October and November epitomised the term ‘mixed bag’. Amongst several poor performances and some harsh lessons dished out by top six teams was a magical win against Man United at home and a valiant and encouraging defeat by Man City at home.
Both these tightly-fought contests gave real belief to Wagner, his coaching staff, and the players that they really could survive and thrive in this punishing top division.
However, it also showed us as clear as day that with our squad you cannot under-perform against any team and expect to come away with a result.
Failures to turn up against Swansea and Bournemouth away from home gave us sobering defeats and in the case of Bournemouth, set the doubters eyes alight once more at the prospect of Town sinking slowly back into relegation trouble.
Despite this, David Wagner’s men were too resilient to let these doubts creep in and the following months ahead proved to all of us that with every crushing defeat, they could bounce-back with an inspiring victory.
Liverpool (A): Smith’s costly mistake
After the footballing lesson dished out to us against Tottenham Hotspur before the Sky cameras, David Wagner was left scarred by the experience and remained determined not to let another team carve us open at will on the counter-attack.
Simply playing our own ‘gegenpressen’ game was not enough against these top 6 teams and compromises had to be made to our natural game if we were to secure results against these sides, particularly away from home.
However, what Wagner ended up reverting to was an old-fashioned low-block against Liverpool, aiming to stifle the three-pronged attack of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and a then-fit Daniel Sturridge.
It started off as an admirable first-half defensive display where Liverpool could not break down Town’s defences.
Even when they were awarded a penalty, Jonas Lossl stepped up and saved Mo Salah’s penalty and tipped the incoming rebound from Jordan Henderson onto the post.
Going into half-time at 0-0, you couldn’t help but be impressed by the resilience that Town’s defenders showed and the way in which they carried out their manager’s instructions.
However, the moment which changed the game, unfortunately, came from our club captain Tommy Smith. After conceding the penalty in the first-half, Smith then contrived to head a clearance straight to Daniel Sturridge, who coolly chipped the ball over Lossl and put Liverpool in front.
After conceding, Town players heads dropped and the proverbial floodgates opened, the final score ending 3-0.
Whilst in hindsight, fans may look back on this Liverpool victory as nothing more than rudimentary, it did give Town fans a glimpse of the type of defensive solidity they could produce against the big boys and give David Wagner huge confidence in being able to replicate this kind of performance against other teams across the division.
However, he also again learned a valuable lesson in Premier League games; make a mistake and more likely than not, you will be punished for it.
Man United (H): Depoitre strikes, folklore created
Games like this come around once in a lifetime for most fans but those who were there to witness this result will treasure the memories of that game forever.
Going into the game on the back of no wins in 6 league games, pundits were already questioning whether the wheels had begun to fall off and if we could recover our early season August form which put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons.
However, David Wagner and his men showed, like they have time and time again, the folly of writing them off for any fixture.
After taking the lead through a breakaway move finished off by Aaron Mooy, Town fans were drenched in a metaphorical wave of shock and delirium.
This state of shock morphed into pure disbelief when Jonas Lossl pumped a long-ball over the Man United defence.
Expecting a routine headed clearance, Town fans lept to their feet as they watched replacement centre-half Victor Lindelof miss the header and allow striker Laurent Depoitre in on goal.
As he rounded arguably the best keeper in the world right now, David de Gea and left him stranded in no man’s land, time seemed to stand still as Depoitre faced the empty, bulging net.
A sharp, collective intake of breath was inhaled by the entire stadium before the big Belgian calmly slotted the ball home, producing a roar of euphoria that could probably have been heard across Yorkshire. Appropriately, there were limbs everywhere.
For many Town fans, this moment was their highlight of the entire season – a confirmation that we truly belonged in the Premier League, a realisation that this was truly real and we were about to beat (arguably) the biggest team in the entire country.
For an underdog story such as the one that enveloped our club and has at reached hyperbolic levels at times, we really did witness a biblical re-imagining of the ‘David vs Goliath’ story that day.
f you think that comparison is a bit strong, just look at the respective teams’ wage bills, transfer spending and trophy cabinet and then sit back down.
Swansea (A): a combination of errors
After such a mind-blowing performance against Man United, Town fans went into the Swansea game with a renewed sense of hope and expectation.
Unfortunately, we were to be let down in both those departments.
What followed the great in Man United was the insipid against Swansea. Town delivered a flat, error-strewn performance that gifted Swansea the victory and didn’t force them to work massively hard for it either.
The opening goal for Swansea was symbolic of the game itself and the roller-coaster ride of a season this has been for Town.
After midfielder Phillip Billing received the ball under pressure facing his own goal, he gave goalkeeper Jonas Lossl what many in the game would call a ‘hospital pass’.
Still trying to find a way out of the situation by passing out from the back, Lossl’s lapse in concentration saw him return the pass straight to a Swansea player, who calmly read the situation and squared it to the onrushing Tammy Abraham who gobbled up the chance he had been gifted.
Where adaptation to thrive coupled with over-performing feats of excellence have permeated this season, so too have we seen failures to adjust to the pace of the Premier League, basic errors and costly mistakes.
A moment like this could have been a confidence destroyer but thankfully Lossl did not let such a mistake affect his performances.
It did, however, show that, like Wagner’s debut season in the Championship, the new players would take time to implement his vision and the style of play he wanted to imprint onto his team.
Arsenal (A): The early bird catches the worm
On a bitterly cold night in North London, snoods and gloves were seen aplenty amongst the Town players warming up.
Unfortunately for Town fans, the players couldn’t muster a goal to warm the cockles up. Indeed, it could well be argued that the contest was decided in the first ten minutes. After conceding a very early goal through Alexandre Lacazette, this was the pivotal moment in the game.
It was always going to be an uphill struggle against Arsenal but it is a true killer blow when you concede an early goal playing a team in the top six home or away but especially away.
However, Town certainly managed to carve out several openings which, had we been more clinical could have resulted in at least one goal.
With the half-time score at 1-0, there was certainly room for optimism if we could go out in the second half with real urgency, aggressiveness and find that killer instinct.
Unfortunately, the arrival of Olivier Giroud off the substitute’s bench sealed the win and showed the Town forwards how to finish, albeit he was given the chance on a plate by Mesut Ozil.
And, just like Liverpool, once the second goal went in, the game was effectively finished.
Town players legs moved that little bit slower, their minds perhaps resigned to the fact they had already lost and two more quick goals were ruthlessly dispatched by Arsenal before a fifth was added late on; 5-0 the final score-line.
On a night in below freezing temperatures where they were exerting huge amounts of energy merely to stay in the game, someone of Ozil’s class could exploit their tired legs late on and send the Arsenal faithful happy (although they didn’t show it during the game).
Manchester City (H): A stroke of great misfortune
Another game against the top 6 and this time, the biggest test of all, a rampant and all-conquering Man City.
Most pundits were predicting cricket scores for this game despite our result against Man United but in truth, most Town fans would have taken a 3-0 defeat going into the game.
The fact that we were 6 minutes away from nicking a draw against the eventual Champions seemed too good to be true…and so it turned out that way.
After a Nicolas Otamendi own-goal had given Town fans another moment of dumb-founded disbelief and joy, we quickly let Man City back into the game almost immediately after half-time, a staple of the season overall.
A tense second-half of almost constant defending ensued leading to an agonising moment of outrageous luck which gave City the win, the ball rebounding off Raheem Sterling and looping in over a despairing Jonas Lossl.
Such a moment of fortune often fall to teams at the top and we learned this first-hand in Man City’s winner.
Bournemouth (A): Wilson’s nightmare
Whilst this was a game riddled with officiating mistakes, it was Town’s poor defending combined with the curse of Callum Wilson which ultimately decided the game.
As is the case with most Premier League fixtures and indeed Town’s, it was the second goal which decided the match and provided the most memorable moment of the game.
Despite Flo Hadergjonaj being pole-axed in the build-up to the first goal, it was the second goal which sealed the three points for Bournemouth.
This goal also provided its own moment of controversy as Wilson on replay, is clearly in an offside position when the ball is played into him but with the linesman keeping his flag down, Wilson finished with aplomb to haunt Town fans once again.
Many Town fans had thought they’d seen the last of Wilson after that infamous hat-trick that prompted the resignation of then manager Mark Robins but alas, our fears were reignited after this drubbing at Dean Court.
West Brom (H): Rajiv’s moment of magic
Games against lower-ranked opposition always bring on extra significance and pressure but this game, in particular, was ear-marked by many Town fans as a must-win in the context of the season.
Indeed, it was this victory and the return leg which gave us 6 valuable points and in the end, relegated West Brom instead of us.
Surprisingly, it was a player often criticised by some Town fans (in some cases justified, other times over the top) who clinched the three points.
One of the biggest criticisms of Rajiv van la Parra, since he arrived at Town, has been his end product. Whilst undoubtedly one of the most skillful players in the team, if not the most skillful, van la Parra has not produced the goals and assists which David Wagner craves from his wingers.
In the Championship, he produced a mere two goals. In the Premier League, two of his three goals came against West Brom and in this case, it was his tremendous solo effort which gave Town all three points.
As a player who Town fans rarely see takes shots at goal, it was almost surreal to see la Parra look up and curl a beauty of a shot from fully 30 yards out and watch it nestle in the top corner.
Such a feat of skill is extremely hard to pull off and Town fans rightly wondered why he didn’t do this more often. He has it in his locker, he just has to show it more consistently.
This moment of magic, especially after Chris Schindler was given a second yellow card was a true ‘champagne moment’ in every sense of the word and provided a moment of magic that will go into Town highlight reels for years to come.