Adam’s latest “The Championship Corner” column.
Aston Villa were heading for a second home win in a week when goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini lined up a clearance with four minutes to go.
However, they did not foresee Huddersfield defender Michael Hefele charging the kick down to deflect it in from 30 yards for a freak equaliser.
Neither did manager David Wagner, “it was a strange moment and probably not what I imagined when I brought him on”, he said.
It meant Huddersfield go joint-top of the Championship with Fulham, Brighton and Norwich, all equal on 7 points after 3 games.
The 46-game long campaign is still in its embryonic stages, but after visiting the homes of two relegated Premier League teams and remaining unbeaten excitement will be taking hold over what Wagner, who took time to douse expectation before his side visited Villa Park, can achieve at a club that hasn’t competed in the top-flight since 1972.
“I am more concerned about working than dreaming” said Wagner and for a coach with such a close relationship to Jurgen Klopp, having coached the Liverpool manager’s Borussia Dortmund reserve side for four years, it is unsurprising.
A well drilled plan to sit organised in their own half unsettled Newcastle on Saturday while the implementation of high-intensity gegenpressing-honed and taught by Klopp- forced a point on Tuesday night.
There was also the opening day 2-1 home win over Brentford– a marked improvement on the 1-5 thrashing the Terriers suffered in the same fixture only last May– to serve as evidence that the Wagner revolution is underway in west Yorkshire.
Defeat to lower-league Shrewsbury in the EFL Cup was a setback but the way Huddersfield have bounced back against two giant teams benefitting from the Premier League’s parachute payments has caused excitement to swell even further among the faithful who “gobsmacked” chairman Dean Hoyle with purchases of season tickets towards the back end of last season.
Hoyle himself, having invested £37 million into the club, will be especially pleased that his search, led by the club’s head of football operations Stuart Webber, led them to Wagner who was being chased by Klopp’s Liverpool as well as several German clubs.
Huddersfield, despite posting a turnover of £10 million, modest by Championship standards, managed to persuade the German and the Klopp effect, with double-training, comprehensive opposition analysis and the use of intense pressing, was been immediately apparent.
The German influence has also been notable in recruitment with five players, Christopher Schindler, Jon Gorenc-Stankovic, Elias Kachunga, Hefele and Chris Lowe all following Wagner from the Bundesliga domestic system.
All signings, including Jack Payne, who scored the composed winner at St James’s Park, who arrived on a free transfer from Southend, and Kasey Palmer, on loan from Chelsea, have settled in well while Wagner has used his relationship with Klopp to loan goalkeeper Danny Ward from Liverpool.
Schindler, a club record £1.8 million arrival from 1860 Munich, has quickly built up a solid partnership with 34 year old captain Mark Hudson, while Hefele is becoming a cult figure among fans off the field and with his larger-than-life character matching his huge physique it is hoped the defender can carry an influence off the field.
Nakhi Wells, scorer of 32 goals in his last two seasons, has returned to a slightly new role alongside Kachunga and is like a new signing to Wagner after missing a huge chunk of pre-season due to a problematic knee.
The analytical way the Bermudan reacted to his first goal of the season at Newcastle epitomised the positivity with which the players are adjusting to Wagner’s tactical tweaks and methods, while his performance against the Magpies has seen him subjected to reported interest from Rafael Benitez’s club.
Wagner has brushed off those reports and is likely to get support off his chairman to help him retain the striker.
“We don’t just want safety but to push on and to excite our supporters” said Hoyle at Wagner’s unveiling.
Under the studious German with the cap and thick beard, Huddersfield look to be on the path to doing it.
Written by Adam Gray
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