Priceless strike by Ince helps to repay Wagner
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN 1
THE German translation of nearly there is ‘fast da’.
Huddersfield Town’s medley of wunderbar moments in David Wagner’s epic tenure is gloriously prolific and this latest intoxicating entry is surely close to the top of a list of riches.
A ‘no limits’ team whose bloody-minded will to get over the line, whatever the circumstances, is proudly worn as a badge of honour, Town truly surpassed themselves on a ‘Super Saturday’ whose bewitching events pushed them to the cherished brink of Premier League safety.
Exactly a year to the day since the promotion-chasing Terriers secured a pulsating stoppagetime Roses victory over Championship visitors Preston North End, the hosts were at it again – courtesy of Tom Ince’s dramatic, wonderful late intervention.
They have done this sort of thing several times before. Think Leeds United at home last season and Rotherham United away, for starters.
But in terms of significance, Saturday’s episode will take some beating. It will perhaps only be superseded in importance by that Wembley penalty from Christopher Schindler as Town moved seven points clear of the relegation zone after what is likely to prove the definitive moment of their Premier League season.
The scenes after Ince’s strike were similarly memorable, with head coach Wagner’s joyous sprint up the touchline to celebrate with his players being a reprise of his exuberant reaction to Michael Hefele’s late winner against Leeds in February, 2016.
A high-pressure game in which performance counted for nothing, but winning represented the be-all and end-all for the hosts, Town triumphed with their only shot on target.
Substitute Ince’s strike from close in after an intuitive assist from Mathias Zanka may not have been a Goal of the Month contender, but it carried radiant beauty for Town’s delirious home support.
For match-winner Ince there was also redemption on an afternoon that started with him being dropped to the bench.
The flood of goals that he plundered for Derby County in 2016-17 – 15 in all – may have turned into a trickle this season, much to his chagrin in a campaign which has not, by his own admission sparkled.
But scoring the goal that could well secure Town’s top-flight tenure represents fair compensation.
On his momentous third goal of the season, Ince acknowledged: “It was the biggest positive I have had in my career so far.
“I have been disappointed with myself this season and I am my own worst critic. I wanted to produce and do a lot more. But it has been a learning curve for me with a new manager, team-mates and different way of playing.
“The Premier League requires you to work ten times as hard and things are not going to come as easy to you than they do in the Championship. All I can do is take experiences throughout the whole season and the positives and negatives.
“He (Wagner) said that he knows I am better than what I have shown this season and I know that myself. He said, ‘ Listen, you can start the season now after getting that goal’.
“You have got to gamble and the goal was similar to the one I scored against Stoke here. If you don’t gamble when balls are in the box and do not remain positive you do not believe that the ball is going to fall to you.”
Strange and wonderful things often happen towards the tailend of seasons and that much was made obvious by events ahead of kick-off on Saturday.
Each goal in Chelsea’s comeback in turning around a 2-0 deficit to triumph at Southampton was greeted with hearty cries by the Town faithful – and an airing of Blue is the Colour as opposed to Huddersfield’s traditional walkon song of Ride of the Valkyries would have been somewhat appropriate ahead of kick-off.
It set the tone for a day that will remain in the memory vaults of Town fans for some time.
Yes, the game was forgettable, but what a story and what a finish.
Much of what preceded Ince’s strike was weighty. Town’s incessant support from the stands may provide four-star fuel to fill the tanks of their heroes from the off, but home players ran on fumes for much of the second half.
One last top-up arrived. Sensing the need for this, chairman Dean Hoyle stood up, clapping and cajoling in the main stand, as did the multitudes around the ground – and then it happened.
Prior to Ince’s strike most of the fleeting polish arrived from Watford, but fortunately they also looked every inch a side with- out an away goal since January 2, with Javi Gracia yet to see his side score on the road.
Key blocks from Florent Hadergjonaj and Jonathan Hogg denied Troy Deeney and Abdoulaye Doucoure in a stuffy first half and while Huddersfield’s intent at the other end was clear their lack of quality in the final third and ina- bility to conjure a telling final ball was equally obvious.
It also looked for long stages of the second half that Town would draw a damning blank for the third straight home match against modest opponents, with a drive from Hogg being the best they could muster in a ponderous, unimaginative showing.
But one flash of inspiration in perfect isolation proved enough.
Terence Kongolo’s punt broke for Zanka, whose instinctive flick went between the legs of Daryl Janmaat to break for Ince, who beat Craig Cathcart to tuck the ball into the empty net with Orestis Karnezis out of position.
Job done – almost.
MAGIC MOMENT: Tom Ince, top, races away after netting the stoppage-time winner against Watford and sending his Huddersfield Town teammates, coach David Wagner and the Town faithful into raptures as they eye Premier League survival.