Eagles take it easy




David Wagner’s pre match suggestion that this would be a battle between a team and a collection of high quality individuals back fired spectacularly as Crystal Palace’s undoubtedly more talented players managed to pull together and overwhelm Town’s disconnected journeymen.

From the very first minute, the Glaziers took the game to their hosts, moving the ball with precision and speed, stretching Town all over the pitch and easily overcoming wintery and ever changing conditions without the allegedly necessary geographic advantage of being northern.

Dismal from beginning to end, the Terriers completely wasted an opportunity to put serious space between themselves and their opponents in the race for survival but, in truth and on this evidence, the chasm in quality was such that the South London outfit look far more equipped for survival and their Premier League status will be confirmed much sooner, if ours is confirmed at all.

Many players performed well below par, but the utter shambles down the left involving Malone and Ince in a genuinely shocking first half epitomised Town’s failings on the day. Malone was exposed defensively time after time while Ince barely put a foot right and lost possession to such an extent he may as well have been Palace’s twelfth man.

Not that they needed any help. Rendering Mooy and Hogg redundant in midfield, their scrappy, slightly fortunate, opening goal had been coming – they wasted several opportunities after isolating Town players with their incisive movement – and Tomkins took advantage of messy defending at a corner, poking home after his initial attempt had drawn a good save from Lössl.

A frozen gloom settled over the stadium. Town rarely recover from such a setback and the crowd were largely reluctant to provide the backing normally relied upon as the reality dawned that the visitors were simply more hard working, coherent and skilful than their own team.

Every so often, the crowd were briefly enthused by the idiosyncratic stylings of Collin Quaner down the right but as the threat evaporated, so did the support.

Pritchard’s foraging and intelligence was, at least, something to hang on the hook of optimism but his work was largely wasted as soon as he had created space for a colleague – why he himself was hooked in the second half to give Kachunga minutes was baffling, though the returning German at least added some spark to a lifeless performance.

Adding comedy to the tragedy of the first half, Mooy managed to injure Malone on the touchline in a joint challenge on Townsend, mercifully forcing the full back off for Löwe for the second half.

Thoroughly outplayed by an incisive and committed Palace, more change was necessary than the enforced one, but Ince remained on the pitch and Depoitre’s industry and ability to unsettle was ignored.

With Palace content to contain, Town enjoyed better possession in the second period but all the old failings emerged with sideways passing, first defenders being hit with regularity and creativity at a premium.

Down Town’s right, Hadergjonaj – wisely chosen as Town’s man of the match – at least ruffled the Eagles’ feathers with intelligent running and a determination to fashion danger, but his efforts were still largely thwarted by a disciplined Palace rearguard.

Despite their more conservative approach, Palace regularly created danger on the break and their incisiveness in attack was a stark contrast to the home side’s desperately laboured advances, not helped by a horribly ineffective Van La Parra cameo which barely improved upon Ince.

By all accounts, Benteke has had a poor, often disinterested season, but his selfless centre forward play allowed much of the visitors attacking play to flourish. Mounié, by contrast, was barely involved but the more robust Depoitre remained on the bench.

It was the Frenchman who had Town’s best chance, however, firing wide from inside the area just before a Palace counter attack saw Zanka put in an unnecessary and ill timed challenge on Townsend in the area and the game, already spluttering, was dead.

Milivojevic despatched the spot kick decisively and the points were headed to South London.

An epic blizzard introduced itself to the game shortly afterwards and the more cynical of us began to dream of postponement, a stroke of meteorological luck Town neither deserved nor received.

They could, however, have made much more of the advantage as snow whipped in to their opponents’ faces but managed to deliver pathetic crosses, corners and free kicks straight at defenders.

With the stadium emptying to the news that the ineptitude of others had somehow managed to leave Town unpunished for their ragged and unacceptable display, hope remains but the cold reality is that when the collective spirit goes missing, as it did in this encounter, Town look nowhere near equipped for this league.

Palace, however, looked the real deal. The horrible mess of Frank De Boer’s reign has been replaced by the experienced sagacity of Roy Hodgson and now that they have their stronger players back from injury and a comfortable fixture list, many may be surprised at just how high they will finish. Considering their disastrous start, even survival would be a great achievement, and they will do that with ease.

Town, meanwhile, face a worrying few weeks – two tough away games may plunge us in to the bottom three and heap on the pressure for the visits of Watford and Everton, or Wagner may use the break to reinstall the spirit so desperately lacking yesterday.


2 points down the Swanee



A committed Swansea, who rode their luck a little at times, overcame the dismissal of their primary attacking threat after just 11 minutes to earn a point they would have been happy picking up with a full complement of players.

A delightful day for statisticians proved a horribly frustrating one for the Terriers who racked up impressive numbers apart from the one which counts.

Facing ten men is never the advantage it appears and Swansea have form for resisting the best of attacks – few blank out an outrageously talented Spurs, for example – and old foe Carvalhal not only knows how to organise a team to keep a clean sheet at Huddersfield’s home, he didn’t even have to change formation to achieve another one despite the reduction in numbers.

Sitting back and offering virtually no offensive threat, Swansea denied the hosts space in important areas which, in turn, slowed Town down for too much of the extensive power play.

Neither wide man covered themselves in glory with crossing which ranged from poor to negligent as the red wall in front of them seemed to attract whatever type of ball – low, high, driven or floated – they attempted far too often. Operating down the left, Van La Parra was at his frustrating worst. Other than a jinking run which earned a (wasted) free kick on the edge of the area, he often interrupted the flow of attacks as effectively as the Welsh rearguard and consistently failed to use Malone’s running ahead of him.

It wasn’t the best of days for David Wagner, either. 9 men behind the ball was always going to slow the pace of the game and while leaving things as they were made sense in the first half, his eventual changes were far too late. The game was crying out for Williams’ aggression and power over Mooy’s more considered style – the Australian’s ability to dictate an already determined tempo was neither necessary or helpful – and Depoitre’s unsettling presence would have given Swansea much more to think about.

Replacing Pritchard, who has the ability to unlock defences in tight situations was an altogether puzzling decision, particularly as Van La Parra’s wastefulness was blunting forward movement far too regularly.

None of this would have mattered had the chances which were created been taken. Malone, inexplicably, missed a straightforward contact with the goal in front of him, Ince should have fed Mounié for an easy chance before heading against the post late on and Fabianski pulled off a great save from a Mounié pile driver, deflecting the shot on to the bar.

Wave after wave of attacks floundered with poor decision making, ineffective crossing and over elaboration and it slowly dawned that the man advantage was something of a poisoned chalice which forced the visitors in to a deep defensive block which they executed with considerable effort. It is to their credit that the Welsh side didn’t tire under the siege and, indeed, on their only meaningful venture in to Town’s box in the second half they could have compounded their host’s misery but for some poor control.

The sending off itself looked a straightforward decision though Hogg – who had a good game – was fortunate not to be booked in the same challenge, and Ayew’s lunge didn’t appear malicious, more clumsy. It could have been worse for Swansea, however, as Mawson, booked for a wild challenge which failed to connect with Pritchard was also lucky that a colleague took a time wasting booking which had much more to do with the ex-Barnsley man.

Unsurprisingly, the Swans took every opportunity to waste time and with all the substitutions taking place in the second half it was genuinely baffling that only 4 minutes were added on. Not that there was any evidence that a few more minutes would have broken the deadlock.

Frustrating as it was, the contest was also fascinating and quite excellent sport which kept the loud and supportive crowd enthralled to the end. The effort put in by both sides was creditworthy, and though a huge opportunity was missed by the home side, another point towards survival and results elsewhere compensated a little.

Next up is Crystal Palace, a team in trouble but with players – notably Zaha – returning and Town face another formidable task in the search for the 6 points likely to be needed for survival. Let’s hope they don’t have anyone sent off.




Outclassed but not humiliated




It was difficult to shake the feeling that Saturday’s game at the site of his greatest triumph was anything other than one to get out of the way for David Wagner ahead of back to back home games which are likely to determine Town’s fate in the top division.

With his counterpart picking a full strength and rather frightening team despite the small matter of Juventus on the horizon, Town’s pre match chances, already paper thin, took a nosedive and, realistically, leaving Wembley without injury or suspension complications and their new found confidence intact seemed worthy objectives.

Spurs are a fabulous football team. Of course, assembling such a team requires astonishing amounts of cash but Pochettino is far more than a cheque book manager – his team plays with unity, understanding bordering on telepathy and style. Like everyone else, they are behind Manchester City but their football can be just as thrilling to watch even when coasting.

Ever the pragmatist, Wagner knew that for Town to gain anything from the game, a hell of a lot would have to go right for his team and Spurs would have to be below par. As it transpired, a largely indifferent first half performance – occasionally illuminated by Spurs’ alumni Pritchard until he was forced off with a dead leg – allowed the hosts a single goal lead which should have been more.

The first quarter of the game, other than an initial Town flourish, saw Son shining. Combining energy and silky skills, the South Korean tormented Hadergjonaj and forced Wagner in to a humiliating substitution of Collin Quaner – who wasn’t at all happy – after half an hour, presumably for his lack of or ineffective support of the struggling Swiss.

Fortunately, and for all their possession and easy control of the game, Spurs’ radar was a little off in the final third. Their often devastating balls between the lines, finding colleagues in dangerous spaces, were imperfect and allowed Town off the hook on two occasions, Lössl made a decent, if routine, save from Kane and an Eriksen free kick ricocheted off Quaner’s head on to the outside of the post. The visitors, pulled and stretched all over the pitch, looked increasingly vulnerable and the breakthrough was inevitable.

Town lost possession in Tottenham’s half, the ball was played up to Kane who expertly chested it down to Deli Alli. With Son already bursting through the middle unchallenged, all it needed was a decent pass and Alli delivered. Taking the inch perfect supply in his stride, Town’s chief tormentor took the ball past Lössl with some ease before steering the ball home past Schindler’s despairing effort to block.

It was no less than Spurs deserved and by half time – despite Ince providing more stability down the right – the Terriers could cling on to the consolation that they had been let off the hook.

They weren’t particularly helped by the performance of substitute referee Kevin Friend. His eagerness to punish the visitors in favour of the home team was a constant annoyance, particularly when coupled with his leniency in reverse. Establishing any sort of rhythm against a team of such high quality is difficult enough without the assistance of an apparently star struck man in black. He was to deny Spurs a pretty obvious penalty in the second half to even things up a little, but that decision alone is testament to his incompetence.

A better second half followed, however. More organised, sharper in the tackle and the press, the visitors even looked occasionally threatening particularly after surviving several scares in the opening exchanges, including an excellent Schindler block at the near post from Kane and a bizarre attempt by Kongolo – who was less composed than normal in the face of the opponents’ quality – to impede Son from a prone position which should have resulted in a penalty.

Clinging to these lifelines, Town briefly sensed an unlikely opportunity to capitalise on their own good fortune and Spurs’ profligacy. Striding out of defence, Zanka lofted a great ball behind the home defence for Ince who tried his luck from distance. The shot was decent but the under employed Lloris – up to this point he had kept out a weak Van La Parra effort – was equal to it. The spectacular nature of his dive and save was a little over the top but, nevertheless, the visitors had, at least, given Tottenham something to think about.

A surging Danny Williams run created more excitement for the underdogs but as the subsequent attack broke down and the ball floated out to Van La Parra, the Dutchman failed to get it under control, was forced towards the touchline on halfway and his attempt to lay the ball back to a colleague only found Kane.

There looked to be little danger as the England striker collected the ball, but with outstanding vision, he curled a perfect, 50 yard ball directly in to the path of the onrushing Son, who diverted the bouncing ball past Lössl with aplomb.

It was a moment of sheer quality, emphasising the difference in class between Town’s spirited scrappers and an excellent Spurs side developed by Pochettino over the past few years, but hardly the source of any shame.

The goal pretty much ended the contest, and was particularly demoralising for the visitors coming as it did just as they were enjoying their best spell of the game. If Spurs weren’t relaxed enough before the second goal, they were able to slow the pace after it and ease their way to a comfortable victory.

Town had their moments as an attacking force without unduly troubling the home defence, particularly down the right where Hadergjonaj (who had a pretty horrible day defensively) linked neatly with Ince on occasion. Sadly, balls in to the box invariably hit the first defender and too much of the Terriers’ play going forward was rushed and forced, in stark contrast to Spurs effortless movement and passing.

From a corner, Kane uncharacteristically swept a good chance created by his own movement wide. The useless git. (Hopefully, he will have his shooting boots on in midweek).

While The Old Lady awaits for Spurs, Town can now focus on the next 5, crucial games which have probably weighed heavier in Wagner’s mind than the unlikely event of a Wembley upset, and despite being a long way away from their opponents in this game, he will be encouraged by a second half where Hogg and Williams pressed their more illustrious opponents pretty well, Schindler and Zanka impressed and Ince’s performance showed greater promise than of late.

Despite playing within themselves in the latter stages of this game, it has been a pleasure to watch Spurs in the two encounters. Their ease of movement, rarity of error and occasionally devastating, serpentine transitions make them quite a bit more likeable than the other big guns.

On to survival.







Vital 3 points bagged.





We won’t know if victory over a beleaguered, demoralised West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns was a pivotal moment until the whole season’s story unfolds, but it sure felt like it.

In all likelihood, the defeat consigns the Baggies to relegation. While hope will flicker in the Midlands for a little while yet, there is now a gap of 7 points to safety with games running out and with their dreadful record over a much longer period to consider, pessimism will devour them.

It is even more outlandish to imagine them being able to make up 10 points on Town, leaving the small dogs of the top league to worry about just two remaining relegation spots – even not finishing at the bottom of the pile will represent a minor victory over the majority expectation that they would sink without a great deal of trace in elevated company.

What may be viewed as pivotal is the shrewd transfer business early in the last window. Not only did Town strengthen two crucial areas – offensively and defensively – Wagner delayed the introduction of both Pritchard and Kongolo until he was sure they could make the type of crucial difference both made in yesterday’s vital win.

Kongolo shone throughout. Strong, composed and aware, the left back made a vital tackle to prevent wunderkind Burke making an immediate impact following his introduction and contributed to a fine defensive performance which, corners aside, subdued the home side’s attacking threat.

The excellent Pritchard filled the troubled number 10 role with energy and imagination, simultaneously bringing out Mounié’s qualities as he had done in the Bournemouth game and the much maligned Frenchman has hit form at exactly the right time now that his strengths are illuminated by his integration in to a team plan and shape which suits him.

The tension around the Hawthorns was palpable and no doubt contributed to a quite dreadful first half almost entirely devoid of quality or semblance of calm. A fierce midfield battle produced a multitude of errors from both sides and a contest as dour as the struggles of both clubs, but it suited the visitors more as they built a foundation on the back of the Baggies’ increasing frustrations both on and off the field.

Williams and Hogg dominated the midfield slog without being able to inspire threat, but rarely relinquished their superiority over Barry and Krychowiak while providing a largely impenetrable defensive shield. This allowed Schindler and Zanka to cope comfortably with Rondon – who was semi permanently offside – and the dangerous Rodriguez.

Having established decent control, Town should have gone ahead just after the half hour when Hadergjonaj and Quaner opened up West Brom’s left side to set up Pritchard for a shot which was goalbound until hitting Mounié near the line. Van La Parra’s follow up was saved by Foster and scrambled away before Pritchard could head in the rebound.

It was a rare moment of excitement in a frantically unsatisfying first half and, soon after, the home side created a chance following good work from Rondon who, for once, got behind the visitors’ defence to set up McClean who may have done better than volley over when unmarked.

The breakthrough for Town came early in an improved, but hardly sparkling, second half. Quaner, who was quietly effective throughout, capitalised on good front running by Mounié and movement by Hadergjonaj to set up Van La Parra. The Dutchman swung a leg at the ball first time and somehow shinned the opener past a bemused and utterly stranded Foster to score for the second time in the season against the troubled hosts, if rather less spectacularly than his previous effort.

Taking the lead has always been vital to Town successes. It is rare for them to lose once in front – just as it is rare for them to recover from conceding the first goal – and the cushion of a second followed not long after.

A dreadful ball out of defence was shifted quickly forward to Pritchard who cleverly played in Mounié with a lovely reverse pass. With his new found confidence and in the knowledge that he now has a song dedicated to him, the striker curled a great finish past Foster to put Town in firm control.

In between the goals, Wagner sacrificed the booked Hadergjonaj (he had picked up the yellow card following a typical piece of Van La Parra madness who had stayed down following a tackle he felt should’ve been a foul in the first half) for Smith. The captain played his part in a generally good second half performance by the visitors.

The blot on the landscape was Town’s defending of corners. With 25 minutes to go and a comfortable victory in sight, defenders allowed Dawson to head home an excellent Brunt corner with Lössl nowhere, though possibly illegally blocked.

The same defender was to head over from a similar but less promising position later in the game and Lössl made a good save from a Brunt free kick to make amends for his less than commanding effort for the Baggies’ goal.

Other than those two scares, Town’s experience of seeing out slim victories came to the fore, and, if anything, they looked far more dangerous going forward than their desperate hosts. Williams had a fine volley well saved by Foster while a jinking Van La Parra run in to the area past 3 defenders was let down by a very weak finish.

At the heart of it all was Hogg. Tackling, blocking, cajoling, the highly energetic midfielder combined excellently with the more progressive Williams to snuff out threats at source and reduce West Brom to an aerial bombardment capably dealt with by all of the back four.

While the last 25 minutes and injury time were occasionally stressful, Town’s resilience was not to be broken and the vital 3 points were rightfully earned.

West Brom look hopeless. In direct contrast to the spirit and togetherness of their conquerors, the stench of decay and disharmony – particularly between the club and fans – was overwhelming. Relegation looms and it is not easy to see how the caustic atmosphere around The Hawthorns can be dispelled.

For Town, salvation is within grasp though it remains exceptionally challenging. The last few games have restored the early season confidence; if relegation is the final fate, it will not arrive because of lack of effort and that same effort gives them a fighting chance of survival.

Turning the corner from a dreadful period from mid December, the recent performances – including in defeat – has given supporters renewed hope and revitalised enthusiasm. Even if yesterday’s win was a little on the ugly side, it was massively encouraging to witness the commitment to the cause.

Town fans, rightly or wrongly, will forgive a lot if they see blood, sweat and tears and their response to the victory celebrations at the end reaffirmed the bond so indispensable in this struggle against the odds.






Theatre of silence and sighs




In 1968, the whole country was behind Manchester United’s quest for the European Cup, with overwhelming sentiment derived from the Munich Air Disaster.

The goodwill disappeared long ago but not for the victims and survivors of that tragedy and a perfectly observed minutes’ silence paid poignant homage before Town’s first visit since 1972 began.

The task in front of the visitors was huge.

In poor form which has seen 4 straight league defeats in 2018 with only one goal scored from precious few opportunities and survival looking increasingly unlikely as the weeks pass, a visit to the second placed side boosted by the signing of Alexis Sanchez promised little respite.

Reverting to a back 4, with Smith and Kongolo at full back and Hadergjonaj pushed in to a midfield role that seemed to rather suit him, Wagner’s experimentation continued – thankfully, the pairing of Mounié and Depoitre seems to have been consigned to the drawing room.

Mooy, who has looked bafflingly jaded for far too long, was demoted to the bench and Van La Parra and Quaner restored.

An encouraging first half saw Town restrict United to one decent effort well saved by Lössl and one break from a rare Town attack which ended with the Dane saving at the feet of Lingard.

Town preserved their goal at the expense of both possession and attacking intent though they did construct one or two possibilities for opportunities down the right with Quaner, Hadergjonaj and Smith combining.

Those flurries of excitement were rare, however, and most of the visitors’ energy was expended in trying to thwart their opponents’ attempts to play through the lines.

Using fair means and foul, the objective was achieved despite the incessant prompting of Sanchez. The Chilean is supremely elusive, always on the move and has that perfect centre of gravity which draws opponents in to challenges and fouls. Theatrical as he is, and his constant sense of injustice is annoying, he is exceptionally difficult to counter and Town controlled him reasonably well for 45 minutes.

In the absence of any genuine threat emanating from their team, the visiting support was kept animated by a referee seemingly bent on handing the home side momentum and a linesman who failed to spot clear offsides from 3 free kicks from the right.

The most outrage was reserved for Morinho’s instruction to his players not to return the ball to Town after they had put it out for an injured United man.

In truth, United were getting decisions because they monopolised possession of the ball, were often a little too quick for the defenders and Town’s timing of challenges went awry at times.

It could hardly have been the crowd influencing decisions – like at Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton, the atmosphere was appalling and sterile.

Town also got away with a crude challenge on McTominay on the edge of the box, and the referee could hardly be blamed for the visitors giving up possession too easily at times and facilitating the home side’s dominance.

Still, a scoreless half was just reward for commitment and towards the end of it, Town finally escaped the tight grip established from the off by United and mounted some offensive resistance.

Despite these slivers of encouragement, there remained an air of inevitability about a game where, frankly and unsurprisingly, the teams were not only mismatched but United’s incredible bench would only exacerbate the inequality.

Against high quality opposition, however frustrated they can become, inevitable errors will eventually be punished and so it proved in a largely disappointing second half.

Intense early pressure from United was defended very well with last ditch tackles and blocks keeping an increasingly hungry beast at bay, but sloppy play halfway inside Town’s half saw Matic capitalize and feed Mata to supply the otherwise well marshalled Lukaku a perfect cross for the Belgian to crash home.

The game was up, the injured Schindler was withdrawn for Hefele and the inevitability of defeat was painfully obvious.

Hefele felled Sanchez in the box with 20 minutes to go and while the Chilean’s poor penalty was saved by Lössl, he opened his United account with the rebound.

With the result confirmed, not that there had been much doubt once United had taken the lead, Morinho took the opportunity of blooding some hopefuls as Pogba, Rashford and Martial were introduced.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of a predictable defeat was the final 20 minutes.

With United adopting something of a showboating mentality, Town were afforded some possession from which they created precisely nothing.

Largely instigated by the lively Hadergjonaj, two promising breaks down the right were let down by poor balls in to the box, Ince messed up a good ball from the Swiss with poor control and momentum was lost on other occasions.

Town’s increased presence in the United half also created good opportunities for United on the break. These were defended well, if somewhat desperately and, at least, a drubbing was avoided.

However good the opposition, it remains deflating when your team fails to trouble the keeper, basic skills are executed carelessly and their threat is this feeble.

Credit should be extended to a stoic defence in which Kongolo was outstanding and those at the back must feel frustrated that their efforts are not built upon by those further forward.

The whole team did work hard to contain a vastly superior outfit – Depoitre’s thankless front running with stitches in a foot injury at half time a case in point – but a fifth straight defeat was fully merited.

With hopes pinned on Wagner using the last two hugely difficult games as preparation for the crucial, and winnable, series of encounters ahead, Town’s drop in to the relegation zone for the first time still feels ominous.

The holding back of Pritchard – other than his less than fruitful appearance at Stoke – is a little mysterious but, hopefully, a ploy to add his creativity in games where it could be effective.

Williams could still add something different to a midfield desperately lacking Mooy’s influence (he was slightly better in this game after a very poor first 5 minutes, but nowhere near the standards he has set himself), and the excellent Kongolo has a lot to add if the team as a whole can climb out of their current rut.

Town desperately need to recapture their identity against a dangerous and resurgent Bournemouth next week.

Finally, off the pitch, Town’s support totally dominated a horribly quiet Old Trafford crowd. It is to be hoped – and there is strong justification for that hope -the JSS assembly is as supportive of a struggling team next Saturday.


(I won’t be put to the supporting test as Bournemouth is the one League game I’m missing – next report, West Brom, unless I do a TV based one – cos I’m going here and hurling myself off mountains (well, more like gliding gently down not so challenging stuff);



Lost in transition

Huddersfield Town v Liverpool - Premier League



It would seem that David Wagner decided that experimentation was in order against a side where the chances of victory, or even parity, were slim enough to take a chance with the longer view in mind.

Deploying three central defenders and twin strikers, the manager’s thoughts seem to be on a block of 6 or 7 games after Old Trafford which will determine Town’s fate in an increasingly difficult season where a sprinkling of quality is proving insufficient to overcome the limitations of a fundamentally Championship squad.

This thesis may well be wide of the mark – we shall never know unless he opens up at the conclusion of the season – but you only need to look back at the final stages of last season to believe it is plausible.

The results were mixed, to say the least. While all 3 central defenders played well and restricted Liverpool’s hugely talented strike force reasonably well, it is unlikely that we shall see Mounié and Depoitre start a game together again. Unlike the defensive trio, the forwards displayed precious little understanding of each other and neither contributed enough to the team (unusually for Depoitre, less so for Mounié). Wagner was probably right to spare Pritchard the ordeal and possible neck injury given that any attacking resistance was largely aerial – it simply wasn’t a game suited to his skills.

The visitors were, perhaps unsurprisingly, far too good for their hosts. With crisp passing, excellent movement and sublime touches they were able to put recent travails firmly behind them. This was especially so in a hugely dominant first half which gave them a two goal cushion and the near certainty of victory allowed them to coast in low gears for much of the second.

Rarely in any sort of trouble, Liverpool quickly regained possession on the odd occasion they lost it as Town found it almost impossible to transition from the passivity of defending to the activity of attacking, or even a semblance of control, and the visitors’ effortless command of proceedings was barely interrupted.

At wing back, both Löwe and Hadergjonaj played pretty well, particularly the Swiss, and though both suffered from the team’s overall malaise in possession and going forward, it wasn’t difficult to imagine them being more successful in less challenging circumstances.

The central midfield, however, was a bit of a mess for much of the night. Mooy’s form remains in the doldrums and unless the Australian can recapture his game controlling form the fears over relegation will become a certainty, while Billing’s anonymity in a game which passed him by on the whole could be excused by his lengthy absence through injury. Hogg rattled in to a few decent challenges and though his man of the match accolade was more than generous of the sponsor, his effort couldn’t be faulted.

Despite their superiority, after establishing almost complete control from the very beginning, Liverpool rather flattered to deceive in the early stages and their monopoly of possession created little in the way of threat with Town’s deep defensive block coping comfortably with the Reds’ advances.

In fact, Town could have taken the lead if Depoitre hadn’t arrived slightly too late to meet an excellent Löwe cross in their first attack just after the quarter hour.

While taking the lead at that stage wouldn’t necessarily have changed the outcome of the game, it would have put pressure on the visitors given recent results, and barely 10 minutes later a deflected effort by Cam was nestling in the home net and the result was never beyond doubt from that moment.

Town had another chance which would have drawn them level – entirely against the run of play – but Löwe’s curling free kick was just wide of the target.

Most of the half, however, was relentless Liverpool possession and control with Town largely incapable of gaining and retaining the ball and momentary loss of concentration in first half injury time which allowed Firmino to beat Lössl at his near post extinguished any realistic hope for the Terriers.

Even the most optimistic home supporter knew that the game was lost by half time though, to their credit, they continued to support the team throughout despite having precious little encouragement from the pitch.

Playing within themselves, at exhibition pace for much of it, Liverpool continued to dominate in the second half with minimal exertion and some peerless quality at times.

Mané twice found himself on the end of pinpoint crosses but failed to convert either, while the outrageously talented Salah, who combines great skill with no little work rate, was frustrated by blocks and the side netting. Milner forced a save from Lössl and it seemed just a matter of time before Liverpool put the game to bed (after already tucking it in by the break).

The introduction of Quaner for the entirely ineffective Mounié did, at least, inject some much needed energy for the home side – Liverpool’s central defenders were discomforted for just about the first time and the momentum culminated in a penalty appeal which, while soft looking, was as worthy as the one Kevin Friend (who managed to turn what should have been an easy night for a referee in to drama) gave to Liverpool shortly afterwards.

Salah converted that to put a deserved gloss on the Reds’ victory and they saw out the game with little trouble. Ince, a late substitute, had one effort off target but a consolation was not to be.

Overall, the home display was disappointing though they defended pretty well despite the score line and Kongolo’s full Premier League debut carried some hope for games against teams of far lesser ability than Liverpool, Schindler was excellent in the middle of the three and Hadergjonaj continues to impress.

The team selection for the next, equally huge, challenge at Old Trafford will be interesting. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Wagner uses the occasion for further experimentation before the crucial mini season which will decide our fate.





Second city blues




A spluttering, unlovely and frustrating performance saw Town add an unwanted game to their schedule as they handed Birmingham a draw with yet another give away goal and an appalling miss by Joe Lolley at the death.

Substitute Malone almost handed the visitors victory just before Lolley’s gobber, and while a defeat wouldn’t have been particularly palatable, avoiding a disruptive replay would have been a decent price to pay.

Overall, it was Town’s lack of killer instinct which cost them. Other than the threat of Jota, the best player on the pitch throughout, Birmingham were pretty ordinary in a first half which finally saw Mounié being provided with a quality cross – from Hadergjonaj- to convert with some style. The finger on the lips celebration was not as welcome as the Frenchman’s first goal for a long time.

Disregarding the petulance, his movement in the box turned a very good cross in to a great one. It can’t be beyond the wit of our wide attacking players that delivering the ball regularly in to good spaces will result in strikers like Mounié and Depoitre scoring goals.

The lead was established after 20 relatively quiet minutes and the home side should have seized the opportunity to turn the screw on an opponent with a terrible away record and struggling to score.

They saw enough of the ball to apply irresistible pressure, but good work either fizzled out in the final third or was recycled backwards to try to start again (allowing even moderate teams plenty of time to reorganise). The inability to create and maintain momentum is hurting us and giving opponents confidence and breathing space.

Nevertheless, Town’s first half performance was far from poor – not effective enough, for sure, but they were comfortable at the back (Kolongo’s inclusion in the first team has to be imminent) and functioned as well as necessary to see off what appeared to be the fairly minimal threat they were facing.

Comfortable passage to the 5th round seemed a fairly easy goal to achieve as the second half begun. The threat of Jota had become increasingly isolated and if the Spaniard represented the best of the Blues, his midfield compatriot Ndoye’s inelegance more than compensated. How he racked up so many fouls without a booking or a talking to was as astonishing as his inability to control or pass a football with any regularity.

An uneventful start to the second half, again playing in to the home team’s hands, was jolted out of its complacency 10 minutes in when a nothing attack from the visitors broke down and allowed Hefele time to stroll forward assuming no pressure before Jutkiewicz robbed him and curled an equaliser past Coleman.

It was a poor error by the German, who was otherwise solid and composed, and Town’s alarming propensity to shoot themselves in the foot reared its ugly head again.

The equaliser did, at least, breathe some life in to a contest in grave danger of atrophy as the visitors’ belief was revived and while a draw was probably about right, had Coleman not made a good save from Jutkiewicz, the Blues would have gone on to win.

In fairness to Town, a mediocre second half performance was not short on chances. Sabiri, who struggled on his first home start, shot narrowly wide, Billing – who added a touch of quality when he replaced the injured Williams in the first half – had a decent effort saved and there was far more efforts at or on goal when we were playing worse than we had in the first 45 minutes.

Löwe, who had a pretty good return from injury, was replaced by Malone for an eventful 10 minutes for the ex-Fulham man. He got involved in the attack which lead to Lolley’s dreadful miss, feeding Quaner on the left but will be remembered most for a clownish moment in the area when he completely missed a clearance he probably shouldn’t have attempted in the first place with Coleman poised to collect the ball before rather unconvincingly clearing up his mess.

The disappointment of not finishing the tie late on when Quaner set up Lolley so beautifully was probably playing on the minds of the hard of thinking when they booed the team from the field, but an opportunity to progress in the cup relatively serenely had been passed up through an error and a wild finish.

Unlike last week, there were positives to take from the game. Kongolo, assuming the knock he took wasn’t too serious, has surely staked his claim for a start against Liverpool. His strength alone marked him out as on a different level to many of his teammates.

Billing added some class at times and looks ready for the bench while Mounié appeared more interested and effective if given good service.

The negative of fitting in a replay which will disrupt preparation for the crucial Bournemouth game outweighs them, however.

A crock in the Potteries



A bloodless, feeble performance against a muscular, aggressive Stoke City side who embroidered a committed display with two fine goals finally dropped Town deep in to a relegation fight they currently look entirely incapable of avoiding.

With the welcome respite of the FA Cup next weekend, Wagner has time to rethink or, rather, reboot, the identity he has created for the club because it was unrecognisable in the potteries; insipid is too generous a word for a display which had precisely zero moments of hope or excitement for a disillusioned visiting support.

A horrible first half – from both sides – was as bereft of quality as any 45 minutes seen this season and neither goalkeeper had been remotely troubled until Shaqiri failed to lob Lössl in it’s final minute.

Dismal as it was, the home side dominated the physical tussle and debutant Pritchard and the isolated and increasingly ineffective Mounié were denied both space and time, Van La Parra’s occasional forays were thwarted with ease and Ince had minimal impact on a game which passed him by.

Worst of all, the bafflingly poor form of Mooy, who cannot buy a pass at the moment, continues. His midfield partner is as hardworking and combative as ever but Hogg was completely over shadowed by Allen and Adams – both provided the aggression and energy which created the foundation for a home win which was fully deserved and nowhere near as emphatic as it could and should have been.

At the back, Schindler was roughed up in a brutal first half for the defender while his partner had a lackadaisical game and nearly handed a lead to the hosts with a misplaced pass only to be saved embarrassment by Diouf slipping at the vital moment. Zanka’s main contribution was to, twice, expose the home fans’ ignorance of the back pass law. His first use of his upper leg was controlled and well executed, his second rather less so.

After his performance against West Ham last week, it wasn’t a surprise that Smith relinquished his place to Hadergjonaj but it was odd that Malone was preferred over the athleticism and physicality of Kongolo when a tough battle was eminently predictable.

A similar argument can be proffered against Mounié’s inclusion. The first game aside, the young Frenchman hasn’t got to grips with the Premier League so far – he wasn’t helped by his injury – and he looked hopelessly exposed against Shawcross and Zouma as balls were launched towards him in unpromising positions. Neither did he help himself in a second half where some of his attempts at headers and challenges looked distinctly half hearted.

If the first half had been parched of incident and excitement, Town had, at least, survived and, on the whole, defended competently. Their lack of discernible threat demanded it if a point was to be earned but, as has happened far too many times on the road, an increasingly disjointed, error strewn second half exposed Town’s defenders to quick, fatal breaks.

First, Choupo-Moting was set free down the left by a superb Adams through ball and the German-Cameroonian strode purposefully in to the open space in front of him before he hit a low cross for the onrushing Allen to sweep home.

If the opener had been a goal of some quality, the second was even better.

It stemmed from a loose ball from Mooy. The Aussie has executed the same cross field pass on countless occasions in his Town career to date but his current form was summed up by Choupo-Moting easily intercepting it and launching a devastating attack which ended with a sublime flick by Shaqiri to Diouf, who finished nicely past the exposed Lössl.

History tells us that, in fact, the first goal was as likely to be the death knell to Town’s hopes as the second, but Diouf’s rounding off of an excellent move banished any thoughts of revival.

Stoke should have punished the visitors further with other fast breaks – Shaqiri tested Lössl but other opportunities were wasted – and after a difficult season, a change of manager may inspire them to a revival if they can combine their naturally aggressive style with the flashes of quality Shaqiri can bring.

For Town, the last 3 league games have been hugely disappointing; as much for the lack of character in defeat as the losses themselves, and with two behemoths up next, further descent is likely before more winnable contests arrive. Even those will be beyond the Terriers in this form, however.

Defeat and relegation worries are both expected and accepted in this division – most sides have game changing quality in their ranks, some overladen with them, but the lack of fight, absence of attacking threat and passing bravery on display in the city of 5 towns was unacceptable.







Town’s first home game of 2018 always felt like something of a barometer. Before his demise, Mark Hughes proffered the view that Town would find the second half of the season much tougher than the first and while it was easy to dismiss the thoughts of a drowning, rather charmless man (in public, anyway), there was an uncomfortable truth in his words.

A worrying home defeat against an admittedly rapidly improving opponent featured naïveté, below par performances from key players and a rare tactical failure from the manager.

In a devastating second half, a confident and assured West Ham put Town to the sword and inflicted a potentially damaging defeat in front of a home crowd who were, for the first time this season, driven to passive support.

The game had started reasonably well with Town on the front foot without creating much threat but the Hammers slowly took control of affairs and while their passing failed on several occasions in attack, their power in the middle of the park was ascending and the quality of Arnautovic and Lanzini began to blossom.

Nevertheless, there hadn’t been a great deal between the sides before Lössl and Lolley handed the visitors the lead. The Belgian’s decidedly risky pass out to the ex-Kidderminster man was ill advised and not particularly well executed. While Lolley is culpable for a poor piece of control, his keeper had put him in an invidious and unnecessary position – the excellent Noble robbed him with ease and then finished in style past the guilty custodian.

To their credit, Town didn’t crumble but things rarely turn out well when they go behind and the visitors looked more than capable of hurting them between the lines as their formidable front two, assisted by a physically imposing midfield, grew in confidence.

Intermittently, the home side sparked in to life and on 40 minutes, Joe Lolley atoned for his earlier error with a wonderful goal, receiving the ball from the alarmingly under par Mooy before cutting in and curling a great effort past Adrián.

Finishing the half strongly, the hope was that the equaliser would simultaneously deflate the Hammers and provide a solid foundation for the second half. Sadly, nothing could have been further from the reality.

Within 15 seconds, West Ham exploited a sleepy home defence with a simple long ball. First, Zanka reacted too slowly to the threat and was beaten in the air by Kouyaté who flicked on to Arnautovic. The Austrian bamboozled Smith and hit a perfect finish past the exposed Lössl.

15 minutes of disarray ensued, in which West Ham scored twice more and could easily have doubled that tally.

The lively Lanzini and Arnautovic threatened constantly, Town’s tormented defenders looked ever more fragile and a shambles ensued.

Smith inadvertently played Lanzini onside from an Arnautovic through ball and the Argentine’s powerful finish left Lössl with no chance and Town bereft. The fourth, another fast break finished again by Lanzini finally extinguished the already less than faint hopes of recovery.

It was a comprehensive demolition with the visitors exploiting the Terriers’ weaknesses with cruel efficiency.

Not unnaturally, the Londoners appeared reasonably content with the scale of the defeat they were inflicting on their traumatised hosts and, coupled with a long overdue tactical change by Wagner which saw Kongolo replace an out of his depth Smith and the adoption of a back 3, the game meandered to its inevitable conclusion.

It is hardly surprising that Town would suffer reversals such as this in an exceptionally challenging first top flight season, but this one felt a little different and the drying up of the normally raucous support (even in comprehensive defeat) was telling. As it proved, expecting to beat a resurgent West Ham as something of a formality was foolish – the visitors were very, very good for significant chunks of the game and recalibration of expectations may be helpful for the future.

Neither is it surprising that some of the current squad are being found out. It is no disgrace for example that Tommy Smith is struggling, or that Joe Lolley doesn’t have the touch, strength and awareness of Arnautovic. Building a truly competitive squad will take time and the addition of Kongolo and Pritchard – who looked lively, inventive and, crucially, very positive, is a good start.

With class being permanent and form temporary, Town will be hoping that Mooy recaptures the quality which has orchestrated their rise and promising first half of the season – the addition of Pritchard may well instigate that revival.

The defeat, and the nature of it, was ominous but the impact of Kongolo and Pritchard offers some hope. The defender adds much needed power either at left back or the left side of a back 3 while the ex-Canary should provide greater creativity, shots and effective dead ball delivery.

While it was not much of a surprise that Pritchard’s single day of preparation consigned him to the bench, Kongolo’s omission looked, in hindsight (the amateur scribbler’s friend) a significant error on Wagner’s part.

Up next, Stoke away presents an opportunity. Unlike yesterday’s impressive opponents, the Potters are not in a good place and with reports that their target for manager has developed cold feet, Town would do well to emulate West Ham’s ruthlessness and recover the ground lost.




Town trot on



Despite fears to the contrary, David Wagner selected a relatively strong squad for a competition which has, arguably, even less importance to Town than in recent years. He was helped by the return from injury of Billing (on the bench) and Hefele and the opportunity to give Kongolo a debut, but only 4 or 5 regulars were rested.

Bolton Wanderers’ fall from grace over the past few years culminating in huge financial problems and a brief spell in the third tier allows Phil Parkinson a much reduced ability to successfully rotate but good recent form after a horrendous start to their return to the Championship gives them a realistic chance of survival which has to be the priority.

An achingly dull first half saw early Bolton flurries fade very quickly as Town seized control of possession with the home side sitting back rather than pressing.

The possession was almost entirely pointless, other than starving Bolton of opportunity, with few balls played between the lines and far too many launched in to touch while trying to find width.

Retention and recycling of possession is a hallmark of Wagner’s tactics but it can induce a lack of imagination, bravery and penetration. An already sterile atmosphere – not unsurprisingly, the Bolton public were not seduced by Town’s new and unusual status – was further depressed by the visitor’s inability to progress much beyond sideways passing, safe balls backward and fear of risk.

Depoitre, who had a good first half but a quieter second, managed to bully his marker on one occasion but couldn’t find a team mate with a cutback while a couple of speculative shots were the meagre return on the possession investment.

Other than Depoitre’s presence, the only bright spot for Town was Sabiri. The forgotten number 10, who Wagner rates as a poor trainer, is surprisingly good in the air, has a good touch and that hint of maverick which may be the missing ingredient in a side which creates far too little.

Having dominated a game that barely reached the giddy heights of banal, Town should have been undone shortly before the break when Wilbraham, all alone, met a good cross only to see his attempt skew so wide of the target you would be forgiven for thinking his head was threepenny bit shaped.

The missing Madine would have buried it.

It would have served the visitors right had Wilbraham scored. The lack of adventure, which should flow from long spells with the ball, may be excused by the lack of familiarity in a team including a new signing – who played very well himself – and various fringe players, but the spectacle was pretty dreadful.

After the break, Town improved and added some much needed pace and movement to their play which, surprise, surprise, created momentum, pressure and a goal.

First, Sabiri had a good effort from range saved, resulting in a couple of corners, Depoitre and Lolley saw further attempts blocked and more corners were won with the final one finding its way to Van La Parra who flicked in the opener from short range.

Within a minute, Town were two up. A run by Sabiri was halted illegally and he stumbled in to a challenge with Wheater – an event ludicrously blown up by Parkinson post match – and the ball fell kindly to Williams. Advancing with menace, the German American’s shot was wildly deflected past Howard.

Upping the pace and applying sustained pressure won the tie. To their credit, Bolton didn’t crumble and began to cause problems, particularly down the right where Ameobi caused Malone significant problems. Parkinson’s decision to withdraw him later seemed a little odd.

Just after the hour, the home side were rewarded when Town didn’t get away a second time with an unmarked player arriving at the back post to meet a deep corner, and Derik ensured that the Premier League side wouldn’t have a comfortable ride in to the 4th round.

The Trotters created several mild alarms as they pushed for an equaliser but didn’t really test Coleman and Town’s opportunities to break began to open up. Immediately after the home goal, Williams had an excellent long range effort saved but most of the effort reverted to dominating possession again and for a while the horrors of the first half were revisited.

Town should have wrapped the game up in the final ten minutes. A midfield mix up allowed Sabiri to be freed in to the box and he looked to be fouled as he shot. The ball squirted out to Williams whose shot was saved at the near post.

Predictably, the Terriers had to deal with aerial assaults as time began to run out for the hosts which they achieved reasonably comfortably. As the minutes ticked by, more and more control was established and the rather skimpy 4 minutes of added time – Coleman was booked for persistent time wasting which, as ever, wasted even more time – were seen out professionally.

The second half had been more entertaining – which wasn’t much of an achievement – and, overall, Town deserved the win.

On the plus side, Sabiri showed he can add an extra dimension to the team and it is to be hoped he makes the match day squad more regularly, new signing Kongolo played well and looks a good addition, Hefele’s return was a success and the ignominy visited upon one or two other Premier League sides was avoided.

Quaner’s apparently minor injury aside, the players came through unscathed and a tricky assignment was negotiated.