David Wagner marked his third anniversary as Huddersfield manager with a much-needed victory against relegation rivals Fulham, a result which makes it increasingly doubtful whether his opposite number Slavisa Jokanovic will last to see that same landmark in December of this year.
German defender Christopher Schindler ended Huddersfield’s seven-month wait for a home goal, via a deflection off Timothy Fosu-Mensah, inflicting a fifth successive defeat on Jokanovic in the process and leaving Fulham without a win in eight, a run dating back now to late August.
Fulham owner Shahid Khan, who bank-rolled his club’s spending to the tune of £108 million this summer, claims Jokanovic’s future is not in any doubt but, with Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United all to come in the next five fixtures, his manager may struggle to match Wagner in reaching that third anniversary.
For Wagner himself, a frustrating run of 659 minutes without a home goal, a sequence dating back to April 14 and a last-minute Tom Ince winner against Watford, ended just before the half-hour.
The goal had been coming and was fully merited as a Chris Lowe corner was cleared back to the Huddersfield wing-back who returned the ball into the six-yard area where Schindler rose above a group of players to head in with the aid of a deflection.
The relief around the John Smith’s Stadium was tangible, little wonder considering the worryingly slow start Huddersfield have made to the new season, particularly in terms of goal scoring.
The problem has been - and may still be - deep rooted at Huddersfield with that Ince effort in April in fact the only home goal the Terriers had scored since mid-February before last night.
In fact, when Schindler struck last night, the effort ended a run of one goal in the previous 1,019 minutes of Premier League football at the John Smith’s Stadium.
But in the build-up to last night’s opener, it was hard to envisage quite how and why Huddersfield have compiled such a futile run.
After 15 minutes of largely relentless home possession, Jonathan Hogg’s superb tackle on Aleksandar Mitrovic set up Philip Billing for a spectacular 30-yard shot which thundered against the Fulham cross-bar and flew to safety.
Just before the opener, Florent Hadergjonaj’s square pass found Alex Pritchard in space and the Town forward swivelled before unleashing a shot that looked destined for the top corner until Sergio Rico leaped athletically to keep it out one-handed.
And in the dying moments of a productive first half, Aaron Mooy’s corner was only cleared as far as Hogg whose well-placed header again forced Rico into an alert piece of keeping.
Jokanovic took drastic action at the interval, bringing on Kevin McDonald and Cyrus Christie, although Huddersfield produced the first notable attack of the second half with Mooy clearing the bar with a difficult attempt from a Billing long throw.
But at least the substitutions, and whatever Jokanovic had said to his players at half-time, seemed to have some impact on Fulham.
Jean Michael Seri soon delivered a couple of accurate corners although Huddersfield’s defending was enough to deny Mitrovic a clean aim at goal.
But the upturn in fortunes was short-lived. Huddersfield regained momentum with Denis Odoi fortunate to escape punishment when he handled on the edge of his area under pressure from home substitute Laurent Depoitre.
And McDonald, one of Fulham’s half-time replacements, was forced off before the midway point with injury, replaced by Stefan Johansen.
Andre Schurrle had the ball in the Huddersfield net in the later stages, although an early offside flag meant the defence had stopped playing, and the same Fulham man wasted their last meaningful chance after 81 minutes, racing onto Tom Cairney’s through ball but planting his effort well wide.
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