OWLS GO NAP AS TOWN AND LEEDS ARE CAUGHT NAPPING
AFTER a potentially pivotal weekend for Yorkshire’s three promotion challengers in the Championship, David Wagner insists Huddersfield Town’s top-flight aspirations will not suffer any lasting damage despite a second heavy defeat of the season to Fulham.
The Terriers slumped to a 4-1 loss against the in-form Londoners, a result that nudged Wagner’s men down to fifth in the table thanks to Sheffield Wednesday’s victory over Derby County.
Huddersfield, however, remain odds-on to extend their season beyond May 7 due to having tomorrow night’s game in hand on all their rivals at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Victory at Molineux will guarantee a top-six finish, while a draw would leave the Terriers sitting pretty in third place with just two games remaining.
“We lost the game but now we leave it behind us,” said Wagner, whose side’s hopes of qualifying were boosted by seventh-placed Leeds United’s 2-1 defeat at Burton Albion and a 3-2 loss for Reading at Nottingham Forest.
“It will be very easy to do that because our next game is just around the corner. An opportunity has been missed (in terms of the play-offs) but we have another now. This is in our hands.
“We have shown unbelievable consistency over the season, I think we have been outside the top six for just a few days.”
Asked about Town’s five-point lead over neighbours Leeds, Wagner added: “To be fair, we notice the other results but I always like to concentrate only on what we do.
Wagner’s disappointment at his side not taking their first opportunity to guarantee a play-off place by beating Fulham at the John smith’s Stadium was in contrast to the sense of satisfaction felt at Hillsborough.
Goals from experienced strikers Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper in a 2-1 win over the Rams nudged the Owls up to a season’s high fourth place.
Like Huddersfield, Carlos Carvalhal’s men are within touching distance of the play-offs thanks to that five-point advantage over Leeds.
Despite that, assistant manager Lee Bullen insists there will be no complacency going into the club’s final two fixtures.
“This league has a way of going back to bite you,” he said af- ter Wednesday claimed a fifth straight win for the first time in a decade.
“Everyone will say that is us home and hosed. But Leeds United have still got two games to play and six points to play for.
“Garry Monk will still be saying that to his players. Our focus is on ourselves, not anyone else. We know what we have got to do.”
Leeds, meanwhile, have stumbled at just the wrong moment. The defeat at Burton was the club’s fourth in six games and means United are now reliant on others doing them favours.
Even then, the Elland Road club are likely to need a maximum six points from their final two games to have any hopes of claiming a place in the top six.
A frustrated Monk admitted: “We are disappointed and now the situation is out of our hands.
“But we have a duty to each other and to our fans and to everyone after how hard this group has been working all season to fight to the very end.
“We have to give our maximum in these two games and try and win them or at least win the next game which is at Elland Road.
“Then who knows if we can go into the last game with half a chance? Hopefully, we can get to that point.
“We have been fighting all season and we still have a small opportunity and football works in mysterious ways.
“We will be ready in these next two games. We owe that to each other and to our fans. It’s a small chance but we are going to have to try and take it.”
Huddersfield, like Leeds, may have suffered a chastening defeat over the weekend but Wagner is adamant his players will bounce back tomorrow at Wolves.
“The defeat hurts but I know where we were at fault,” said the German, whose side crashed 5-0 to Fulham at Craven Cottage in October.
“It is difficult to win a game against a team like Fulham if you score three half own goals. We gave those goals away.
“We have to be better in terms of concentration and focus. If we do that, we have a good chance.”
We are disappointed and now the situation is out of our hands. Leeds United head coach Garry Monk after a devastating defeat at Burton.
MANY moons ago, not too far away from Hillsborough, the sight of one of the most famous runners of his generation in Seb Coe pounding the Rivelin Valley Road in his pursuit of sporting excellence, was a common one.
Pushed to the limit by his late father Peter, Coe built reservoirs of stamina and resolve on those tough gradients and crucially knew when to kick for home.
Similar qualities are currently serving Sheffield Wednesday well in their own Championship race.
The climbs have been steep and arduous at times and there are several serious hills to negotiate yet. But endurance levels are strong and there is still gas in the tank.
The season is a marathon as head coach Carlos Carvalhal has been quick to point out on more than one occasion this term and Wednesday are clearly intent on conserving their best until last.
While bouquets may have been afforded Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town and Leeds United on a more regular basis so far in 2016-17, Carvalhal’s side have the look of stayers.
On Saturday, they moved above Town and Leeds in the table for the first time this season.
As has been their wont in 201617, Wednesday were not magnificent or free-flowing for the duration, but they were unrelenting and persistent and held their nerve and shared the load.
Those with long enough memories will be reminded of Howard Wilkinson’s promotion class of 1983-84.
Wednesday’s latest victory was notable in several respects. It secured the Owls a fifth successive league win, a first for Carvalhal in his tenure, and you have to go to back to April, 2007 for the last occasion that happened.
You have also to go back a year earlier for the previous time that the Owls had beaten Derby, all of 17 meetings ago. It is an exquisite time of year to break unwanted records.
In a squad that appears brimful of savvy, the Owls were indebted to some old heads. Not just goalscorers Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper, who displayed their nous and predatory qualities in tandem once again to rescue the hosts after Derby went in front, but also the likes of Kieren Westwood and Glenn Loovens.
It was Westwood who stayed strong to make a key late save to prevent Chris Baird from firing an equaliser, and it had been Loovens who was well stationed to clear off the line earlier and prevent Will Hughes from doubling the Rams’ lead at a critical juncture.
They are the sort of contributions that you need to get over the line at the business end.
On another key win and afternoon, Fletcher, who moved into double figures for the season after his 54th-minute leveller – his fourth goal in four games – said: “It was a great win. It was obviously a bit nervous at the start and they went 1-0 up. But we knew if we kept doing what we were doing, we would get the goals.
“We have got some momentum just now and are playing good football and scoring goals.
“We do know that we can always get a goal. We also have quite a lot of people back fit now after having had a lot of injuries midway through the season.
“When you see the players who have not even made the bench, they are still working hard in training and they are all upbeat, which is a good thing. The gaffer can obviously pick and choose who he wants to put in the squad and it is a massive thing in not having a limited squad.
“We also have a lot of experienced players in the team. When the young lads see it is tense, they can see the experienced players telling them to calm themselves down and get on with the game.”
The Owls had the better of a low-key first half, with the sight of Kieran Lee back in harness being the most pleasing aspect.
The appearance of Darren Bent nodding the Rams ahead early in the second half, moments after Westwood had denied the veteran, was rather less edifying.
It had the potential for one of those long, angst-ridden late-sea- son days that can be painful, but Wednesday found a way back.
Fletcher went close to an equaliser when his fine header clipped the bar from Daniel Pudil’s cross before a big moment saw Loovens save the day after Hughes waltzed clear.
It proved fateful with Fletcher restoring parity by heading home after Hooper did well to nod Ross Wallace’s centre across goal.
Hooper soon turned scorer, coolly steering the loose ball home after Scott Carson dealt unconvincingly with Adam Reach’s cross.
Westwood stayed strong at the climax and the Owls were not to be moved.
GOALSCORING HEROES: Gary Hooper, above, celebrates his matchwinning goal after Steven Fletcher had headed home Sheffield Wednesday’s equaliser against Derby County at Hillsborough, inset.