out. Ince’s shot came back off De Gea and the ball fell invitingly for Mooy to sweep in the rebound.
For Lindelof, the game was becoming an ordeal. Five minutes later, Jonas Lossl aimed a long goalkick into United’s half and the substitute had what should have been a routine header. It was a blowy afternoon, but there was no real mitigation for the way he misjudged the flight of the ball. Depoitre could hardly believe his luck, taking the ball around De Gea and slotting his shot into an exposed goal.
The most impressive part of Huddersfield’s performance was that they never allowed anxiety to creep in. They refused to let United settle and for long spells it was remarkable how comfortable they looked.
Rashford’s goal, a far-post header from Romelu Lukaku’s cross, did change the complexion and the home side also had to contend with four minutes of stoppage-time. Those were the moments, however, when Huddersfield’s players showed a spirit of togetherness that will be crucial in the coming months.
Mooy was the game’s outstanding performer but there were half a dozen of his team-mates, most notably Ince and Christopher Schindler, who pushed him close, whereas it was difficult to think of a single player in red who wore the colours with distinction. Rashford, one of two half-time substitutes, did at least bring something new, but that was about it. Nemanja Matic had his worst game for United by some distance and Anthony Martial, like Mata, was removed at the interval.
Martial had been the only player on the pitch, barring the two goalkeepers, who felt the occasion warranted a pair of gloves and he melted out of the game after an early têteà-tête with Tommy Smith, the home team’s right-back. Smith was excellent and somehow that told the story of this game.
Aaron Mooy celebrates giving Huddersfield the lead against Manchester United
Phil Jones punches the floor in frustration after suffering an injury which turned out to be pivotal in the game.