In your faces, forecasters! After a 45-year absence Huddersfield Town strode back into the top flight of English football and immediately served notice of their intention to stick around, despite their widespread billing as certainties for relegation.
David Wagner’s team played with vibrancy and savviness as they celebrated their return to the big time with a deserved victory at Selhurst Park. It was Crystal Palace who, in their first match under the tutelage of Frank De Boer, resembled Premier League impostors.
About 20 minutes into the game the 2,900 fans who had travelled excitedly from West Yorkshire began taunting the fretful home crowd with chants of “where’s your famous atmosphere?” If that was the first sign that the visitors realised the Premier League might not be all it is hyped up to be, a more enjoyable one came moments later when Huddersfield took the lead by exploiting clueless defending.
Chris Schindler flicked on a corner by Aaron Mooy at the near post, Martin Jorgensen met it just beyond the back post, and Joel Ward inadvertently nudged the ball over his own line.
Huddersfield did not get carried away celebrating; instead they set about exposing the host’s vulnerability anew and doubled their lead three minutes later.
Mooy was involved again, crossing elegantly from the left after being released by Chris Löwe and neglected by Palace’s defence. Steve Mounié was similarly free in the middle. The Benin international – who became Huddersfield’s record signing when joining for £11.5m from Montpellier in the summer – expressed his gratitude for the slovenly defending by banging a header into the net from seven yards out, as Patrick van Aanholt stood watching in bemusement.
Confusion was the defining characteristic of Palace. De Boer arrived six weeks ago with the declared aim of revamping the team’s style but that evidently has not been enough time to make the players comfortable with his demands.
Some selections seemed particularly awkward: Van Aanholt struggled on the left side of a three-man defence, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek looked lost on the right wing, which made the exclusion of Andros Townsend seem perverse. The manager rectified that at half-time by introducing Townsend for Luka Milojevic and redeploying the on-loan Chelsea player to his customary position in central midfield. That helped, but Huddersfield remained the more accomplished side.
Wagner’s men were smooth and vibrant, a proper team even with four debutants. Their cohesion made the home side seem all the more disjointed and their clever pressing sabotaged Palace’s attempts to swagger out from the back. Another of their summer signings, Tom Ince, could have opened the scoring as early as the second minute, but volleyed straight at the goalkeeper after being teed up by Tommy Smith.
Ince had another chance just after the quick-fire salvo that gave Huddersfield their lead, but Ward, eager to atone for his own goal, thwarted the attacker with a superb last-ditch tackle. Soon afterwards Jorgensen headed wide from a corner as Wagner’s team threatened to rack up a humiliating scoreline.
Chastened Palace improved before the break, with Smith having to make an excellent intervention to prevent Wilfried Zaha from shooting from close range after a slick one-two with Christian Benteke.
Elias Kachunga went close to adding to Palace’s woes shortly after the interval, before the Huddersfield goalkeeper, Jonas Lossl, was forced into his first difficult save, the summer signing from Mainz diving well to turn away a header by Benteke after a corner. Lossl had also got a decisive touch to a dangerous shot by Zaha just before half-time, but the referee had not spotted his touch and did not award a corner.
A lack of luck was not the most serious of Palace’s problems on an alarming open day. Dann should have given the hosts renewed hope 13 minutes from the end but thrashed a wild shot over the bar from eight yards out after a corner.
Huddersfield inflicted maximum punishment moments later, Mounié finishing a swift counterattack by guiding a shot into the net from 10 yards out. A failure to convert chances into goals in last season’s Championship was the main reason why Huddersfield had to gain promotion through the play-offs rather than automatically. Mounié was bought to address that and the investment already looks shrewd.
“Premier League, you’re having a laugh” crowed the jubilant away fans as they neared the end of a spectacular return to the top flight. It was a good time to meet Palace. It is a great time to be a Huddersfield fan.