Huddersfield Town’s Rajiv van La Parra, left, is congratulated after scoring what proved the only goal of the game against West Bromwich Albion (Picture: Nigel French/PA Wire).
When Huddersfield Town shocked the nation by beating Manchester United in the Premier League, it was proclaimed as the Terriers’ result of the season. However, Saturday’s gritty performance – cast in the mould of so many Town displays in their promotion-winning campaign last season – was a better yardstick of where Huddersfield are as they adapt to life in the Premier League. Down to 10 men for the final third of the game – after Christopher Schindler’s needless red card – Town had to sacrifice style to scrap for all three points against Tony Pulis’s battle-hardened West Brom. They did so with typical gusto to deliver a display that many Championship observers came to expect from head coach David Wagner’s charges 12 months ago. Off came flair players Elias Kachunga and Rajiv van La Parra – the latter having given Town a deserved first-half lead with a stunning 30-yard strike – to be replaced by the industry of Martin Cranie and Danny Williams in a 5-3-1 formation. Huddersfield’s goal was subsequently rarely threatened, and even when the Baggies – veterans at this level, but struggling this season under Pulis – did find the target, goalkeeper Jonas Lossl produced two saves labelled as “world-class” by a relieved Wagner. “I know that when we played Man United this was a big win,” said the German head coach. “I think it was a big win for the football club, while (Saturday) it was a big win for us as a group and for me as a manager.
“We’ve shown we can play in our identity and style and also, if we need to, we can play in the deeper block if necessary and I’m absolutely delighted the players have shown both. “I am delighted, not just with the performance, but the result as well. “I think the first 60 minutes we have shown what we usually like to show in home games, to be very aggressive, high tempo, very intense and get in their faces. “We wanted to press them very high and keep them away from our goal.”
Chances were at a premium in the opening 45 minutes, the Baggies opting to pack the centre of the park with defensive midfielders in a 5-3-2 formation. Town saw a good penalty shout rejected by referee Roger East, when van La Parra – on his 50th league start for the hosts – was sent sprawling by Kieran Gibbs. West Brom threatened little, Jay Rodriguez breaking clear in a rare foray forward, but his shot was blocked by a superb recovering block from Schindler. The goal, when it came, was worthy of winning any match. A controversial free-kick was taken quickly by the influential Aaron Mooy to set van La Parra free, and his 30-yard shot curled inside Ben Foster’s left-hand post to break the deadlock.
“The kid’s scored a wonder goal,” Pulis admitted. “Absolutely fantastic strike. Actually, when he hit it, and I was right behind it, I thought it was going wide, but it curled right at the end.” Town looked comfortable at 1-0, but Schindler – harshly booked for a tangle with Hal Robson-Kanu – then needlessly lunged in on Ahmed Hegazi and East had little option but to issue a second booking. This sparked West Brom into life, attacking trio James McClean, Matt Phillips and Salomon Rondon introduced as the visitors looked to make their numerical advantage count. Rondon should have equalised, but headed wide to leave Baggies fans chanting for Pulis’s sacking. Lossl had largely been a bystander, but twice came to Town’s rescue with wonder saves as six minutes of stoppage-time were played out. First the Danish goalkeeper blocked McClean’s header with a one-handed save to his left,
before turning away Phillips’s low shot with his right hand. “He (Lossl) was there when we needed him,” Wagner said. “For 85 minutes he didn’t have anything to save, but then he was there with two world-class saves and this is high quality. “If, as a goalkeeper, you don’t have too much to do, then to be there, that is great. “It was his fifth clean sheet and an important one because if you have a clean sheet and score once you have three massive points. “It was a deserved win because the players have shown, for the first 60 minutes, high intensity, energetic football and for the last 30 minutes the spirit and fighting attitude that you need to be successful. “We have arrived in the Premier League, with 15 points from 11 games. It’s good, absolutely it is, but it is only 11 games and not more. I am very happy because every one of our points have been deserved so far. “This wasn’t a fluke, or luck, with the points we collected. This gives us confidence to continue and try our best.” While victory a fortnight earlier over Manchester United grabbed the headlines, Saturday’s win was the type more likely t0 retain Huddersfield’s place in the Premier League beyond this season, as they fly the flag for Yorkshire football.