Wood saves Iron

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A pulsating game, played in yet another raucous atmosphere which, even if it is the only thing we can take from a season which was always going to be a struggle will still have been worth the experiences, saw Town strain every sinew to gain a point against a West Ham side with obvious quality, if sporadically employed.

Ultimately, a draw was a fair conclusion – for the second game in succession, Town’s opponents were forced in to tactical and personnel changes at half time, though the Hammers were significantly more adroit at changing course than Fulham had been and overcame a largely flat first half performance to gain a point.

 

Preceding the game, a moving and nicely pitched Remembrance Day ceremony, featuring a haunting rendition of The Last Post on a solo trumpet and an excellent display in the Britannia stand served to provide sombre perspective.
The frantic opening minutes saw Town determined to add to their meagre home goal total with Fabianski making a fine save on to the bar from Mounié’s powerful header while West Ham’s counter thrust left Arnautovic in the clear only for him to be foiled by an excellent save from Lössl.
Undeterred, Town attacked again but Mounié’s tame overhead kick was easily gathered. The danger wasn’t over for the Londoners though as their attempt to play out from the back was thwarted by the Terriers’ high pressing which resulted in Rice losing possession to Pritchard. The diminutive, ever active forward played a one two with Hogg before firing a low shot in to the corner with Fabianski flat footed.
An early lead ramped up the volume from all four stands as the confidence flowing from their first win coursed through Town veins, but a break from Anderson – who was afforded far too much space for comfort throughout the first half – past Zanka allowed the Brazilian to whip in a cross towards Arnautovic only for Schindler to clear the danger.
The home side were soon back on to the front foot, however, and within minutes, Fabianski had been beaten by a Billing cross/shot which went over his head and on to the post. Typically, the ball came back off the post rather than deflecting in and managed to evade the flailing body of the West Ham keeper.
Having hit the woodwork twice, Town finally leapt over Manchester City at the top of the thwarted by timber league table.
Mounié and Mooy both had good chances to shoot across Fabianski after being released in to the area by Pritchard and Hogg respectively but both hit the custodian instead.
A second goal would have been just reward for an excellent first half performance but a combination of weak finishing and recurring rank bad luck rather let off West Ham whose undoubted talent up front flickered from time to time but less frequently than their simple errors forced upon them by their aggressive hosts.
The positives of a good half for Town were somewhat soured by an injury to Löwe, who appeared to be cut down as he made another incisive break, though the referee, who seemed pretty lenient of West Ham tackles throughout, opted to pull Town up for Mounié being offside. The German, who had played well, was stretchered off to applause and replaced by Durm. Unfortunately for Town, this precluded a rather obvious change for later in the game – Hadergjonaj could have been replaced by the more effective Durm but stayed on to not a great deal of success.
West Ham changed to two up front in the second half with Hernandez replacing the pacy Diangana who looks a good prospect if a little raw, and the Mexican nearly levelled for the Iron within minutes of the restart. Having beaten Schindler with a nice first touch he was thwarted by Lössl only for the ball to squirt up in to the air, but he headed the opportunity over the bar.
The visitors imposed themselves on the game and looked significantly more threatening than they had since Arnautovic’s early attempt and it was clear that Town would need to call upon the same resilience they had utilised to see off Fulham.
On the hour, a header flashed across Town’s goal from a corner which Hernandez was only inches away from converting at the back post and with Snodgrass beginning to shine – he overshadowed Arnautovic for most of the game – and Antonio brought on to add more pace and threat, Town’s challenge became even tougher.
It wasn’t all one way traffic, by any means. Pritchard and Mounié harassed the visitors with the diminutive scorer having one shot comfortably saved and another opportunity when played through only for his lack of pace allowing a defender to block and the Benin striker winning a lot in the air and making productive use of much of his work.
The equaliser was a scruffy affair, even if the finish to the sequence of events was excellent. An attempted shot by Arnautovic became a miscued pass to Hernandez who was denied by Lössl at close range but the ball fell kindly for Anderson who smashed in the leveller in to the top corner past the many Town bodies trying to protect the net.
With their confidence soaring, the Hammers looked the more likely winners and Town were grateful for a goal line clearance by Mooy from a Diop header and a collective sigh of relief interrupted the now constant noise from the stands.
To the home side’s credit, they finished the game strongly and could have grabbed a winner in the closing stages. Mounié managed to out muscle his marker in the box but could only shoot weakly at Fabianski when a more confident striker would probably have converted. He also won a header which found Durm for a good effort which went just wide from outside the box and substitute Mbenza had an effort which was only five yards from the corner flag. He’s getting closer.
The best chance, however, fell to Depoitre who had replaced Mounié with the clock running down. A cross from the impressive Durm was perfectly placed behind defenders and out of Fabianski’s reach but the Belgian chose to try to connect with his foot rather than flinging himself at the inviting opportunity.
With 4 points collected at home against a relegation rival and a talented if somewhat depleted West Ham, this was a good week for the Terriers. The intervention of the woodwork, yet again and again, is hugely frustrating but the performances have been brimming with the spirit we have to show to compete.
By the end, the players were exhausted – Pritchard ran himself in to the ground to pick up a well earned man of the match – and the effort they are putting in is highly commendable and offers some hope.

Three at last, thank God almighty 3 at last

 

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The very serious people of the sports media, the rather less cerebral minds online and something referred to as “Moose” will have hated the product on display on Sky, but those of us invested in the fortunes of a club punching way above its weight found nothing but joy in a gritty, full throttle performance which brought the first win for such a long time. There are no points for artistic merit.

November fog, no doubt encouraged by the few bonfires not lit over the weekend, provided an appropriate pall over a contest between two clubs who had reached crisis points for very different reasons. Town, with a management team having to weigh up both survival and relegation possibilities simultaneously – with the inherent dangers of the latter at the forefront – find recruitment to bolster a squad which barely survived last season understandably difficult, while Fulham’s extravagant approach appears to have destroyed their much admired free flowing style which, if not abandoned, seems to have been sacrificed for cheque book vanity.
Jokanović cut a lonely, bemused figure on the touchline throughout the game, seemingly wondering what happened to the principles he had instilled over the past 3 years, which is a great pity. Fulham, a likeable club to most, have gained many admirers during his tenure, and their promotion from the Championship was widely applauded as due reward for their refreshing style of play – Town fans will remember the relief at facing Reading rather than the Cottagers at Wembley.
Abandoning continuity and shoehorning expensive imports in to their squad seems like catastrophically bad judgement on the evidence of a night where they flowed like molasses, looked feeble all over the pitch bar the combative Mitrović and were barely able to create threat against opposition which applied overwhelming pressure on their space and time.
David Wagner’s reign at Huddersfield has been of similar length to Jokanović’s – the Serbian arrived at Craven Cottage in December 2015 – and on his third anniversary he oversaw a performance deeply redolent of his momentous time at the club. Utilising many of the players upon whom he has relied for promotion and survival, the trademark intensity, commitment and impeccable game management – qualities so markedly absent at Watford – came roaring back to deliver a 50th win for him and us.
At the heart of everything was Hogg. Covering acres of ground, the on field captain tackled, disrupted and protected to allow Mooy and Billing to influence the game more positively. His two partners in a central midfield which functioned exceptionally well were not shy in the tackle either, and the visitors were rarely allowed to unhook themselves from the heavy shackles imposed upon them.
From the start, the physical battle was comprehensively won. Mitrović aside, the visitors looked cowed and lightweight in comparison and the effect on their fragile morale visible. Schürrle, an outstanding footballer by any measurement, was almost entirely sidelined and anonymous while the other baubles drafted in to no effect barely merit mention.
A scrappy, in all senses of the word, opening 15 minutes was brought to life when a Hogg challenge on Schürrle freed Billing in to space. Striding forward with his awkward elegance, the Dane hit a cracking shot from 30 yards which comprehensively beat whoever Fulham’s custodian was this week only to hit the woodwork. Again. Players and fans could be entirely forgiven for despairing that a home goal would ever come – this was the 7th time attempts have been marginally off target in an opening segment of the season where the fine margins so ruthlessly exploited in the past two campaigns have shifted to the wrong side.
Mooy then provided a decent cross for Mounié only for him to head over when he could probably have done better. The problems up front were not to be resolved despite the ultimate victory, and we will overlook this at our peril in our temporary euphoria.
Rico, for that is his name, pulled off a good save from Pritchard who had turned nicely on the edge of the area to create the space for his decent effort. This lead to two consecutive corners as Town increased the pressure on the visitors and the second, indirectly, lead to the opening home goal of the season.
The initial corner from Löwe was cleared directly back to him, allowing him plenty of time to deliver a cross significantly more threatening. Schindler rose above Fosu-Mensah to head home. Ludicrously, the slight deflection of the beleaguered Dutchman – who was booked then hooked at half time – deemed it an own goal by the powers that be.
The relief around the ground was intensely palpable, and the reward for the intelligent patience of the home support – who can see beyond bald statistics  – was a burst of unbridled joy at what could be a significant turning point of a difficult season.
Scoring first is and always has been, crucial for Wagner’s teams. While going behind seems to derail the team and engender malaise, taking a lead anchors the game plan and enhances the qualities of defiance and aggressive control typical of the spirit he inspires.
To gain the three points which were desperately needed, Town had an hour to see off opposition who were demoralised but with latent threat if the stranglehold was loosened.
It was an hour of largely uninterrupted joyful ugliness. From front to back, Town harassed Fulham in to mediocrity, rarely lifting their foot off the throat. While their attacking threat diminished, particularly in the second half when Fulham’s tactical changes saw Town go to 4-4-2, and even Sky were unlikely to be able to polish this particular ordure, the typically fervent home support lapped up the dogged commitment of their side and cared not that it would disappoint someone viewing in Kuala Lumpur or Hicksville, USA.
With Hogg relishing the midfield battle, harassing whatever flair Fulham half remembered they once had out of the equation, Mooy exuding the calm control he can impose when at his best and Billing floating between the lines with the intensity he has added to his game for much of the season, the visitors were restricted to one good chance which Schürrle put wide, a tame free kick and an offside goal which looked avoidable.
Any threat Town carried was provided down the right but Hadergjonaj’s decent runs – he looked backwards less than he had done in the first half – were undone by indecision at the crucial time and not helped by too few Town players attacking the box.
Pritchard, who was as busy as ever, fluffed his lines a little when he was freed on the left but was similarly handicapped by limited support in the box.
The best chance, however, fell to substitute Mbenza with his first and second touch. Billing won the ball in midfield, strode forward and released his teammate with a perfect pass, only to see the young Belgian hurry a shot which sliced towards the corner flag instead of taking the ball further forward. It did, at least, supply a moment of comedy for our worldwide friends.
Fulham’s desperation, and the understandable tiredness of their hosts towards the end, opened up the possibility of them sneaking an equaliser in a game which should have been put to bed with a Town second, but their efforts became increasingly rudimentary and easily repulsed.
A generous 4 minutes injury time were largely played out in Fulham’s half, and by the right corner flag specifically, before Taylor – who was fussy but an improvement on some we have had – blew his whistle to rampant celebration and a collective release of stress.
The aforementioned “Moose” took to Twitter to mock Town’s celebrations of their first win – rather gratifyingly, many responses took down his joyless nonsense – but those inside the stadium stayed behind to acknowledge a performance of no little courage and, hopefully, a breakthrough which can be a platform for better days.
Wagner won’t be fooled by a victory over a moribund and directionless opponent, just as he doesn’t allow his players to dwell on past failures, but it felt important to him and the fans who, by and large, understand the scale of the enormous challenges of this second season.
West Ham, apparently the team supported by “Moose”, will provide a very different level of opposition than the confused Cottagers, but it is a game we can look forward to with a little more hope.

No, after you sir

 

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The thin veneer of improved performances relative to last season’s corresponding fixtures, an already rather desperate trope put forward by Pollyanna match reporters read by a few hundred devotees, was comprehensively shredded by a disastrously poor display against an inventive, pace laden Watford who had the game won within 20 minutes and left kicking themselves for not substantially improving their goal difference.

Honourable defeats, battling draws and luckless pursuits of points count for nothing if opportunities against the less than behemoths are spurned as unprofessionally as they were at Vicarage Road.
Even during a dominant, encouraging first 10 minutes which saw Town retain possession and cause their hosts problems with a good raid down the right, a subsequent corner which lead to Mooy bringing the first of 3 good saves by Foster and a Pritchard effort which curled just over with the former England keeper rooted, there were signs of fragility which were to be easily exposed by the home team.
Zanka, who struggled throughout, along with Schindler, with neither being able to control the muscularity of Success, set the tone for the opener with an attempt to win the ball 30 yards out which barely merited being described as a challenge but, in contrast to what was to come, was reminiscent of Moore on Pelé.
Watching live, Pereyra’s run in to the heart of Town’s defence looked mesmerising and jinking. Replays exposed the ugly truth – the Argentinian barely had to do anything other than run in a straight line through laughably weak dangling legs of several defenders before poking the ball past an apparently uninterested Lössl.
If just one in attendance had attempted, let alone completed, a regulation block or tackle, the danger would have been snuffed out without anyone having to mention the incident again, but the incomprehensible waving through put the visitors one down and gave the hosts a timely boost after 10 minutes of, well, not much.
Lacklustre up to that point, Watford’s confidence was given a platform and with several individual talents they were handed permission to express themselves. Their confidence, particularly after the break, often translated in to over playing but the result was in little doubt once the second went in.
Deulofeu was released down Watford’s right and he skipped past an ill advised lunge by Löwe before surging past Hogg who couldn’t tackle for fear of conceding a penalty. The Spaniard crashed a powerful shot between Lössl and his near post.
The shot was as ferocious as Lössl’s positioning was weak. In stark contrast with his opposite number, who made a solid save from Mooy, a spectacular if fairly routine save from a Billing drive and a fabulous tip on to the bar from a great Löwe effort, Lössl’s application looked distinctly weak. He may not have been at fault for the events which lead up to both goals, indeed he is entitled to expect much more from those in front of him, but it is difficult to think of a single game where the Dane has made any sort of difference so far.
A late corner saw Depoitre, who bundle about to little effect, win the ball in the air and see his header squirt sideways towards corner taker Mooy. It failed to meet even that unintentional objective, capturing the season long failure of our strikers in a nutshell.
Other than the 2 goals, intermittent sloppy passing and the pretty overwhelming evidence that Mbenza isn’t, and may never be, ready for this level, Town performed reasonably well at times and, at least, had viable efforts on goal. But this is akin to asking Mary Todd Lincoln her view of Our American Cousin.
The second half was a horrible, inexcusably shambolic display and a walloping was only avoided because of Watford’s aforementioned showboating tendencies.
Early on, a misplaced pass by Zanka – perhaps still fantasising about a move on to the top 6 or maybe a European giant – saw Deulofeu miss a glorious chance with Town entirely exposed and more were to be spurned, including a virtual bass pack to Lössl from 6 yards.
Watford’s movement and invention, even if over elaborate at times, caused regular panic and the lack of any sort of composure in the Town defence saw them invite increasing pressure as the performance deteriorated from lame to amateurish.
When Schindler knocked Success over with 10 minutes to go, an innocuous free kick turned in to Watford’s third as Löwe was exposed for pace by Femenía who crossed for a well deserved Success success.
In truth, the game had been over for a long time. The genuinely, if sporadic, threatening attacks from Town in the first half had been replaced by forward play groaning under the strain of tortuous progression and posed little threat. Mbenza had a decent shot easily saved by Foster following a pull back by Mooy, but the visitors’ execrable scoring stats were never likely to be improved.
With Billing disappearing, Mooy struggling and Depoitre redundant, forward momentum was limited and defensive frailties always on the edge of exposure. In and amongst the gloom, Hogg can hold his head high but few, if any, of the others will look back and believe they helped the cause. Pritchard tried hard, at least.
There were many away performances like this last season, but any progress made in recent games took a major step backwards and a resolution to our problems in front of goal look as far away as ever. The last thing needed was a resurgence of sloppiness and downright unprofessionalism at the other end.
On their day, and they have had quite a few so far, Watford are a very good Premier League team, but to gift them the points in the manner Town did is unforgivable. The return of Kongolo can’t come soon enough and Mbenza made you yearn for Van La Parra who didn’t even make the bench with – checks team sheet while rubbing eyes – Quaner preferred.
Next up is freestyle Fulham with their leaky defence. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Town not walking alone

 

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As the exhausted players slumped to the ground after another, undeserved and cruel defeat, the overwhelming, genuine backing they received from a disappointed but hugely proud home support – deprived of a goal deep in to October – must have strengthened their resolve in their search for victories.

In stark contrast to last season’s weak submissions to Klopp’s men, only the now ubiquitous absence of even a small slice of fortune and the not unexpected denials of a penalty and goal which, had they taken place at the other end, would have triggered the big club rule, stood between a very good, unrewarded performance and the point they deserved.

Liverpool is blessed with an outrageously talented squad, and, man for man, they are technically a few steps above a Town side who have to compensate with unity, supreme concentration and planning. On a gorgeous late Autumn evening – for all the miserable, grey winter days at the stadium, there are few more beautiful sights than a sunset over our ground – the inherent imbalance was very nearly levelled as the struggling home side regularly interrupted the fluidity and often lethal passing and movement of last season’s Champions League runners up.

While the second half never lived up to the pulsating events of the first 45 minutes, the home side’s performance belied their lowly position. Disrupting high flying Liverpool is far easier said than done, and the physical and mental qualities needed to achieve it are quite daunting but with aggression, belief and massive effort, Town matched their storied, illustrious opponents in all but the final score.

Despite looking off colour for long periods, perhaps a mixture of their opponents’ relentless energy and a dip in their own high standards, Liverpool took advantage of rarely conceded space when Gomez found Shaqiri with a ball which squeezed past two home players leaving Town short at the back. The Swiss played in Salah who was half a beat quicker than Schindler and able to place his shot wide of Lössl for a barely deserved opener and eventual winner.

The goal took the lid off a game which had rather sauntered along to that point, and it was the home side which made most of the running. Defending stoutly when necessary but not desperately which was so often the case against the top teams last term, Town began to worry the visitors with raids down both flanks culminating in the two incidents which ultimately determined the direction of the points.

Yet again, an upright was found by Hogg’s beautifully struck shot from outside the area with Allison well beaten but that small margin which continues to separate us from points we deserve paled in to insignificance against the injustices of not being awarded a clear penalty when Milner’s flailing arm redirected the ball and Pritchard not being given the benefit of considerable offside doubt.

Had either of these decisions gone the home side’s way and an equaliser achieved, the game may have taken on a different shape and changed Liverpool’s conservative approach to the second half, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Terriers simply aren’t getting the rub of the green at crucial moments.

An excellent free kick from Billing flew just wide too and the attacking intent, particularly down the right, more than suggested that the identity we have rediscovered in the past few games isn’t going to be lost against even the most talented opposition.

Klopp’s contain and counter tactics in a less entertaining but no less committed second half saw Town having to try to pick their way through a high quality defence while avoiding being sucked too far up the field which rather dulled their efforts in the final third.

An on form Liverpool would have made much more of two or three lightning counter attacks which were either thwarted by last minute challenges or uncharacteristic hesitations, but their forays were sporadic and the intense pressure which often breaks the spirit of opponents through overwhelming force was notably absent.

For all their efforts, Town’s only reward until the final minutes was a Depoitre header comfortably saved by Allison, but Hogg, Mooy and Billing easily matched the visiting midfield and, for the most part, possession was maintained with some comfort even if it rarely resulted in danger to the Liverpool goal.

The chance did come along, however. What appeared to be another innocuous cross was badly dealt with by Van Dijk and the ball looped up for Mounié to fire over when he really should have done better. In his defence, the ball fell quite awkwardly and the presence of Depoitre may have put him off (why are we relentlessly repeating the failed and desperate looking dual striker approach when behind?) but it was the type of chance you have to convert at this elite level.

With the miss, Town’s chance of a deserved point went. There were moments of potential in the last ten minutes, but the blocked shots of Mooy and Depoitre and a miss from Zanka following good work by substitute Diakhaby didn’t constitute golden opportunities.

At the other end, Salah shot wide when in an arguably more advantageous position than for his goal while Firmino (yes, they brought him on as a sub!) fired over from another good spot.

As with most encounters this season, barring the capitulation of a scratch side at the Etihad, the direct comparison with the same game last season was very encouraging. It would be self deluding to deny that Liverpool were not at their best (even if the home side had a lot of influence over that) and the absence of some of their even more talented players did not level up the contest to an extent, but there are many positive to take from the game.

Durm is improving all the time and looks to be an excellent addition, our midfield looks settled and more than competent, we were defensively excellent for large swathes of the game and the identity and belief remain intact despite the absence of any sort of good fortune.

Town fans can be a miserable bunch if they don’t believe players are good enough or lack effort – the volume, intensity and persistence of support created a magnificent atmosphere which has become unique in the Premier League, and the numbers staying behind to applaud the exhausting efforts of all the players tells you everything.

Instinctively, we understand how difficult is the challenge for Wagner and his squad, but while ever they produce displays as committed and good as this, we will continue to back them. Wagner himself absolutely gets this – his post match comments about fans still backing the team who haven’t scored at home for a long, long time were genuinely felt. We know the context of the infernal statistics even if the highly paid, sometimes offensive, talking heads on radio and TV clearly do not.

We may well be relegated, but recent displays suggest that an upturn and a committed fight are coming. Keep patient.

The brave and the foolish

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Burnley v Huddersfield. Defiantly Northern. Traditional kits, stirring the emotions of history – no place for day-glo here. Lowry’s inspiration writ large and present on Harry Potts Way (no poncey apostrophe). Tribal rivalry, separated and emphasised by foreboding hills. No tourists. Wooden seats and view restricting poles. Jumpers for goalposts, isn’t it?

The fixture is a glorious affront to the Premier League and a reminder that selling English football’s soul is not as easy as they thought – well run, community clubs from small, often decimated, towns can still gatecrash their over manicured lawns however hard they try to quell and ignore them.
People should walk miles to get to this game, through pouring rain and over hill and down dale. Which, of course, they did – you can still donate, just search for Wilson Walk.
The Lancastrians had revived poor early season form, likely induced by a European adventure which failed to deliver much glamour, with consecutive wins over Bournemouth and Cardiff while the visitors continue to strive for a first win despite perceptible improvements in performance.
A cagey opening saw Town with better possession but their hosts sent an early warning when Vokes headed a Westwood cross straight at Lössl, easily beating Town’s central defenders in the air. It was a lesson they weren’t to heed.
Slowly but surely, the visitors took hold of the game and early scruffiness with passing – Zanka being a big culprit which he later improved – was corrected as they took the game to the Clarets.
With Billing and Mooy pulling the strings, Town created chances and, for once, players were keen to shoot. Just the accuracy bit to be sorted out now then.
The Terriers’ neat and tidy play was rudely interrupted on 20 minutes, however, when Gudmundsson was given far too much time on the right to swing over an excellent, deep cross on to the unforgiving nut of Vokes, who wasn’t going to pass up a second chance to head the hosts in to a barely deserved lead.
To their credit, Town didn’t, as they have before, implode or let the setback deflate their intensity. Dominating the rest of the half against an uncharacteristically supine Burnley, they should have gone in level as Depoitre wasted a glorious opportunity before the opener following good pressure high up the pitch and a set up from Mooy – credit to Tarkowski for an excellent block, but the Belgian needs to be putting such chances away and his afternoon wasn’t going to get any better.
Prior to another late chance for Depoitre, Billing, Durm and Van La Parra had two attempts a piece on goal only for them to be blocked or wayward. Frustrating as it is that off target shots were piling up in the statistics, at least the opportunities are now being forged to be spurned.
An encouraging first half display was followed by a dominant and deservedly productive second; it warranted maximum points.
Easily surviving an early flourish from the home side, Town regained control of possession, forced a series of corners and worked their way up the pitch regularly and with some style at times, though clear cut chances didn’t materialise against a typically solid Burnley central defence.
Mooy then drove an excellent shot which was very well saved by Hart but both were immediately forgotten as Depoitre, anticipating a Tarkowski challenge which didn’t come, fell to the ground as if to set up Sean Dyche for his post match interview like a music hall straight man feeding his partner. Comical, unconvincing diving really isn’t a Huddersfield Town trademark, though the denizens of Turf Moor, and their gravel voiced leader, may find that hard to believe following the second consecutive incident at their home.
The miscreant was replaced quickly afterwards by Mounié and Mbenza came on for Van La Parra, and within minutes Town were deservedly level.
A Billing long throw was cleared but the loading of the box created acres of space for Löwe on the left and his excellent cross was steered in to the far corner by Schindler and parity was achieved, at long last.
The equaliser prompted a brief rally from the home team, notable mainly for a bad injury to Schindler from an errant elbow – it looked accidental from Vokes – compounded by the brave German being hit flush in the face from short range as he blocked Cork’s drive. He lay on the turf for some time as Town attacked, not without menace with a Mbenza shot being blocked, and needed over 5 minutes treatment to stem the blood and bring him round. It was something of a surprise that he was able to continue, further enhancing his warrior credentials.
The rest of the game saw Town largely on the front foot, though they were grateful to Hadergjonaj expertly shepherding a dangerous counter attack while team mates recovered, but the pressure exerted down both flanks with quick passing and incisive interchanges didn’t translate in to gilt edged chances, just half opportunities which didn’t really break kindly in the box.
It remains a mystery why Pritchard has been overlooked so often. His energy and creativity dovetailed with Mooy and Billing’s constant probing and eventually, given a decent run in the side, this will pay off.
Yet another encouraging display, yielding fewer points than deserved, suggests that the battle against relegation can be won but the solution to the goal scoring problem still feels distant – Mounié and Depoitre have been supplied with chances this season after feeding on scraps last. They have to step up.
If we do go down, however, these types of performance will ease the blow (assuming you accept it would be a blow; yesterday felt like a far more genuine, authentic experience than many in this over hyped division). The away support never gave up on the team, and never will when they see the effort going in.
Hope flickers.

Pawson earns his spurs

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Huddersfield Town had a mountain to climb against a high quality Tottenham Hotspur who, despite the loss of two important players, could still field a side of internationals of pedigree with threats all over their starting eleven. Craig Pawson, a referee who sends a shiver down the spine of all but the top six, decided that the climb would be undertaken in polyester leisure wear.

Crucial, game changing decisions, fell to the visitors with debilitating persistence rendering the Terriers’ commendable efforts redundant in a first half of comical, negligent and partisan decisions.
Offences against Löwe, on the edge of the box and possibly inside it, and Pritchard who was stopped with a subtle but easily perceptible foul, preceded Spurs’ opener, finished expertly by Kane from a quality cross.
To, literally, add injury to insult, Kongolo suffered a knock in a challenge on Moura which would force him off later; perhaps a far greater blow than an expected defeat and compounded by Schindler injuring himself in the process of being completely bamboozled by Moura in the second half (it was the second time, and in virtually the same spot, that the impressive Brazilian had left a Town player wondering if he was on this earth or Fullers).
In the least unexpected development of the game to that point, Pawson pointed to the spot as an arm brush by Hadergjonaj on Rose saw the England man fling himself to the floor to gain one of the softest penalties you are likely to see. The taker, a rarely applauded visiting player last season turned pantomime villain this, put the spot kick away with all the expertise he had shown in the summer but moments earlier he had jumped in to Löwe from behind to the now customary approval of Pawson.
If the game wasn’t over after the first referee assisted goal, it was now. It has become tediously repetitive to point out Town’s dogged refusal to earn points from behind, though they could not be faulted for their efforts in this game and had Depoitre’s effort on the end of a good move instigated by Billing and Durm gone in rather than rattle the over worked John Smith’s Stadium woodwork just before half time, a comeback would have become theoretically more possible.
A superb drive by Löwe from 30 yards when the deficit was just one could have changed the course of the game but Gazzaniga was able to scramble the effort away rather uncomfortably.
Like last year, Town started positively and most of the action was in the Spurs half before the Pawson gifts began to be bestowed though Loris’ deputy Gazzaniga was largely untested and the visitors’ ability to quickly turn defence in to devastating attack almost allowed Kane an early goal only for Lössl to see the danger and block.
Up front, Depoitre and Pritchard worked hard to cause problems. Despite the hosts failing to create the chances their possession suggested they should have, the pairing should be given an extended opportunity – but the Billing long throw tactic needs to be throttled back without Mounié’s superior aerial ability (as well as the monotony).
The crowd were not fooled by the score line – Town had gone toe to toe with an exceptionally good side, falling foul to incompetent, obsequious officials and hadn’t crumbled, earning the applause for their first half efforts, carefully calibrated to ensure they knew the cascading boos which followed were for Pawson.
It would have been easy, almost forgivable, for Town to go in to Washington Generals mode after the break and allow the inevitable superiority of the North Londoners to breeze through the second half in preparation for the somewhat more formidable challenge of Barcelona on Wednesday. Let us hope that Spurs don’t face a referee with the same pre-conceptions.
Backed by a loud, consistently supportive home crowd, the Terriers made a good fist of a goalless second half. Defending stoutly on the occasions that Spurs’ quality created openings and being brave in possession, a longed for home goal never looked particularly likely – substitute Mbenza’s drive towards the top corner, saved by Gazzaniga, being the best opportunity, but there were signs of hope that our luck will turn at some point.
Pawson finally gave Town a break when a Zanka challenge on Kane went unpunished – the foul was significantly worse than the one he had been booked for – but they throw these scraps out from time to time to cover their general bias.
Problems remain, of course, but the commitment and energy displayed will surely see fortune change at some point though the thought of possibly going to Turf Moor without Kongolo and Schindler is a little depressing.
The afternoon, however, belonged to Pawson. It isn’t Spurs’ fault that he favoured them consistently and they hardly needed the help – despite not being at their fluent best, the technical skills on show from a lot of their players, particularly their ability to kill any sort of pass fired at them dead, were fully in evidence as was the vision to pick out players in space to create danger. It is more than likely that they would have won without their 12th man, but the unfairness leaves a bitter taste.
Not for the first time this season, Town performed much better than in the corresponding fixture in the inaugural Premier League season, without reward. This is small, rather meaningless, consolation but allows Wagner to apply his trademark sense of calm while a lot of us will be losing our heads after the next 3 difficult games (2 of them horribly difficult). As more obvious points gathering games approach in November and December, it is to be hoped that the pressure created by being ensconced in the relegation spots with very few points does not overwhelm the collective psyche.
Amongst the positives in yet another defeat was the appearance of Mbenza – in his last substitute appearance, he looked entirely lost and out of his depth, but not this time. He looked strong and progressive, topping a good cameo with Town’s only decent effort of the second half. Along with Durm, who exhibited his pedigree throughout, the emergence of the summer signings may be beginning. They are desperately needed.
And finally, the home support. Muted and worried for long periods of previous home games, they roared back against Spurs, recognising the application of a team desperately searching for a turning point and not shirking in the face of disappointment – they will help bring that about.

Maddison finds avenues

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Individual errors, ruthlessly and gratefully punished by an under pressure and often under par Leicester side consigned Town to yet another defeat and the very real possibility of being overwhelmed by their lack of potency up front.

It was, perhaps, significant that the first two catastrophic errors were committed by 2 players new to the team – Durm, on an otherwise solid debut, and the raw Diakhaby made basic mistakes which doomed the game management which has gained so many points under Wagner.

In stark contrast to the insipid display at the same venue on New Year’s Day, Town took the game to their opponents from the off and were ahead within 5 minutes as the impressive Billing’s long throw in to the heart of the home defence caused enough confusion to allow Zanka to sweep in for a crucial lead.

A decent first half performance was ruined, however, when Town conceded a soft equaliser from their own corner. With men committed upfield, first Mooy and then, fatally, Durm, failed to deal with possession. The Australian couldn’t control a bouncing ball effectively but the threat of a breakaway was non existent when it broke to his German colleague. His attempt to sidestep a potential, rather than actual, challenge disastrously fell to a Leicester player who slipped to a team mate with a panorama of fast breaking options in front of him and defenders caught flat footed. Wisely, he chose Vardy whose first touch played Iheanacho in for a simple finish past Lössl.

To their credit, Town didn’t crumble with the setback though a careless tackle by Zanka gave Maddison the opportunity to craft an opening for Vardy from the free kick which the Yorkshireman snatched at and put wide.

For all their intent, the visitors’ attempts on goal were weak and speculative but, overall, they comfortably matched their hosts in an encouraging first half ruined by a single mistake, ruthlessly exploited.

Stout defending in the early part of the second half kept a visibly roused Leicester at bay, though a misplaced Mooy pass allowed Chilwell to release Vardy’s electric pace behind Town’s defence culminating in an easy save by Lössl.

The turning point came just after the hour mark. Van La Parra did well on the left, cutting inside and releasing a perfect ball in front of Depoitre who, inexplicably, failed to shoot before the ball was taken off his toes by the recovering Maguire (the same player he had memorably beasted in the home game last season).

The inability to take such an opportunity – Depoitre was also guilty of heading straight at Schmeichel later in the game – was hugely costly. Up to this point, Leicester had been largely unimpressive and receiving little support from a very quiet crowd; a second setback could’ve undermined them, allowing Town to take advantage of the discontent.

Instead, a naive foul on the edge of the area following poor control by Diakhaby sealed Town’s fate. The impressive Maddison evaded the top of the wall – why Billing wasn’t in the middle of it rather than at the edge may be something to consider – and his ferocious effort flew past Lössl who had little chance of stopping it, despite post match claims.

Deflated, the visitors became easy pickings for the revitalised home side and, yet again, moments had fallen badly for the strugglers. Van La Parra gave the ball away cheaply just inside the Leicester half, allowing Iheanacho to return a favour to the lightning fast Vardy, playing the ball perfectly behind Zanka for the now ex England striker to lift the ball over the exposed Lössl.

There was still time for Depoitre’s header in to Schmeichel’s grateful arms but the last 20 minutes were comfortable for the former Premier League Champions who must have been relieved that they had been let off an uncomfortable hook with Depoitre’s spurned opportunity.

Things are now looking bleak for Town. Even reasonably competent performances – and for an hour, one mistake aside, this was one – bring no reward and pressure builds on the obvious vulnerabilities of a team which finds it ever so difficult to score.

However, just as people drown because they panic rather an inability to swim, Town’s management have been adept at finding solutions in the past and cool heads are needed.

Wagner has been mocked for his comment about this squad being better than any he has had at Town, but he is right. Despite the ultimately disappointing result, his team were infinitely more effective than they were nearly 9 months ago even if it wasn’t good enough to gain a point.

Worryingly, however, the team still looks like a work in progress with little impact being felt by the genuinely new signings who have yet to integrate. Durm, error aside, looks promising on this showing but Diakhaby needs a lot of time and work, leaving us reliant on Kachunga who, sadly, is out of his depth.

Other results – including a worryingly emphatic home win for Burnley who represent the only realistic chance for points before the next international break – left Town rock bottom if not quite at crisis point yet. This will be reached if the chronic goal scoring problem shows no sign of resolution, and soon.

Billing remains the brightest positive of a difficult start to the season – comfortably Town’s best player, it is difficult to recall a single error in his game and he is a reminder that patience with talent is a virtue. There is more to come too; as his confidence grows with experience, he may be the player who adds the unexpected for a team which can be robotic and over drilled.

But it remains the fact that we are in a bad place right now, and it would be a brave man to predict anything but relegation on the evidence so far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Going down like a Wilf

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With arguably the best performance of the season, Town succumbed to a seasoned, slightly cynical Crystal Palace side buoyed by their talisman Zaha, who appears to be the difference between comfort and struggle. Other than the Ivorian, the South East Londoners look very ordinary and the home side should have buried them in a game they largely dominated.

It is, however, becoming an immutable law that if the Terriers don’t open the scoring, points are not accrued.
These two theories, Palace’s inevitable defeats without their Wilf, and Town’s huge vulnerability to going behind gathered more momentum at the end of a feisty affair with the home side bemoaning their luck as, once again, they fell on the wrong side of wafer thin margins.
Playing with greater intensity and pace than has been seen for some time, Town found their wingbacks with refreshing regularity – Lössl’s distribution was excellent at times and Kongolo’s range was just as impressive – though it was down their left, with Löwe and Van La Parra that they created most threat. The right side had similar service but largely failed to deliver.
Kachunga’s inclusion at the expense of Diakhaby was presumably to negate the threat of Zaha, but along with Hadergjonaj, they allowed Palace far too much freedom down the left and all of the visitors’ threat came down their flank, and this wasn’t limited to Palace’s main man.
The back three coped with Palace incursions reasonably comfortably however and Town were largely ascendant in a decent first half hour and should have been ahead 17 minutes in when a sublime cross field ball found the impressive Löwe. The German, progressive and combative throughout, delivered a perfect ball which left Hennessey in no man’s land and defenders caught ball watching but Mounié headed over when a goal looked inevitable.
Strikers are allowed to miss chances, of course, but at the elite level at which Town are trying to compete, misses like this one are cruelly punished. A goal at that stage would have transformed the outcome – as Palace were to prove, getting the first goal allows you to adapt to circumstances far more easily than when behind.
The defining ten minutes came close to the half hour mark. Schindler made a rare mistake which left his central defensive partner Zanka in trouble. Zaha nipped in to intercept the pass which had fallen short, prompting the Dane to instinctively bring down the winger with a poor challenge which deservedly brought a booking. This was not enough for his opponent who proceeded to throw a ridiculous tantrum, beating the floor in frustration, and carrying a visible red mist around for the next few minutes.
The subsequent free kick was weakly wasted, going straight through to Lössl, and Town worked their way down the right to Hadergjonaj who was upended by a late Zaha tackle which drew another deserved booking and the Palace bench demonstrating to their only hope to calm down.
Shaking off his strop for a few minutes, Zaha then demonstrated his immense quality with a run which seemed to mesmerise Hadergjonaj and Kachunga, neither of whom put in a challenge. Their dithering encouraged Zaha in to the area, where he couldn’t be touched, and he curled an excellent finish past Lössl for the all important lead.
For ten minutes, Town disintegrated. Their shape was lost, their passing became negligent and within minutes Zaha should have put the result beyond doubt rather than shooting tamely to enable Lössl to make a routine save.
As they settled down, Town finished the half strongly but the lack of composure and instinctive finishing in decent positions let them down, as it usually does. One excellent incursion saw the impressive Löwe find Van La Parra free on the left of the area only for the Dutchman to kill all momentum by receiving the ball stood still and destroying the chance to create an opportunity.
Van La Parra had a good first half – if anything, he had far more reason to complain about rough treatment than Zaha – but most of his good work disintegrates on contact with the penalty area.
Billing was also subject to persistent fouling – one particularly egregious, late challenge was far worse than Zanka’s – but he was influential, composed and effective. Alongside Mooy, who played well but made a couple of potentially costly errors in the second half, he is growing in stature and maturity.
A frantic second half saw Town relentlessly pressing for the equaliser and increasingly threatened by Palace counter attacks. Dominating possession and, on the whole, using it with intent rather than having it for its own sake, the hosts battered on the door for long periods and delivery in to the box improved substantially over the first half.
On the hour, a brilliantly contrived attempt by Mooy, brimming with technique, hit the inside of the post but bounced out. It rather summed up Town’s fortunes during the game – whatever good fortune was available seemed to favour the visitors, though they could point to several dangerous counter attacks which could have sealed the points. One of them saw Kongolo being given the benefit of the doubt as his telescopic legs wrapped around Ayew to stop him in the area.
Town created several moments of bagatelle in the Palace area which brought Hennessey in to action and a late Billing effort cannoned off a defender for a corner when it could have gone anywhere. The same player found the net but play had been halted for a foul in the area.
In and amongst the waves of offensive play, Palace infringements – by the unpunished Milivojevic in particular, who committed two fouls in the space of 30 seconds at one point – started to mount along with some fairly crude time wasting. It would be hypocritical to complain about the latter – we are rather good at it ourselves when needs be – but the addition of only 3 minutes injury time was baffling and the leniency of an indecisive and rather weak referee is a different matter. McArthur piled up a dive in the area and a couple of fouls before finally making it in to the referee’s book, and all of this was completely overlooked in favour of Zaha’s self pitying interview after the game.
Diakhaby replaced the energetic but rather limited Kachunga after 70 minutes and again showed that there is raw talent and pace to be polished over time – if anything, his introduction was 10 minutes too late. The brief cameo by Mbenza on the other side – Van La Parra having faded as the game went on – provided rather less comfort. He looked a little lost in possession and has yet to demonstrate he is ready to challenge on the left.
The baffling substitution, however, was to pair Depoitre and Mounié as Town went to a back four for the last 10 minutes. The ploy has never worked – to be fair, this latest attempt to defy experience wasn’t as starkly useless – and it left the more subtle skills of Pritchard again unused. After the performance of the team at Everton – and Pritchard’s unsuitability for Wagner’s formation of 3 at the back – it was no surprise to see him on the bench, but his ability to unpick mass defences was surely a better option than another battering ram?
Overall, however, there were reasonable grounds for some optimism in defeat. Several players performed very well, there was significantly more pace and purpose in attack and despite being exposed more than usual, the defence coped well – particularly Kongolo.
We lost because of moments not going our way. Mounié’s miss, the Mooy effort and the general run of the ball in the area in the second half, but Wagner has to find a way to inject clinical action in to his team – the lack of goals from open play is now at crisis point, if it wasn’t before now. With Spurs and Liverpool up next at home, the drought in front of their own supporters looks likely to continue.
Tough times.

A Grand Old point

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After all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth over Town’s stuttering start to the season, we enter the infernal international break with one fewer point than could have been reasonably predicted (and out of the League Cup, as per usual) following a very good draw at a difficult venue. Ever so slightly below par.

It is not unusual for people to react, sometimes hysterically, to disappointment and defeat in the moment and the aftermath. Optimism dissipates quickly as context is temporarily overlooked or ignored completely; it is an entirely natural emotion, even if expressed with a lack of grace or gratitude.

A forgettable encounter at Goodison Park saw Town stifle their hosts all over the pitch and but for a single error by the raw but promising Diakhaby, the stranglehold they had over an admittedly depleted Everton would have garnered a first win.
Thoroughly disciplined, the visitors rarely conceded space, overcame a ludicrously early booking for Billing (made even more vexatious by the referee’s leniency towards Davies in particular) and worked hard with and without the ball to revive the spirit which has carried us this far.
Key players stepped up. Mooy, looking far more comfortable in a deeper role, provided the midfield anchor preventing Everton playing between the lines and he was supported by a mature performance by Billing which indicated he is coming of age. Despite the aforementioned early booking, the Dane glided through the game, scored his first top league goal and provided most of the, too rare, progressive impetus.
At wing back, Van La Parra put in a fine display. Error free, his role of getting the team up the pitch was carried out with relish. His faults have been debated long and hard, and remain relevant, but he continues to be a vital part of a team which needs breathing space.
Up front, Mounié‘s hold up play and aerial challenges were beyond reproach – despite Town’s underwhelming form, he looks to have improved and his further development will be interesting to see.
Not unsurprisingly, the home team saw most of the ball in a tepid opening twenty minutes but were restricted to two long range, off target shots. Tosun’s effort caused fleeting concern as it flew over the bar but Lössl comfortably allowed Zouma’s drive to pass harmlessly wide.
By frustrating the home team and fans, not allowing them to gain any sort of rhythm, either in play or song, Town built the foundation to attack with more purpose and after just a few minutes of a more expansive approach, they were in front.
Löwe, solid at left wing back, swung in a dangerous near post corner which was inadvertently flicked on by Calvert-Lewin, straight on to the immaculately coiffured head of Phil Billing who gave Pickford no chance.
Sadly, the euphoria was extremely short lived. From the kick off, the ball found it’s way down Town’s right channel and a weak, ill advised challenge by Diakhaby on Digne allowed the left full back time and space to cross. The French international seized on the rare commodity and swung in an excellent cross which Calvert-Lewin converted following a well timed run in front of the exposed defence. Lössl got a hand to it and may feel that it wasn’t as strong as it should have been, but it was a powerful, well placed header.
The goals enlivened a poor spectacle but failed to ignite the game which rarely rose above tedium thereafter, which is exactly what Town needed.
Everton’s pedestrian approach play and Town’s deliberate slowing of the pace at every opportunity eventually stirred the quiet home crowd in to whinging, which was music to the ears of a club in some need of a positive result. The visiting support was vocal throughout and appreciative of the destructive nature of the performance.
The final hour was a struggle between a home side failing to turn possession in to threat – only the introduction of Lookman for the injured but anonymous Walcott added anything resembling menace – and visitors comfortably adapting to the soft challenge. One decent ball in to the box by Lookman could have ruined the day, but it narrowly evaded Siggurson’s despairing back post lunge.
Otherwise, Town carried some threat at times with Mounié firing a decent effort straight at Pickford from distance and he was visibly annoyed with Van La Parra for trying to convert off his toes after he had skilfully worked a position from an aerial ball.
Durm replaced the dependable but non threatening Hadergjonaj for the last quarter of an hour and the German very nearly fed Mounié in the area following a good Town move down the right, only to be thwarted by a good interception.
If anything, Town looked the more likely to grab a winner on the break though this would be to over emphasise the actual threat they posed. As Wagner acknowledged later, the final third remains a problem with creativity at a premium but this game looked to be one where the team was getting back to basics and they succeeded in that limited but necessary ambition.
Throughout our short tenure at the top table, the balance between adventure and solidity remains the most difficult conundrum. Durm’s cameo hinted at one possible solution – if he can consign his injury problems to history, he looks accomplished and easily capable at this high level of providing the delivery we so often lack.
The game itself may have been a humdrum affair, but for the visiting support a return to the fundamental qualities needed for survival in an ever toughening division more than compensated. Perhaps, like Wagner, we can all leave the immediate past behind and see how he develops the team to meet the huge challenges ahead.

Stagnant, rancid stalemate

 

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Town’s dismal early season form continued as they failed to beat a limited, rugged Cardiff side in a contest barely befitting the top league. On this evidence, both will be back in the Championship next season and relegation may prove a blessed relief.

The hope was that Town would progress in their second season but, perhaps unsurprisingly with a team which, so far, has lined up with pretty much the same players as last season, the same failings remain at the fore.
Faced with Cardiff’s physicality, David Wagner left Pritchard on the bench in favour of a strategy apparently designed to test Cardiff’s stamina before introducing him later on. This is an assumption incapable of testing and proof as circumstances interrupted the presumed game plan when Hamer – a bold reselection having conceded 9 goals in two games – was injured early on, reducing substitution options and fatally compounded by Hogg’s dismissal.
For all his achievements with Town – and they are amazing, legendary achievements – Wagner’s meticulous game plans often fail to survive the setbacks which regularly intercede in a chaotic sport. There is a distinct lack of spontaneity – a quality Pritchard can bring – in and amongst the efficiency which can feel and look robotic, particularly when ball possession is held in higher regard than anything resembling risk.
The midfield 3 – Hogg, Mooy and Billing – were largely a cloying mess and simply not creative enough to unlock a solid Cardiff defence. Individually, for an hour, they did little wrong and Billing was at least influential at times and was one of the few to stand out, but the home team cried out for Pritchard’s unpredictability in front of Cardiff’s centre halves.
Far too often forward runs were ignored, particularly by Mooy, in favour of recycling and virtually nothing was of any surprise to the Welsh visitors. The exception was Kongolo who shone like a beacon amongst the dross. A rasping effort in to the side netting – the least said about his other shot which ended with a throw in the better – athletic raiding down the left which rattled Cardiff’s back line and a superb cross for Mounié in the second half were the highlights of an excellent individual performance which was depressingly out of place with the rest of the mess.
The right hand side, with Hadergjonaj having a particularly ineffective game offensively, was frustratingly poor. On the assumption that Diakhaby was bought for his pace, he was rarely set free to use it – the one exception saw him finish his run with a bemusing half pass/half shot which dribbled to the keeper. Billing broke forward down the right in a decent move, skipped past a defender and put in a poor cross which lead to Kongolo’s drive after a scuffed clearance but, generally, the home side avoided the byline in favour of hitting the first defender with crosses which would have been easy to defend had they travelled further.
Cardiff were similarly unthreatening in a hugely disappointing first half – after Mendez-Laing’s strong run and collision with Hamer after 5 minutes (both players brave in the challenge), the visitors’ limitations were exposed. In archetypal Warnock style, power over precision ruled with the ball spending a lot of time in the air to little effect. Sean Morrison’s long throws had the appearance of threat without actually delivering any.
A first half involving a team moving the ball far too slowly, against one with few pretensions of sophistication made for pretty desperate fare. Forgettable for all but Kongolo’s exploits, long on endeavour but short on quality the game felt ominous for the two relegation favourites, and it was about to get worse.
It could have been very different. Early in the second period, Lössl tried to emulate Ederson with a dead ball delivery directly to Van La Parra who, unfortunately, isn’t quite at the level of Agüero. The Dutchman brought the ball down a little too clumsily, allowing defenders to recover but, more crucially, allowing the offside Mounié to take the ball from him. Dumb.
Town’s best moment of the game came shortly afterwards. Billing burst forward to release Kongolo who delivered a sublime cross for the usually starved Mounié only for the striker to power his header too close to the keeper who made a competent if spectacular looking save. A goal at this point would have sunk Cardiff, who have even more problems – as would be proven – in front of goal than their hosts.
Just after the hour, a rare Cardiff corner was cleared towards Diakhaby who looked to be cynically fouled as he unleashed his pace at long last, but everyone’s attention was drawn to a fracas in the area and a prone Arter being harangued by home players. The linesman’s report to the referee resulted in Arter’s aggression being punished by a free kick against him and a yellow card while Hogg, who had pushed him over with head and hands was sent from the field.
The unprofessional actions of the on field captain should have proved disastrous. For the remaining half hour, the visitors played with considerably more freedom than they looked capable of against 11 men, it allowed them to introduce the more subtle skills of Bobby Reid and the commodity of possession, one which they had previously been severely restricted.
Before the sending off, we had been treated to the slightly bizarre sight of Danny Ward playing in the Premier League – to be fair to him, he looked far more effective than Zohore, even if the contest itself was a pastiche of a top level game.
Lössl had to make a decent save from the ex-Town man, whose diet appears to have improved, before seeing Morrison miss with a header when it was far easier to score and he was grateful for decent blocking of shots by Schindler and a lucky deflection off Zanka.
Cardiff really should have won the game with Town down to ten and conceding possession and territory but their inability to put the ball in the net, like ours, is going to be fatal for them. They will have few better chances to win 3 points than that last half hour, having largely suppressed their lacking in confidence hosts.
Towards the end, with Cardiff out of ideas, substitute Depoitre may have made more of a good opportunity but was thwarted by Samba.
At least the 11 v 10 circumstances provided a level of entertainment rather lacking in the first hour, but a scoreless draw delivered the damnation the game as a whole deserved, exposing just how much improvement both sides will need if they are to defy the opinions of the experts.
For Town, something of a sea change is required. Shoehorning your strongest players in to a team only serves to create duplication – Mooy spent far too much time too far back to be a true number 10 and was outshone by Billing’s willingness to burst forward to some effect at times, and his safety first orchestration of play slowed the team down to the point of hum drum.
Goals remain rare and elusive. The common consensus is that better supply to Mounié and Depoitre could solve the problem, but there is precious little evidence that a solution is near at hand. Kongolo’s adventures forward are promising, but the pace of Diakhaby was barely in play and Mbenza’s introduction when down to ten offered no clues to his ability either.
The much maligned Van La Parra – bar a near catastrophic short back pass to Lössl – tried to add threat and paired reasonably well with Kongolo, but, frankly, unless one of the three purchased wide men does not prove to be better, we are in a lot of trouble.
A dismal day which thankfully didn’t turn disastrous, did little to lift a now pervading gloom.