City survival lessons: Emphasis on defence failed Terriers during top-flight relegation battle
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
In the first of three parts looking at lessons Norwich City can learn from the teams relegated from the Premier League last season, David Freezer takes a closer look at what went wrong for Huddersfield.
Promotion is always of huge importance to clubs in the Championship but for Huddersfield it meant just that little bit more, bringing an end to 46 years outside the top flight of English football.
In comparison, Norwich City are about to begin their fifth season of nine in the Premier League, yet there is much to tie the clubs together, thanks to sporting director Stuart Webber.
When the Welshman swapped West Yorkshire for Norfolk in April 2017 he made a bold choice, leaving behind the flourishing project he'd been building with German coach David Wagner to take on a bigger challenge at a bigger club.
Of course, that made minimal difference on the pitch at the time and Wagner steered the Terriers to play-off glory - despite not scoring a goal from open play during the end-of-season deciders, beating Reading on penalties in the final at Wembley.
You may also want to watch:
Then, against the odds, Wagner managed to steer Huddersfield to safety in 2017-18, securing survival with a game to spare thanks to a 1-1 draw at Chelsea.
An excellent start of four wins and three draws from their first 11 games proved crucial, winning at Palace and beating Newcastle, Manchester United and West Brom at home - eventually finishing four points clear of the bottom three.
- 1 City confirm Dimitris Giannoulis deal
- 2 PRESSER LIVE: Norwich City v Bristol City - Pukki still out, Krul set to return
- 3 The Greek view on Norwich City new boy Dimitris Giannoulis
- 4 Cherries lose more ground on Canaries in promotion race
- 5 Buendia to Arsenal. Forget it, says City boss Farke
- 6 Farke maps out his risk averse strategy on Pukki and Krul
- 7 'Our own Heracles at left-back' - City fans delighted as Giannoulis completes loan move
- 8 Farke is not looking over his shoulder at City
- 9 City legend details Webber conversation before sporting director appointment
- 10 Norwich City v Bristol City - all you need to know
Yet last season it all went wrong. Wagner was gone in January and new boss Jan Siewert endured a torrid time, losing 12 of his 15 matches in charge, winning just once and finishing rock bottom on a paltry 16 points.
So what happened? Steven Chicken, who reports on the Terriers for the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, explains: "At the heart of everything that went wrong between Town's two seasons was that Wagner grew much too defensive, which actually started towards the end of the first season but was kind of lost in the euphoria of survival.
"They only scored three goals in their last 10 games of 2017/18, but because they got two 0-0 draws, two 1-1 draws and a 1-0 win in that spell, that was enough to get them over the line.
"As some of the club directors have openly acknowledged, last summer's signings were possibly the right players but for the wrong positions. Wagner had agreed with the club that they should recruit to play 4-2-3-1, but after they got battered 6-1 by Man City and failed to beat Cardiff at home, he seemed to get cold feet and started playing five at the back.
"So you had three wingers who were brand-new additions to the squad but had no position to play in because they weren't using wingers anymore; and because they hadn't added any Premier League experience they weren't really in a position to cleverly grind out results either.
"By the time Wagner and the club cottoned on to what was happening it was too late, because confidence was totally sapped and the team were out of the habit of scoring goals, let alone winning games."
Those attacking recruits included Alex Pritchard from Norwich in January 2018, reportedly for an initial £11million, yet just 22 goals were scored last season.
All of which has left Town fans disappointed but still aware that just getting a taste of the big time was a big step in the right direction for their club overall.
Chicken continued: "Strangely it would have been a lot easier to take if they'd gone down fighting in their first season, rather than staying up - a second miracle season in a row - and then having the awful, dreary season they had last season.
"The novelty of Premier League football had worn off by the time last season rolled around so there wasn't really anything for supporters to hang on to.
"But Town fans are by and large a reasonable lot. They know they won the lottery by getting promoted in the first place, and while they're concerned about the number of question marks around the club - an unproven new manager in Siewert, a new chairman about to take over from the enormously popular Dean Hoyle - they've still sold out the 18,000 season tickets the club made available for a 24,500 capacity stadium.
"I would say that having gone up and back down has obviously changed expectations at the club, though: a play-off push is the goal for next season, whereas before, their Championship seasons were always just about avoiding relegation - and hopefully finishing above Leeds if they had a bad year.
"I think most fans see the realistic absolute best case scenario as maybe bouncing between the Premier League and Championship once or twice more in the next few years before finally establishing themselves in the Premier League longer term... as West Brom previously did, Burnley currently are and Norwich hope they're at the end of the cycle of doing."
City's own German head coach, Daniel Farke, achieved promotion with an attractive style of play which earned the Championship title - and the Examiner's reporter is advising the Canaries to stick with their methods in the top flight.
Of the step up in quality, he added: "It's huge, but not insurmountable, as clubs like Bournemouth and Watford have shown. Norwich know that more than most clubs, I think.
"Having a style of play and tweaking it slightly but broadly staying true to it seems to take you a long way."