Well, what a difference a year makes. It was around this time last year that Town fans were going into a match against a certain team from the North-East that played in black and white stripes with complete trepidation and nervousness.
Despite the brilliant pre-season, great signings and feel-good factor around Huddersfield, most Town fans including myself were hoping at best for a point against Newcastle at St James’ Park. But thanks to a Nakhi Wells strike and a supreme finish by Jack Payne that sent the travelling fans into delirium, we walked away from the match gleefully with all three points.
Before the game, Newcastle fans had largely treated our little club as an after-thought with a dismissive attitude. It seemed that we were one of those teams that they had heard people talk about when they moan about the eternal misery that is the Championship.
“We can’t be losing to teams like Huddersfield” – being a predictable staple. What followed the victory was a spectacular fan meltdown with one YouTube video, in particular, a real highlight to watch as Geordies struggled to comprehend the idea that Huddersfield Town could beat them on their own patch. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth watching.
Thankfully for them, their team scraped over the line to win the Championship title, largely thanks to a spectacular blunder by David Stockdale that cost Brighton a win on the final day of the season.
Since that win last August, however, some Newcastle fans seemed content to do their best impressions of talking clocks with numerous quips of how our wheels were likely to fall off and how we would sink into mid-table mediocrity. But miraculously and brilliantly, we didn’t and if it wasn’t for a few costly defeats near the crunch end of the season, we really might have nicked an automatic promotion spot from them.
Alas, it wasn’t to be but we were still promoted anyway thanks to the magic of the playoffs and well, you know the rest.
Now we are both in the ‘promised land’ but this time, the fortunes of both clubs seems to have reversed. Where before we were the little dogs hoping for an upset against the black and white Doberman, now Town fans have more than good cause to go in with full confidence ahead of the big game on Sunday, which will be shown live on Sky Sports.
Town have got the majority of their transfer business done early and reaped the rewards of squad cohesion and integration culminating in a thrilling 3-0 win against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Whilst we have hit a speed bump in securing cover for right-back Tommy Smith and could still do with cover in the left-wing, number 10 and centre-back positions, our key signings were made with plenty of time to spare before the transfer window shut.
Newcastle, on the other hand, seems to be a club that hit the cliffs of perennial turmoil just as their ship seemed to be plotting a steady course. No sooner had their messiah Benitez secured them promotion when his relationship with owner Mike Ashley hit troubled waters.
Benitez demanded a bigger transfer war chest so he could go about improving his squad and ensure they did not hit ‘yoyo’ club territory. However, Benitez’s grumblings were drowned out by Mike Ashley’s antics at a business get-together where he allegedly got himself into a heap of bother through alcohol, vomited into a fireplace and promised a £10m business deal to a man he’d just met. This was eventually settled in court.
Ashley proceeded to muddy the waters by giving an interview to Sky Sports News declaring he didn’t have vast amounts of money to give to Benitez, complained that he wasn’t a rich owner and that all of his money “is in shares in Sports Direct”.
Benitez’s problems were exacerbated further during the 3-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur when his stand-in captain Jonjo Shelvey was sent off for a stamp on Dele Alli right under the referee’s nose. His key playmaker was now banned for 3 games and with no big signings imminent, like Palace, it seems like the perfect time to play Newcastle.
Steve Mounié vs Jamal Lascelles
Providing he is fit to play on Sunday, this could well be the tastiest battle of the game.
Mounié will be full of confidence after bagging a brace on his debut last week and Lascelles will be feeling his way back from injury.
Widely regarded as one of the best centre-backs in the Championship last season, Lascelles will be keen to prove he has what it takes to hack it in the Premier League but Mounié will be on it from minute one and openly admits he loves a battle.
This could produce some fireworks.
Aaron Mooy vs Isaac Hayden
The wizard from Oz had a suitably outstanding game against Palace last week.
Seemingly Mooy was everywhere, as well as dictating play, he conjured up two assists and tracked back to tackle and win possession on several occasions, in a superb all round performance. He showed that he is more than capable of living up to his price-tag and performing in the Premier League.
Isaac Hayden will be hoping his defensive prowess and tenacity can disrupt Mooy’s flow and therefore Town’s playing style to dominate the midfield area and provide the platform for Newcastle to get a result.
Chris Löwe vs Matt Ritchie
One almost costly error aside, Chris Löwe was as always, a pillar of consistency last week, constantly linking up with winger Tom Ince and provided the inside pass to Aaron Mooy before his cross for Mounie’s first goal.
He will have to be on his game once again to contain Matt Ritchie. Blessed with a powerful shot and undoubted talent, Ritchie decided to drop down to the Championship to help Newcastle get promoted at the first attempt. In the game at the John Smith’s Stadium, Ritchie was awarded a dubious penalty in their 3-1 victory.
Having lost the admiration of Town fans in a single moment, everyone will be hoping Löwe can keep him quiet and put him in his place after last season’s dubious decision.
Tommy Smith vs Christian Atsu
Tommy Smith will be hoping his latest opponent is a bit less demanding than Wilfried Zaha was.
After being booked for persistent fouling, Smith was subbed off to save him being sent off but will hope to have better joy against Christian Atsu.
Whilst there were many negatives in Newcastle’s defeat last Sunday, Christian Astu was one of the solitary positives as he showed that he has a point to prove in the Premier League.
After signing him on a permanent deal from Chelsea after a successful loan deal, the diminutive but pacy winger will be hoping he can get the better of Smith and provide the width for Newcastle to deliver chances to forward Dwight Gayle.
Christopher Schindler vs Dwight Gayle
After handling Christian Benteke last week, Chris Schindler will probably enjoy marking Newcastle forward Dwight Gayle a bit more.
Taking nothing away from Gayle’s finishing capability, Gayle is a leaner and smaller striker instead of the powerhouse that is Benteke.
Whilst it will be another contest testing Schindler’s defensive attributes in a different way, the German centre half will be hoping to use his pace and excellent reading of the game to try and stifle Gayle’s attacking threat and intercept any clear-cut chances he can poach.
After such a magnificent win last weekend, it’s hard to believe that David Wagner will look to change this winning formula.
Stats to look out for
- Huddersfield’s 2-1 win at St James’ Park last season is their only victory in their last 11 league and cup meetings.
- The last top-flight fixtures between these clubs, in the 1971-72 season, both ended in goalless draws.
- Only two newly-promoted sides have won their first two Premier League games: Hull City last season and Bolton Wanderers in 2001-02.
- Huddersfield’s starting line-up against Crystal Palace was the youngest of any team during the first round of Premier League matches, with an average age of 25 years and 143 days.
- Steve Mounie can become the first player to score in his opening two Premier League appearances for a promoted side since Michael Ricketts with Bolton in 2001.
- Dwight Gayle has scored in all three of his previous league games against Huddersfield Town.
- Newcastle are winless in their last 11 Premier League away games (D2, L9) since beating Tottenham in December 2015.
- Victory would ensure Rafael Benitez reaches 500 points as a Premier League manager.
Last week was a statement of intent for Town, as Wagner has said, we are not here to say hello and such a comprehensive win against albeit a talented but incoherent Crystal Palace side will have given the entire side a major boost of confidence.
Now, with people taking notice, Town have the opportunity to make it six points from six. However, to do so, Town will have to beat a well-organised Newcastle United side. With the Sky cameras turning to the John Smith Stadium this weekend for Town’s first ever Premier League home game, it will be the place to be.