WE BELONG HERE
Huddersfield and Blades impress on their step up the divisions
IN the end, head coach David Wagner’s men could not become the first Huddersfield Town side to start a top-flight season with three straight wins since the second of the club’s ground-breaking hat-trick of consecutive League title successes in the Twenties.
This meant there was no repeat of the jubilant scenes that had greeted the final whistle on the opening two weekends of this term, nor the by now familiar post-match celebrations that sees fans and players raise their arms towards each other several times and cheer in noisy triumph.
Instead, Huddersfield had to content themselves with a stroll around the pitch and an appreciative return of applause from the crowd that was as warm as the Kirklees sunshine.
Such restraint was understandable, considering the final 10 minutes had twice seen Southampton denied a winner by, first, a save by Jonas Lossl and then a goal-line clearance from captain Tommy Smith.
In many ways, though, this stalemate was potentially a bigger confirmation that the Terriers have already adapted to life back among the elite than either of those victories over Crystal Palace and Newcastle United.
Certainly, the Saints are a step above either Palace or the Magpies in terms of Premier League quality. Players such as Manolo Gabbiadini, Steven Davis, Nathan Redmond and James WardProwse are capable of opening up even the most stingy of top-flight defences and yet Town will spend the international break with a goals against column that is occupied by a big, fat zero.
Those late blocks by Lossl and Smith to deny Redmond and Ryan Bertrand were crucial in preserving that record, as was an early miss from the former after the speedy winger had been played clear by a delightful pass from Davis.
But few neutrals who witnessed another impressive shift from the newly-promoted club would begrudge Huddersfield the point that sent them, fleetingly thanks to Manchester United’s subsequent tea-time victory over Leicester City, back to the top of the fledgling table.
Wagner, in common with managers up and down the land, is not one for taking any notice of the standings until more or less the halfway point of a season due to it meaning every team will have played all their rivals at least once.
But, after a start that has defied all those who expected the Terriers to struggle horribly following last May’s play-off triumph, the 45-year-old admits heading into the international break with seven points and three clean sheets has done wonders for the belief running through his squad.
“The most important thing with these results and performances is the players think, ‘We are competitive and we have a chance’,” said Wagner, who yesterday completed a deal to sign Leeds United goalkeeper Rob Green.
“We are totally the underdogs with the lowest budget by miles in the Premier League. The players had to know that if they stuck together, followed our ideas and continued to do what makes this group strong then they would have a chance.
“Every result helps us. We have seven points, three clean sheets in the Premier League and are also in the next (Carabao) Cup round. This is a great moment oment.
“All managers and d every club wants to collect early points. But for a promoted team, it is s even more important. It helps with confidence because we are totally y inexperienced.
“We had no players s really with any expe erience in the Premie r League (before the sea ason began). But wha at
a that can mean is you pla with freedom, there is n negative experience. Yo ou can go into a competitio on and try your best withou ut fear. That is exactly wha at this group has done.
“They have desire an nd are excited. Of cours se, now they have confidenc ce as well, as it shows that wew are capable in this div vision. This gives them co onfidence for what is in fro ont of us in the future.”
Wagner had warned beb forehand that his side would be facing their toughest challenge of the season against Southampton. The start and end to this game justified this billing as Southampton created three chances that really should have yielded at least one goal.
The first fell to Redmond after just 11 minutes, the jet-heeled Saint firing narrowly wide of Lossl’s left-hand post with just the goalkeeper to beat.
Lossl was then responsible for keeping out the second of f those gilt-edged opportunities six minutes from time when he beat away Redmond’s shot following good work from James Ward-Prowse.
Huddersfield’sfi final escape came a minute into stoppagetime as Smith cleared off the line after Shane Long had picked out Bertrand six yards out.
If Saints started and ended the contest on top, however, the middle belonged to the hosts, who with steadier finishing of their own could have matched their predecessors of 1924-25 in winning the first three games of a top-flight season.
Elias Kachunga was denied by a fine last-gasp block from Maya Yoshida moments before Fraser Forster was forced into a decent save by Steve Mounie.
The Saints goalkeeper then made up for presenting Kachunga with an excellent chance just before the break by keeping out the resulting shot from last season’s top scorer with a smart stop.
After the interval, Town continued to press and Mounie was just a whisker away from converting Thomas Ince’s curled cross before the impetus swung back the way of the visitors following the introduction of the lively Ward-Prowse and Long.
“A draw was a fair result,” said Wagner, who again reiterated that Nahki Wells is available for transfer due to having just 10 months remaining on his new contract.
“We are far away from (being) successful because it is only a start, but we are finding our way in the Premier League.”
PO OINT MADE: USA international and former Reading player Danny Williams, top, leads the ap pplause after Huddersfield Town’s goalless draw against Southampton. Left, Town’s Kasey Palmer an nd Southampton’s Oriol Romeu battle for the ball. Above, Christopher Schindler slides in on Saints’ St teven Davis at the John Smith’s Stadium.