The Spectre of relegation looms

Updated: Jul 25, 2018

As Leighton Baines cut-back found Idrissa Gueye on the edge of the Huddersfield Town box, seemingly in slow motion, the dreaded fear of relegation engulfed the stadium and began to become a reality for some. A home game against a team with nothing to play for, whose fans are in open revolt against the manager and a side who had only won twice away from all season seemed like a gift for David Wagner's side.


Their failure to unwrap that present has left the Terriers in very real trouble of returning to the Championship at the first time of asking. Victory would not have guaranteed mathematical safety, but realistically it would have.


Southampton ground out a 2-1 win at home to Bournemouth and now sit just three points behind Town with a considerably better goal difference and, on paper, an easier run-in.


On Friday I published a tweet in response to yet another derogatory comment by Sky Sports Pundit Paul Merson. He had unsurprisingly predicted Town to lose 1-0, but he claimed the reason they would lose is because they can't handle pressure.


I took umbrage to this assertion and my tweet received an overwhelming backing from Town fans. How daft must Merson be, to think that this side don't handle pressure well?





I felt an overall smugness in that regard as Town took to the pitch on Saturday, full of beans and in the faces of Everton. There seemed to be an extra spring in the player's steps and it seemed only a matter of time before Huddersfield would open the scoring.


Merely minutes after Cenk Tosun put the Toffees ahead against the run of play, I started to think about Merson's words and began to ponder the veracity of his claims. Town had conceded after a poor misplaced pass from Rajiv Van La Parra, and as soon as Tosun scored the confidence and belief seemed to drain out of every player in blue & white.


Where there had previously been high-intensity pressing, intricate passing and incisive runs there were sloppy passes, no movement and weak tackles. Surely, there would be a reaction in the second-half I thought, once the players had, had chance to regroup and go again, but there was not.


The Huddersfield players returned to the pitch in the same way, seemingly crippled with self-doubt and anxiety. The only surprise in that second-period was that it took Everton until the 76th minute to score a second, in what was a shocking display of defensive nous from the Terriers.


Fifteen minutes prior to the goal Jonas Lossl had raced from his goal during a break in play to bollock Zanka, Schindler and Hadergjonaj for poor positioning, and they clearly did not pay one bit of attention to what he said.


Shortly after a looping cross sailed over the head of Zanka, who barely broke a sweat to reach it and landed in the right-back position. But who was there? Certainly not the Huddersfield right-back Florent Hadergjonaj who appeared to have taken a leave of absence, instead it was Everton left-back Leighton Baines who had an abundance of time to pick out Idrissa Gueye on the edge of the box.


The goal-shy Senegalese midfielder was under absolutely zero pressure, and used his time to fire the ball into the corner of the Huddersfield net. Jonas Lossl appeared to be slow to react, but who can blame him really? He was probably as shocked as everyone else that the attack had even reached that point.


With the game seemingly beyond them, Town resorted to playing hopeful long balls to Mounie and Depoitre, with no-one willing to take responsibility on the ball and probe the Everton defence with any meaningful intent.



Somehow Town managed to fashion a good chance, which fell to the feet of Alex Pritchard in the box. With space and time to pick out a shot, he fluffed his lines, missing the ball and falling over in a heap. If ever there was a perfect metaphor for a team's performance, this was it.


Now what's left to do? Hope and pray, and believe. That's it. Town have trips to Manchester City and Chelsea before the visit of Arsenal on the final day of the season. Meanwhile Southampton face Everton and Swansea before finishing up against Manchester City. 


Mark Hughes side have fared well on their travels this term - in the context of a relegation threatened side - and could feasibly leapfrog Town with a victory over Everton. However, the way that the fixtures fall mean that Town have every chance of avoiding relegation even if they fail to register another point for the rest of the season. Here is the table and a list of the fixtures below.



Stoke City


5th May: Crystal Palace (H)

13th May: Swansea City (A)


Southampton


5th May: Everton (A)

8th May: Swansea City (A)

13th May: Manchester City (H)


Swansea City


5th May: Bournemouth (A)

8th May: Southampton (H)

13th May: Stoke City (H)


West Ham


5th May: Leicester City (A)

10th May: Manchester United (H)

13th May: Everton (H)


HUDDERSFIELD TOWN


6th May: Manchester City (A)

9th May: Chelsea (A)

13th May: Arsenal (H)


As you can see, Swansea City appear to be the king-makers in this equation, if they win their crunch games against Southampton and Stoke they will be safe and could potentially relegate both. If they don't, then they could fall through the trap door and take Town with them.


I do not expect Town to get anything from their next two games, I fear they will be blown away by Manchester City on the day that they lift the Premier League trophy and dispatched by Chelsea who are still in the hunt for a top four finish.


Yet I'm still confident that we will stay up, why? Because I fully believe that Huddersfield will beat Arsenal on the final day of the season to crawl out of the relegation zone and relegate Southampton. Yes, it is Arsene Wenger's last game in charge and his players will be eager to see him off with a good performance.


But they were eager to put in a good performance against 10-man Atletico Madrid and failed, and again they fell to Manchester United at the weekend. They haven't picked up a single away point on their travels in 2018 and crazy things can happen in a marquee game when a club legend departs.


Remember Manchester United's 5-5 draw at the Hawthorns in Alex Ferguson's last game? Steven Gerrard's Liverpool send-off at the Britannia Stadium ending in a 6-1 loss? In fact even more pertinent, Arsenal's 6-0 loss to Chelsea in Wenger's 1000th game in charge. His players were eager to honour him with a good performance in that game, and look how they did.


So whilst things look pretty grim, there's still a lot to be positive about. Keep the faith, UTT.

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