Hud­der­s­field send Manch­ester United crash­ing to first Pre­mier League de­feat

The Guardian Australia - - Sport - Daniel Tay­lor at the John Smith's Sta­dium

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.

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