Against Wolves on Tuesday night, Huddersfield got their first Premier League victory since the last time they faced the newly-promoted side.
It was a result that ended a 15-match winless run for the Terriers but for those who started Wolves defensive assets it was hugely frustrating.
We’ve taken a look at why Nuno Espirito Santo’s men struggled in such an appealing fixture on the opening night of Gameweek 28 in this latest Scout Notes article…
Huddersfield Town 1-0 Wolves
Goals: Steve Mounié (£5.8m)
Assists: Karlan Grant (£5.0m)
Wolves’ defensive problems were laid bare once again as they could not even keep a clean sheet away at struggling Huddersfield. The Terriers came into Gameweek 28 with the worst attacking record in the league and in the four matches prior to Tuesday night, they were bottom of the league shots in the box and 19th for efforts on target.
Despite that, Huddersfield were able to largely dominate the Tuesday night meeting, recording more than double Wolves’ totals for goal attempts and shots in the box. Meanwhile, the visitors did not manage a single effort on target, but the Terriers recorded three. For large spells of the game, Huddersfield were spending so much time on the front foot that Wolves could barely get out of their own half. It was reminiscent of the last time the two sides met, which also happens to be the last time the Terriers tasted victory in the league.
Jan Siewert will be pleased with the performance though as he actually made a huge eight changes from the side that lost 2-0 at Newcastle in Gameweek 27. The only players to keep their places from the trip to St James’ Park were Jonas Lössl (£4.4m), Christopher Schindler (£4.2m) and Jonathan Hogg (£4.4m). Siewert is now faced with a difficult decision ahead of the Gameweek 29 trip to Brighton as many of his supposed second-choice options made cases to be in the first XI.
“The lads deserve that so much; they left everything on the pitch tonight. We showed the different face we wanted to today. I have to make decisions and I believe in all the players. Tonight they showed why.” – Jan Siewert
Admittedly, Wolves were actually close to their first clean sheet on the road since Gameweek 8, because Huddersfield had spurned a whole host of chances in the game. Steve Mounié (£5.8m) was the key goal threat for the Terriers but had to wait a while before finding the net. In the second half, he missed a golden opportunity at the back post, heading into the side-netting and convincing half the stadium that he had actually scored. Later in the game, he was just wide with an effort from the edge of the box before prodding in a deserved winner at the death.
“Like everyone, Steve Mounié has a good game today. He deserved that goal. We’re all so happy that we did it.” – Jan Siewert
That goal was created by some hard work from January arrival Karlan Grant (£5.0m) who was another impressive performer. Mounié was the only player to shoot more often at the John Smith’s Stadium than Grant, who had three efforts on goal. But it was more than just his threat that the former Charlton Athletic forward brought to the side. He was a willing runner for much of the 90 minutes and dropped deep to apply pressure on Wolves in midfield. It was certainly a display that should keep him in the manager’s thinking for Gameweek 29.
Huddersfield were able to keep Wolves quiet for much of the evening as Alex Pritchard (£4.8m) was given strict instructions to mark Rúben Neves (£4.9m) out of the game. It was a role which he seemed to relish and, as a consequence, many other attacking players it restricted Wolves to just seven efforts on goal and, as already mentioned, none of which were on target. Despite registering more penalty box shots than any other player in the four Gameweeks preceding this one, Raúl Jiménez (£6.8m) had just one in West Yorkshire.
Also key to Huddersfield’s stifling of Wolves was centre-back Jon Stanković (£3.9m) operating in a defensive midfield role. It was his first start since the Gameweek 2 thrashing at Manchester City, which he actually scored in, but he did not look rusty on Tuesday night. The 23-year-old put in a commanding performance against Wolves, with no player winning more tackles than him in the match and Phillip Billing (£4.5m) his only colleague to better his Clearances, Blocks and Interceptions score of five. The Danish midfielder also put in an impressive display, often winning the aerial battles against Wolves’ central midfield players.
“Jon Stanković showed his quality tonight. He can play in midfield with a defensive mind and that was important tonight, as Wolves are very good in the transition game.” – Jan Siewert
For Wolves, this was the third match in a row in which they struggled to get going, and did not respond well to being pegged back. While it took Huddersfield until the closing stages to actually find the net, it was clear that they were the better side even from just the first 15 minutes. Nuno’s men have not done well this season in such circumstances and it was the same again on Tuesday.
“In the first half we weren’t able to play, we rushed our game too much. When we had possession it’s clear we could unbalance Huddersfield, but we didn’t too many times, we only had a couple of situations. We were not so clinical, had no shots on goals. We have nothing to complain about. Every time the play broke we allowed too much distance, so it’s harder, we have to play close to each other. We were trying to give energy and find other solutions. Sometimes things were OK, sometimes not so good, but the players tried. This is the most important thing.” – Nuno Espirito Santo
As already mentioned, Jiménez bucked his recent trend of good statistical form in Yorkshire, but it is starting to become a regular occurrence for Diogo Jota (£6.1m) to have a bad game. This was the third match in four that he failed to register a single shot on target and the third in a row that saw him withdrawn before the 70-minute mark. Crucially, Wolves have been chasing goals in each of those matches, Ivan Cavaleiro (£5.2m) turned to as a viable alternative in Nuno’s mind. That does not bode well moving forward, although it is, of course, Cardiff at home up next, making it hard to move Jota on.
“Consistency in football is very difficult. We have to try to the end. We came from a good run, today was not the best performance that we can have, but we have to bounce back Saturday.” – Nuno Espirito Santo
Wolves are starting to become something of an enigma in the Premier League this season, as their results become harder and harder to predict. They have caused the top six plenty of problems since returning to the top flight, drawing away with Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal, beating Chelsea and Spurs and knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup. However, they have struggled when facing the so-called lesser sides, with Southampton the only member of the division’s current bottom five that Wolves have beaten. This sort of dilemma is even now making decisions about their assets hard to make, and Nuno doesn’t really know the answer to the conundrum either.
“If I had that answer… it’s very hard to explain. (We) prepare well and do the same things. It’s very hard to answer that question.” – Nuno Espirito Santo
Owners of Ryan Bennett (£4.2m) should be aware that he is now just one yellow card away from suspension, after picking up his ninth of the season against Huddersfield. If he collects another one between now and Wolves’ March 30 then he will receive a two-game league ban.
Despite all that doom and gloom about Wolves, Matt Doherty (£5.4m) provided one or two positive signs in Tuesday night’s defeat. He continued to be an attacking outlet for Wolves down the right flank and he was unfortunate not to come away with some points. In the first half, he met the ball at the far post but could only guide it wide. Doherty’s runs down the right flank offered a lot of threat but ultimately he was not quite given the service at the right time and found himself offside a lot.
Huddersfield Town XI (4-3-1-2): Lössl; Durm, Kongolo, Schindler, Duhaney (Bacuna 45′); Billing, Stanković (Kachunga 82′), Hogg; Pritchard (Mooy 78′); Mounié, Grant.
Wolverhampton Wanderers XI (3-5-2): Patrício; Boly, Coady, Bennett; Jonny, Moutinho (Gibbs-White 66′), Neves, Dendoncker, Doherty; Jota (Cavaleiro 66′), Jiménez (Costa 78′).