Why Huddersfield’s bemusing expectations have to change ahead of clash with relegation rivals Fulham

Ahead of a pivotal two-month stretch, are the Terriers right to stick by David Wagner regardless of results?

Kieran Jackson
Sunday 04 November 2018 09:24
David Wagner has set his sights on the transfer market
David Wagner has set his sights on the transfer market

While Rafa Benitez came under increasing scrutiny for Newcastle United’s winless start to the season before this weekend amid unrealistically high expectations in the North-East, 92 miles south David Wagner seemingly cruised to the same points tally with Huddersfield Town without as much as a speck on his job security.

After all, the Terriers were never meant to get promoted after finishing fifth in the Championship. They were never meant to competitively compete in the most expensive league on the planet. They were never meant to avoid relegation with a game to spare with a remarkable pair of points away to Manchester City and Chelsea.

However, after exceeding all expectations since his arrival at the club from Borussia Dortmund II in November 2015, Wagner faces a new, starkly different phase to his tenure at the club, and yet many aren’t quite aware of it.

For any club outside the top six, stabilisation in the Premier League is imperative. After the opening 10 games, Huddersfield are rooted to the bottom without a win and are yet to score at home.

Contrastingly, after 10 matches last season, David Wagner’s side had 12 points and three wins to their name, including a memorable 2-1 win against Manchester United.

Now, it’s true that they’ve played four out of the top six already. Furthermore, their lack of goals haven’t totally been due to a lack of creativity in the final third: Huddersfield currently have the worst ‘woodwork to goals’ ratio in the entire division, at 1.5. That’s six woodwork strikes compared to four goals.

Nevertheless, the table does not lie and the closing two months of 2018 could well define their 2019. Particularly at home, Huddersfield have a run of fixtures in which they need to pick up points at home to West Ham, Brighton, Newcastle, Southampton and Fulham on Monday. And draws might not be good enough.

In contrast Slavisa Jokanovic is now under intense scrutiny at Fulham
Huddersfield's owners have backed Wagner regardless even of relegation this season

It should be worth noting that there is absolutely no need for Huddersfield chairman Dean Hoyle to hit the panic button just yet. Indeed, the miraculous work of a man who before taking on the job had never managed a first-team, let alone worked in English football, merits the 46-year-old an opportunity to reverse fortunes on the pitch.

But if, come the New Year, Huddersfield are languishing hopelessly in the relegation zone, Huddersfield chairman Dean Hoyle may just have to mince his words if he wants his club to remain in the top flight.

In September, Hoyle backed his manager for the foreseeable future: “Even if we have a bad season, which I don’t expect us to do, David will still be the manager. If we are relegated, he would 100% be the manager next season.”

Lay all your cards on the table, why don’t you?

Some would see this as a rightly deserved show of commitment to a manager who has performed sporting miracles at the John Smith’s Stadium. Yet on the flip side of the coin, such devotion so early on in the season is an error in judgement.

Huddersfield's strike force have managed just four league goals this season

Although Mr Hoyle may have thought his words would be a source of encouragement and motivation for Wagner, managers – much like players in the starting XI under pressure from those in the squad – undoubtedly need a certain amount of pressure to perform. Currently, Wagner has none whatsoever.

Whether this is a factor in Huddersfield’s poor start only time will tell. Yet Wagner can’t afford to take his foot of the gas. We’ve seen all too often, once down in the unpredictable world of the Championship, how difficult big clubs find coming back up. Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Ipswich Town - take your pick.

Yet the fact of the matter is that Wagner is not being mentioned alongside Benitez, and Slavisa Jokanovic at Fulham, when it comes to potential sackings. This, rightly or wrongly, is indicative of the club’s mentality and nadir expectations.

Quicker then they think, the whole ethos of the club, from fans to the board, needs to change from ‘we want to stay up’ to ‘we need to stay up’. Expectations at most Premier League clubs are high; Huddersfield is an anomaly, and it could just come back to bite David Wagner and his team.

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