January and February for Town fans, for the most part, was a miserable time of the season.
It contained arguably two of our worst performances of the season against West Ham at home and Stoke City away. Other poor performances also came at Old Trafford and at the King Power Stadium against Man United and Leicester respectively.
What started off as potentially a very ‘winnable’ set of fixtures with the exception of Man United and Liverpool turned into ominous looks down the table. Nervous jitters began to re-surface about whether we would once again be sucked into the mire of the relegation battle.
Fears were slightly allayed with the 4-1 drubbing of Bournemouth before a relegation decider against West Brom at the Hawthorns. Many Town fans believed that the victor would end up staying up and, in the end, their suspicions were proven completely right.
Leicester (A) – Algerian sorcery bewitching defences
After a hard-fought 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture at the John Smith’s Stadium earlier in the season, some Town fans went into this game with a certain degree of optimism that we could snatch a result against Leicester. This was despite their lofty position in the top 10 of the division at the time.
Factor in a want-away Riyad Mahrez who was growing impatient at his club’s refusal to give into Manchester City’s overtures and there was significant hope of something positive occurring.
Unfortunately, that hope never came to fruition.
Instead of a jaded Mahrez turning up, doing very little and being subbed at half-time, we had to experience a rejuvenated winger with either a point to prove performance or a ‘come and get me’ plea to his potential suitors.
It was Mahrez who opened the scoring with a sumptuous volley from the right-hand side of the penalty area from 12 yards.
However, it was the second goal which duly killed the tie and served as the pivotal moment in this game with Mahrez once again involved.
Substitute and compatriot Islam Slimani had a lot to do when Mahrez sent him through on goal with a defence splitting pass but he belied his stature and reputation by chipping an onrushing Jonas Lossl exquisitely.
This ended the game as a contest with Town barely looking like they could score one goal, let alone two.
A Marc Albrighton effort deep into added time at the end of the second half perhaps flattered Leicester but it was no more than they deserved in a horrendously one-sided second half.
West Ham (H) – 16 minutes of madness
In a carbon copy of the previous fixture, Town conceded three goals in a second-half performance bereft of solidity, composure and all the other attributes we associate with a David Wagner team.
After a horrendous mix-up between then Town player Joe Lolley and Jonas Lossl that allowed Mark Noble to stroll through and clinically finish his gifted chance, Lolley immediately made amends with the best goal he ever scored for Town to go into the break at one a piece.
What followed in the second half could not have been more of a stark contrast.
In a familiar Town trope, we conceded almost immediately after kick-off with Arnautovic bamboozling club captain Tommy Smith and smashing home West Ham’s second.
This sixteen-minute period thereafter completely changed the course of the game and sealed the three points for West Ham.
There was a collective lack of composure from the team and a failure to recognise and deal with the dual threat of Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini. It was the latter that ripped us apart on the break, scoring twice in five minutes and putting Town on the verge of a humiliation.
Proceeding this was a damage limitation exercise and an attempt to avoid the kind of cricket score that could have had long-term damage for the team spirit in the dressing room.
Stoke (A) – Joe Allen compounds Town’s misery
This away performance was arguably Town’s worst performance of the season.
When a response was needed following the harrowing defeat to West Ham, it didn’t come.
Disjointed, jaded and toothless, Town had a chance to take down a vulnerable Stoke side, one which would eventually go onto be relegated.
However, we looked lifeless, with little clue how to break down a pretty porous Stoke defence.
In the 53rd minute, Joe Allen arrived late in the box completely unmarked to calmly slot the ball past Jonas Lossl.
A goal which effectively killed the game off even though it was only 1-0. That’s how bad Town were.
The second which came fifteen minutes later from a break-away came as no surprise. The less said about this one, the better.
Liverpool (H) – Firmino’s genius breaks the back of Town’s defence
The reverse fixture at Anfield threw up a stoic first-half Town defensive performance including a brilliant Jonas Lossl save from a Mo Salah penalty before half-time.
However, a Tommy Smith gift to Daniel Sturridge broke the deadlock and the floodgates opened soon after.
It was a similar story at the John Smith’s.
The deadlock was broken more quickly in this fixture with Emre Can firing past Jonas Lossl in the 26th minute from long range via a deflection.
However, Town were giving as good as they got against a strong Liverpool team, marshalling the twin-winged threat from Mo Salah and Sadio Mane.
And yet, as has been the case so many times in Liverpool games last season, if you mark two of their front-three out of the game, the remaining forward can still win the game for them single-handedly.
Coming up to half-time, if we had gone into the break at 1-0, the game would have been alive and kicking.
However, facing the Town goal from an incredibly tight angle, Firmino somehow found a way to surprise Jonas Lossl at his near-post with a cute finish and effectively killed the game off for Town.
A Mo Salah penalty in the second-half added a proverbial cherry on top for Liverpool but by then, the game as a contest was over.
Man United (A) – Alexis Sanchez delivers on debut
Given Town’s extremely poor form going into this game, most Town fans weren’t expecting anything from this game, despite a similarly poor run of form going into the reverse fixture.
Town’s performance was, like so many games in the Premier League season, solid but cautious, committed but impotent.
As it was Alexis Sanchez’s debut, this took the media attention away from Town and onto what kind of impact the Chilean would have on the game.
Thankfully, the only contribution he made to the game was a penalty.
However, the eventually converted penalty was the decisive moment in the game which sealed the three points for Man United.
In truth, Town never looked like scoring anyway.
Bournemouth (H) – A harsh own-goal to kill off the Cherries
This might well have been the most desperately needed win of the season.
Off the back of five successive league defeats, the doubters had once again begun to circle and the relegation vultures gazed upon the wounded Huddersfield Town carcass with a satiating desire.
As we all know, however, this team and David Wagner have a knack of producing unexpected results and performances when they need it most.
After goals from Alex Pritchard and Steve Mounie gave the home fans a shred of comfort in the first half, it was not until the second half that they could relax fully, especially when Bournemouth were still carving out significant openings with the score at 2-1.
It was the third goal which proved to be the key moment in this game and which might be the harshest own-goal ever given.
After a fine first-time shot from Steve Mounie, the ball took the most minimal of deflections off Bournemouth centre-back Steve Cook.
The deflection was so slight that you have to slow down the footage to even notice the deflection took place at all. However, the goal was chalked down as an OG and Steve Mounie was denied a well-deserved brace.
No matter the harshness of that decision, the goal sealed the three points for Town.
A last-minute penalty by Rajiv van la Parra almost overshadowed the result itself due to the winger’s persistence to take the penalty which denied Steve Mounie a perceived hat-trick to onlookers within the stadium.
West Brom (A) – Mounie’s clinical finishing delivers on the day
West Brom away seemed like one of those ‘must win’ games which we’d look back on as a determinant for staying in the Premier League or not based on its result.
It duly worked out that way.
After taking the lead through Rajiv van la Parra, a delicate threaded pass from Alex Pritchard put Mounie through one-on-one with Ben Foster. Calmly composing himself before curling the ball round the onrushing West Brom keeper, Mounie’s goal gave us a two-goal cushion and which would prove the pivotal moment in the game.
This became abundantly clear when Craig Dawson pulled one back with a towering header in the second half, producing a tense finish to the game.
A notable mention also goes to Terrence Kongolo’s goal-saving block on Oli Burke late on, sealing the three points for Town in the process.
Personally speaking, this away game was one of my all-time favourites supporting Town and the post-match celebrations from the players and fans gave off a synergised belief that maybe we really could stay in this division after all.