TOWN’S FAST START SURPRISES WAGNER
HUDDERSFIELD MARK FIRST HOME TOP-FLIGHT GAME FOR 45 YEARS WITH VICTORY
DAVID WAGNER last night admitted Huddersfield Town’s stunning start to life in the Premier League has taken even him by surprise.
The Terriers made it two victories from as many outings on their return to the top flight with a 1-0 triumph over Newcastle United, Aaron Mooy’s stunning second-half strike proving to be the difference between the two newly-promoted clubs.
It was enough to nudge Town up to second in the fledgling table behind Manchester United on goal difference and write another chapter in the club’s fairytale rise under Wagner.
“I don’t have to pinch myself but I did not expect this, no,” said the 45-year-old German. “But this can happen in football. If anybody knows that anything is possible then it is this club.
“We saw that last season. All we wanted was to be brave in every single game and I think we have done that so far. We are pleased with six points and two clean sheets, especially as those points are deserved.
“But we have to invest everything from the first second to the last.
“What we also have is the right mentality and the belief that if we stick together then we have a chance.
“Two good games with great results but only two games of the season.”
Mooy’s wonder goal meant Huddersfield became only the third newly-promoted club in the Premier League era to start the season with back-to-back wins.
Bolton Wanderers were the first to manage the feat in 2001-02 en route to finishing 16th, while Hull City beat Leicester City and Swansea City inside the opening eight days of last term.
The Tigers being relegated come May is a salutary lesson to all at the John Smith’s Stadium not to get carried away by such an impressive return to the elite after 45 years away.
Nevertheless, Wagner was justifiably proud of his players’ efforts against a Newcastle side that had finished last season 13 points ahead of the Yorkshire club.
He added: “This was a very strong performance from my team, and especially from the defence. I am delighted with the workload that the players invested and how every player felt responsible for the defensive work.
“I can’t remember a clear cut chance we gave away. Everyone knows how difficult it is to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League. We then won with a magic moment from Aaron Mooy and it was a deserved result.
“Everything in the Premier League is a little bit quicker so our fitness has had to go up. I nev- er had any doubt that our fitness would be good enough. We were not one of the best teams in the Championship but, for sure, we were one of the fittest.
“I am in no doubt we are going to be one of the fittest teams in the Premier League as well. We need this for our high intensive style of football.”
Town’s dream start means next opponents Southampton, who have collected four points from two games at St Mary’s this term, are likely to be more wary of Yorkshire’s sole top-flight representative than would have been the case nine days ago.
Wagner, however, scoffed at the suggestion his Terriers could now be considered to be favourites to prevail in the final game before the season’s first international break.
“I still have no understanding why we should be the favourites,” he said. “Everyone knows where we came from and what our starting point is and the circumstances we work with.
“For me, we will never ever be a favourite in a Premier League match this season. I also know we at Huddersfield Town will never, ever speak about a weak team in the Premier League.
“This is disrespectful because we know exactly where we came from. We were promoted at Wembley and are very happy to have six points on the board, plus two clean sheets.
“They are deserved points but we know how much we need to invest to be successful. Our games were tight. All we asked for is a chance and we have used our chance in the opening two games.”
Mooy’s winner was deserved reward for not only a fine team display but also a typically im- pressive shift from the Australian, Town’s standout player in the promotion success.
“For me, Aaron deserves the credit for his goal but also all his work,” added Wagner. “He is a great technical footballer with such unbelievable working attitude and responsible for defence. This is why I love this player.
“Signing Aaron (permanently from Manchester City in the summer) was one of our priorities. We signed him very early because, of course, we were in a lot of talks during the play-offs and what happened if we were promoted.
“He always gave us the sign he wanted to stay if that was the case. He liked this club and dressing room. And his role in the team.
“I felt we did everything right in the defence and thanks to Aaron Mooy for this great finish. He does not really say a lot, he does not smile a lot. He is very calm but I know he will be very proud.”
Town’s first top-flight win on home soil since Brian Clough’s Derby County, crowned champions that season, were beaten 2-1 at the old Leeds Road in November, 1971, coming on the back of that opening day win at Selhurst Park delighted the club’s head coach.
Wagner added: “I can be a little bit more relaxed over next Saturday. We now have a little bit of experience and we know how to do things. We now know if we follow our routine we can do things.”
THE picture framers of Huddersfield should stand by their ‘phones this morning and expect a call.
Aaron Mooy netting Town’s first Premier League goal at their 23-year-old home is surely destined to be captured for posterity at a stadium not shy about showcasing its big moments.
Images of Jon Bon Jovi and REM’s Michael Stipe playing what is now called the John Smith’s Stadium adorn the walls along with an England rugby league shirt from the 2013 World Cup signed by then manager Steve McNamara.
Other heroes from the town’s football and rugby league past – most notably, Christopher Schindler converting ‘that’ penalty at Wembley – also vye for wallspace but surely pride of place will soon be going to Mooy.
His curled effort five minutes into the second half was a thing of beauty. It was also a truly historic strike, being not only enough to beat a lacklustre Newcastle United but also clinch a first topflight win on home soil since Brian Clough’s Derby County were beaten on the final Saturday of November, 1971.
That proved to be Huddersfield’s final win of a sorry campaign that ended in relegation, a fate that – on early evidence – David Wagner’s men have every chance of avoiding come May.
Of course, winning the first two games of a Premier League season is no guarantee of a happy ending – as Hull City proved by crashing out of the top flight despite starting the 2016-17 campaign with back-to-back victories over Leicester City and Swansea City.
But the confidence and belief such an unexpected start has engendered in a squad written off by all manner of experts and pundits before a ball had been kicked could yet prove priceless.
Huddersfield a year ago are living proof of that, the win over highly-fancied Newcastle on the second weekend of the season – this time at St James’ Park – being the prelude to arguably the most unexpected promotion in the Premier League era.
Mooy was integral to that triumph in the North East over Rafael Benitez’s men, just as he was yesterday as the Australian – the standout player in last season’s Championship – netted the only goal.
His big moment came five minutes into the second half. Collecting the ball wide on the left, Mooy took a couple of touches to buy some time as all options were quickly assessed.
Then, after spotting Elias Kachunga unmarked a yard or so inside the penalty area, a quick exchange of passes set up an opportunity that the £8m summer signing from Manchester City took in sublime fashion with a curled finish beyond Rob Elliot.
Cue bedlam all around the stadium as a town that had waited 45 long, long years to test themselves among the elite celebrated.
Up to that point, the meeting of two teams promoted just a few months earlier had been something of a nip and tuck affair.
This had much to do with the contrasting approaches of the two managers, the pressing game so integral to Huddersfield’s rise under Wagner going up against a Newcastle side happy to sit deep and try to hit their hosts on the break.
Chances were at a premium for much of the afternoon as a result, making it seem more and more likely as proceedings unfolded that something special would be needed to break the deadlock.
Mooy, of course, delivered just that with his stunning strike. But that was far from the only threat that the Terriers posed with Tom Ince twice unable to capitalise on decent first-half opportunities after Newcastle had been harried into a mistake.
Elliot flapping at a Mooy corner in the 20th minute also provided a chance but, like the Magpies goalkeeper, Steve Mounie was unable to get a touch despite straining every sinew.
If Elliot was guilty of questionable goalkeeping in that instance then the same could not have been said about counterpart Jonas Lossl four minutes earlier.
His one-handed save to flick a curling Matt Ritchie shot just past the post was of the highest order. As, it must be said, was the last ditch tackle that Schindler executed on Dwight Gayle as the Toon striker shaped to shoot 10 minutes before the interval.
Schindler, in fact, epitomised all that was good about Hud- dersfield on their home bow. His awareness and positioning meant many promising Newcastle attacks were snuffed out as soon as the Terriers’ goal came within sight.
Fellow countryman Chris Lowe also pulled off a couple of vital tackles, not least when whipping the ball off the toe of Jacob Murphy just as the substitute was preparing to pull the trigger.
That came with 10 minutes remaining and was the last time the home crowd had cause for concern, Mohamed Diame looking up and mistaking referee Craig Pawson for a team-mate and passing the ball straight to the official perhaps best epitomising the misfiring and laboured efforts of Newcastle when trying to rescue a point.
Pawson blowing the final whistle was the cue for huge celebrations in the stand as supporters hailed back-to-back wins in a topflight season for the first time since 1970-71 when Blackpool and Southampton were beaten by Ian Greaves’s men en route to finishing 15th.
A similar standing this time around would do nicely.
Whether that happens or not remains to be seen but Mooy’s historic winner surely means his image is a shoo-in to soon be adorning the walls of the Terriers’ home.
Aaron Mooy marked the return of top-flight football to Huddersfield after 45 years away with a stunning strike to secure victory over Newcastle United at the John Smith’s Stadium.
FOR YOU: Town’s players salute their fans.
PICTURE PERFECT: Aaron Mooy curls home a shot beyond Rob Elliot to give Huddersfield Town the lead and ultimately the victory over Newcastle United. Left, Rajiv van la Parra in action, and right, flags waved high on a proud day for Terriers fans.