Careful Huddersfield pay inevitable price but are set up to return | Paul Doyle

And so Huddersfield’s Premier League journey nears the end that has long been signposted, via a sequence of results that reads like a faux-Welsh train station: LLDDLLLDLLWDWLLLLLLLLDLLLLLWLLLL. The No Limits hashtag and flags can be retired, as the two words that became the club’s de facto motto during their sensational rise from the depths of the Championship no longer apply. Huddersfield have hit the buffers. They have been on a hell of a ride.

It all became a bit joyless in recent months but a generation of fans leave the Premier League with memories that will last for ever: from the day promotion was sealed in the play-off final at Wembley in 2017 through to the victory over Manchester United the following October and the frolicking at Stamford Bridge after securing survival at the end of their first top‑flight season for 46 years.

Even in this, a harrowing second season, there were fleeting highlights, chiefly the pair of wins that make Huddersfield the only team to have done the double over Wolves, a club who have thrived since promotion thanks partly to resources Huddersfield do not have.

But they do have some resources and a key reason why this season wound up being such a slog is that last summer they did not spend as shrewdly as in the two previous years. Competing against clubs with far more wealth, they needed every signing to prove a bargain and instead they have paid the price for flawed recruitment.

Most obviously for a team that had been promoted with a negative goal difference and survived their first season in the top flight despite being the joint-lowest scorers, Huddersfield needed to reinforce their firepower. They figured that meant improving the supply to the strikers, so three of their five newcomers were wingers.

But their manager at the time, David Wagner, quickly became convinced that Ramadan Sobhi, Adama Diakhaby and Isaac Mbenza were not ready to make the desired impact so he started the season in a system without wingers, hoping instead full-backs such as Chris Löwe and Florent Hadergjonaj could be converted into wing-backs.

The general play showed signs of evolution – they had more possession and were more expansive – but they remained damningly blunt. Their lone front man, either Steve Mounié or Laurent Depoître, was under pressure to convert the few chances created and usually he flopped. Yet Huddersfield were tantalisingly close to being competitive.

An apt moment came in early December. They were on a good run – having beaten Fulham, drawn at West Ham and won at Wolves – and went 1-0 up against Brighton, whereupon, in the 32nd minute, Mounié was harshly sent off. Brighton fought back to win 2-1 and Huddersfield’s sense that things were gradually coming together fell apart. They did not win again for nearly three months.

Wagner, once the mastermind and embodiment of the indomitable underdog spirit, succumbed to a fear that seemed almost fatalistic. His tactics grew more negative and his legitimate complaints about bad luck sounded like the wails of a man who felt he was trying to thwart the inevitable. He had already told the club the struggle was taking a toll. He left in January in the wake of a 0-0 draw at Cardiff when Wagner was exasperated by the referee’s decision to award his team a penalty and then overturn it.

A more successful venture into the transfer market in January would have helped the new manager, Jan Siewert, stage an unlikely escape but the club, already adrift, decided that was a gamble they could not take. Karlan Grant, a 21-year-old striker signed for £2m from Charlton, was the only significant arrival.

It seemed as if the club were building for next season. Siewert is cultivating a more attacking approach, several young players are emerging – such as Lewis O’Brien, who will return from a season on loan at Bradford – and Grant has shown signs of developing into a striker who could prosper in the Championship.

Huddersfield always knew there were limits to what they could achieve. Which is why there were limits to what they were willing to risk. They never went mad. Relegation will not cripple them financially because they spent within their means, even if the squad now contains the 15 most expensive players in their history. Theirs is by far the division’s lowest wage budget and the contracts of practically all their recruits since promotion allow for hefty pay cuts in the event of going down.

Although there is no great beef between the clubs, Huddersfield might take small solace from the fact they are likely to be followed back into the Championship by Fulham, who splurged more than £100m last summer in an attempt to gain a foothold in the Premier League but are set to leave after one campaign.

Huddersfield can also take satisfaction from the knowledge that while Fulham leave to a soundtrack of Craven Cottage regulars protesting about being ripped off at the turnstiles, Huddersfield have kept ticket prices low so that fans could share the journey and perhaps keep coming when the most glamorous clubs are no longer among the visitors.

That is part of the legacy that the club’s chairman, Dean Hoyle, began talking about almost immediately after promotion. Another part is more tangible – a new training ground costing up to £20m and upon which work should be finished around the end of next season. Huddersfield could be on their way back to the Premier League by then.


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