Photograph: Conor Molloy/Action Plus via Getty Images
They gave everything to see it out. They were quick to the ball, strong in the challenge and absolutely determined not to let there to be a dramatic late twist. And, finally, Huddersfield Town could soak in the euphoria of a win against Manchester United, their first since March 1952, and one of those rare occasions when their supporters must have felt like the blood in their veins had been converted to red wine.
The last time they managed this came just a few weeks after Elizabeth II was pronounced queen, in the same year that London was covered with smog and some bright-spark at the New Musical Express had the idea of printing a Top 40. From a football perspective, this will go straight in at No1 for many Huddersfield supporters. They were great scenes at the final whistle and, on this evidence, they surely must believe they have the ability to make sure their first-ever season in the Premier League is just not remembered as a year of sightseeing.
But what does this result say for their opponents and José Mourinho’s ambitions of making his second season with United a title-winning one. Perhaps it was just a one-off and normal service will be resumed but for a team with their aspirations, with Manchester City powering on, this was a calamitous result and the kind of performance that leaves some difficult questions for their manager.
Perhaps the most startling part is that United could hardly complain they did not have enough time to save themselves. The damage was done in a five-minute spell in the first half when Aaron Mooy and Laurent Depoitre punished some atrocious defending but it was not until the 78th minute, when the substitute Marcus Rashford pulled one back, that there was any real sense that there could be a feat of escapology.
Those were the moments when Huddersfield’s players showed a spirit of togetherness that will be crucial in the coming months and it would be unfair on David Wagner’s side if the game was remembered purely as a personal ordeal for Victor Lindelöf, United’s substitute centre-half. Lindelöf came on in the 23rd minute to replace the injured Phil Jones and that was the point at which the team United unravelled at the back. His part in the second goal, in particular, was dismal.
The most surprising part was that United had kept seven clean sheets in their previous eight league fixtures and arrived in Yorkshire knowing that if they could manage one more it would be the first time ever a top-division side had started a season that way.
Instead, they disintegrated at the back once Jones, punching the floor in frustration, had to go off and within 10 minutes of Lindelöf’s introduction they had conceded as many league goals as they had in the previous two months. Jones has rarely seemed so important and here was the clear evidence why Mourinho has been so reluctant to use Lindelöf – a £31m signing, lest it be forgotten – during the early parts of the season.
The damage to his confidence will be considerable but it would not be fair to pin all the blame on the Sweden international. The list of Mourinho’s players operating below their usual levels was extensive. Nemanja Matic had his least distinguished game in United’s colours and it was Juan Mata’s mistake that led to the opening goal.
David de Gea had not been threatened until that point but United were vulnerable as soon as Mooy dispossessed Mata in midfield. Huddersfield suddenly had a three-versus-two breakaway and when Mooy slipped the ball to his left Tom Ince turned Lindelöf inside out. Ince’s shot came back off De Gea’s chest and the ball fell invitingly for Mooy to sweep in the rebound.
Depoitre’s goal arrived five minutes later and, though it was a blowy afternoon, there was no real mitigation when it comes to Lindelöf’s involvement. Depoitre could hardly believe his luck, taking the ball around De Gea and keeping his nerve to slot into an exposed goal.
Mourinho responded at half-time by bringing on Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Anthony Martial and Mata. Martial was the only player on the pitch, barring the two goalkeepers, who felt the occasion warranted a pair of gloves and he melted out of the game after an early tête-à-tête with Tommy Smith, the home team’s right-back.
The bottom line was that Huddersfield’s players seemed utterly determined not to let their opponents dictate the tempo. Wagner’s men chased everything. They refused to let United settle and in the early parts of the second half it was remarkable how comfortable they looked. Indeed, it was not until the 70th minute that Jonas Lössl had to make a noteworthy save and that came from Romelu Lukaku’s first effort all afternoon.
Lukaku set up Rashford’s headed goal with a superb cross from the right and United also had four minutes of stoppage time. Yet Huddersfield never wilted.