Anxious optimism

Starved as they have been of excitement and attacking intent, Town fans warmly applauded a defeat against a dour but highly effective Middlesbrough at the end of each half.

While the sympathetic appreciation was well deserved following a first period of verve, adventure and creativity, the rather plodding second half consisting largely of repeatedly banging their heads against the brick wall of a composed and largely untroubled Boro defence was perhaps more to reflect the hard work of a side trying valiantly to put new ideas in to practise.

The disintegration witnessed at Hillsborough after an hour was not repeated, though another late goal which killed the contest had a similar, puncturing effect.

It is still too early to assess the magnitude of the calculated risk taken by Dean Hoyle, particularly as Wagner has been pitted against 2 likely contenders for the top 6, but it is also too early to dismiss the possibility that there may be an element of Emperor’s new clothes about a style which has yet to translate in to goals or points.

To focus on the positives, however, Town repeatedly reduced their more experienced opponents to hurried and wasteful long balls in to touch or returned to the home back four, and their dangerous players, particularly Downing and Adomah, were entirely neutralised. A quite remarkable 75% possession statistic was testament to the players’ ability to carry out a key component of Wagner’s philosophies; while it could be argued that Boro’s ultra conservative approach contributed to Town’s dominance of the ball, it may also be that one of the division’s best sides was forced in to containment for fear of ceding space near their goal.

The visitors were allowed the luxury of defending in depth and numbers by virtue of an early goal which owed a little to luck but also, indirectly, from a poor ball from Cranie which found Downing. His attempted cross resulted in a corner which appeared to have been dealt with routinely, only for the ball to fall to Clayton who evaded an attempted block by Wells before cleverly beating Huws and Chilwell. His shot took a wicked deflection off Whitehead but it can’t be denied that his thrust in to the area from an unpromising position, including having to recover from a slip after getting the better of Wells, was a worthy effort.

Coming after just 8 minutes, there was a danger that a potentially fragile team, haunted by far too many defeats, would shrivel in the face of adversity. Shrugging off the setback, however, Town went on to produce their best football of the season and the lack of reward was cruel and undeserving.

As Boro retreated, rarely to be seen as an attacking force again, Wagner’s men began to manipulate space with multiple passing moves and while this became occasionally stilted, their opponents’ resilience was increasingly tested. Unfortunately, any semblance of fortune eluded the team in the final third and 3 potentially game changing moments were to determine the outcome of the whole game.

A foul on the lively Paterson on the edge of the area, given by what we can only presume to have been reluctance by a quite appalling referee who missed numerous offences by the visitors while punishing Town at every opportunity, presented the first chance just minutes after Boro’s opener.

Wells curled an excellent effort against the bar with Konstantopolous (who shall be referred to as “the keeper” from here on in!) well beaten.

Shortly afterwards, Huws found Scannell with a lovely, raking pass from his own half which exposed the visitors defence to a rare moment of vulnerability. The winger’s sweeping ball to Wells was ever so slightly over hit, forcing the Bermudian to stretch to receive the ball taking him to his left and allowing Boro’s keeper time to smother an attempted clip.

The best move of the half was still to come. A quick throw by Chilwell to Whitehead was pushed forward to Paterson who back heeled for Chilwell to put in a low, dangerous cross met by Scannell but well blocked by the keeper’s legs.

Had any of the 3 chances resulted in an equaliser, it would have been the least Town deserved and the game would have been very different. An ambitious Boro side would have become more expansive – which, of course, could have seen them imposing their quality more effectively or, alternatively, provided Town with the space they found increasingly difficult to find in the second half.

Paterson also had a shot well saved, though it had been preceded by a foul on Wells on the edge of the area predictably ignored by the referee.

Frustrated as they were by an undeserved deficit at half time, home supporters had seen how the new style of play was in stark contrast to the caution to which they had become accustomed and there was a palpable air of optimism around the place as the players left to an ovation.

Sadly, the promise of the first half rather withered in the second. Boro were still being forced in to losing possession with ugly clearances and energy levels didn’t dramatically wilt as they had 7 days ago, but it became increasingly difficult to penetrate a resolute defence content to contain.

Poor crossing – particularly from the otherwise impressive debutant Chilwell – didn’t help and the visitors became increasingly comfortable with Town playing in front of them.

Promising build up play, including surging runs by Smith, Lolley and substitute Holmes (who put in a mature performance of some potential) floundered at the edge of the area, some clever interplay was unable to produce the necessary penetration and a reluctance to shoot from distance made an equaliser increasingly unlikely.

Wagner’s other substitutions failed to create the impetus Holmes provided. Dempsey found it difficult to get in to the game on the left while Bojaj’s promise is likely to remain embryonic for now – he doesn’t look ready – though he had the best chance of the half when good work on the left created a rare decent ball in to the area which he could only scuff when close in.

Despite their reluctance to get forward, it was inevitable that Boro would attack at some point and, for once, they got the better of a tussle just inside Town’s half and a good ball up to Forshaw was cleverly flicked by the substitute in to the path of spellcheck nightmare Nsue to finish nicely.

While the final result was harsh on Town, and whatever luck was available throughout the 90 minutes fell Boro’s way, the lack of striking options available to Wagner (reduced further by Vaughan’s departure) is a severe handicap which can’t be solved, if it can be solved, until January.

Having said that, many less resolute teams than Boro will crumble in the face of the intensity shown in the first half, the transformation to the new style has been remarkably quick and there is time and room for much further improvement.

Sometimes, it is worth heeding the words of an outsider, and while Karanka was speaking from the perch of victory, there was a sincerity in his advice;

“It was not a good performance but sometimes games are like that.
“Huddersfield looked like the top team, not us. Huddersfield played really well and I expected that.
“I saw Huddersfield at Sheffield Wednesday and it’s no surprise how well they played.
“David Wagner may have lost his first two games but he should keep going with his philosophy. When I came here I lost two of my first five matches but Middlesbrough trusted me and if Huddersfield trust him they will do well.”
Patience still needed.

You say you want a revolution…..

As new Teutonic philosophies were unfurled at a bitterly cold Hillsborough, including the jettisoning of some familiar names unable to fully train in the first two weeks of David Wagner’s tenure, the new manager faced a daunting first test against an expensively assembled Wednesday side who look certain to be challenging for promotion after years of desperate under achievement.

However much Chris Powell’s constant refrain about the money spent by rivals began to grate, even a cursory glance at the home team’s bench exposed the reality of his special pleading. One time Town target McGuigan sat there alongside the highly rated Joao and recent loan signing Hooper and the options for Carvalhal were deep and were to prove to be transforming.

For the visitors, the absence of Lynch, Paterson, Vaughan, Davidson and Miller (well, maybe not the last one) forced changes of both personnel and positions which were to be felt late in the game.

With Cranie moved alongside Hudson, Tommy Smith reappeared at right back and, perhaps most surprisingly, Dempsey was converted in to a left full back; an almost certainly temporary move with the loan signing of Chilwell a couple of days before the game sending a rather blunt message to the Australian incumbent deemed unready for action after his international travelling.

It was also a surprise to see the restoration of Carayol, whose languid performances in the past did not scream gengenpresser, to say the very least.

So, an unfamiliar line up, playing a style adopted over the past two weeks and requiring high levels of fitness against a shrewdly assembled and settled home team in good form. What could possibly go wrong?!

It would be a little unfair to invoke the phrase “putting lipstick on a pig” over a performance which had signs of promise but which was ultimately let down by familiar failings.

A higher tempo, some good quality possession and clearly evident desire couldn’t disguise the largely absent goal threat and a defence which eventually creaked like a shithouse door.

In the warm up, players went through passing routines to get the ball wide and in to dangerous areas quickly and, without the inconvenience of opposition, there was a reasonable level of competence.

Whether it was dictated by having a relatively tiny centre forward or is part of the blueprint, it seems that building from the back rather than lumping it up front is to be the way forward. Despite a clumsy start to this style – Murphy was exposed more than once by back passes and was also guilty of some poor judgement – it eventually worked, with some more comfortable at it than others.

As the half wore on, a surprisingly limited Wednesday intent on feeding off the huge Nuhiu were comfortably contained, and there was a noticeably higher energy about Town’s play. Unfortunately, none of the pressing and quite staggering levels of possession was converted in to goal scoring opportunities, though there were one or two moments of misfortune when good runs by Scannell and Smith were ended by small misjudgements.

The impressive Dempsey – surely a certainty for a more telling role in midfield once the new loan signing is bedded in – had a decent shot routinely saved, but the home defence was largely untroubled. Murphy made one regulation save and Hudson eased the irritating Forestieri away from a heading chance which he could only guide wide.

A scrappy first half wasn’t helped by an increasingly annoying referee whose decisions infuriated both sets of supporters. He also infuriated Whitehead, with the consequences being felt later in the game when he had to be withdrawn before he became a double victim of the card happy Boyeson.

Having yearned for a different approach to Powell’s occasionally effective but often sterile game plans, the away fans were largely appreciative of a performance which denied Wednesday possession, nullified their pace and forced them in to predictability. All of the players worked hard and strained to implement the new ideas, even if it looked alien and a little forced from time to time.

For the second half, Wednesday replaced the ineffective Helan (an old favourite of ours who was once booked twice and still stayed on the pitch) with Joao, a Portuguese who has been something of a revelation in the Championship and destined for a big future.

Within minutes, the substitute was causing problems with his strength and pace and almost opened the scoring at the back post only to find himself at too acute an angle to convert a good cross.

Shortly afterwards, Hudson’s under hit back pass put Murphy in trouble and he only just beat Forestieri to the ball and was injured in the process, which undoubtedly affected him as the game wore on.

Despite their scruffy start to the half, it was Town who took the lead. A free kick by Smith was half cleared and found its way to Dempsey on the left. The youngster delivered a great cross to the far post for an unmarked Scannell to head in from close range.

For 10 to 15 minutes thereafter, Town, while never looking entirely in charge, looked capable of holding the lead and even adding to it. The best chance to do so fell to Huws, who was thwarted by a good save. Doubling the lead at that point would have potentially put the game to bed, though you never can tell with this Town squad.

As it was, the let off proved a turning point in fortunes, exacerbated by the voluntary but sensible withdrawal of Whitehead who had had a running feud with the referee (at one point he was rightly incensed that an advantage hadn’t been played, he contested decisions regularly and is prone to the occasional rash challenge).

Having had little joy from the aerial power of Nuhiu, Wednesday replaced him with Hooper having already thrown on McGugan.

The pressure from the home side increased inexorably and Town survived several close calls before Forestieri skipped past Hudson in the box only to see his shot saved on the line by Dempsey. Unfortunately the ball broke to Joao who swept in the equaliser.

In the lead up to the goal, Forestieri had also walked past Hogg – Whitehead’s replacement – and it was difficult not to think that his progress would have been quelled at source before the substitution.

However, Wednesday’s pace, power and quality was now in full blossom and the visitors looked increasingly unlikely to be able to resist the onslaught. A winning goal duly arrived and, again, the Owls’ Italian caused the damage, skipping past Hudson and firing a shot that Murphy could only parry back to him to lay on for Lee to convert.

In the space of just 10 minutes, the withdrawal of Whitehead had been ruthlessly exploited by a team whose own substitutions were game changing.

To their credit, Town didn’t crumble, but tiring personnel were unable to create chances (hardly surprisingly – they hadn’t created much when at full throttle), and a disappointing cameo from Lolley, on for Scannell, was capped with him losing the ball on the edge of Wednesday’s area allowing them to break on a forward committed Town. The powerful Joao curled in an excellent third to bury any lingering hopes of a Town equaliser.

Wednesday’s eventual dominance gave them the right to the points, though a two goal margin was possibly harsh on the experimental team put out by the visitors.

It would be ridiculous to be too cynical about the new style and the capability of some of the current squad to adapt and, indeed, there were promising signs for the future, but all of the problems Powell faced were on display again – not least, the well resourced opposition. While they brought on 2 forwards of proven, and in the case of Joao, developing talent, we brought on young Wallace to play up front. It is a struggle to remember Wallace actually touching the ball.

Without the exceptional Whitehead covering in front of them, our defence is hopelessly exposed, with one or two of them probably not, or no longer, up to the standards required. Up front, Wells simply doesn’t cause enough problems for defenders. He worked hard enough and some of his link up play was good, but he rarely makes anything happen for himself.

It is to be hoped, nay expected, that Wagner has some answers to these depressingly familiar problems – a run of difficult matches, culminating in the visit of Middlesbrough next, has seen Town drop to within a few goals scored of the relegation zone and while there is still plenty of time, our 3 victories to date have been against clubs in the same trouble as we are.

An interesting few weeks lay ahead.

Injury time madness precedes yet another new era

In a disheartening and largely successful attempt to overshadow the musings of amateur match reporters (!) Huddersfield Town announced the departure of Chris Powell as manager on the morning after a decent, if somewhat streaky, point at Reading.

Apparently bored by a man who provided a professional approach to keeping the team in a division largely consisting of better supported and financially stronger clubs by adapting his limited resources to making Town harder to beat than in previous struggling seasons at this level, the club is now putting faith in a new philosophy of creating the necessary edge on opponents through the apparently magical production of young players and doing a lot of focused running.

According to several sources, incoming manager David Warner pronounced after 30 minutes of what was at the time a largely dour, error ridden Yorkshire derby that the players weren’t fit enough. For all the revolutionary tactics and methodology we seem to be being promised, it was rather comforting that our experiment with German/American ruthless efficiency has begun with a cliche beloved of many new managers.

It is, all at once, an attempt to sully the previous regime and justify the change, the buying of the time necessary to attain the required fitness levels and giving the impression that everything is back at square one.

While unconvinced and sceptical that the brave new world of gegenpressing will be implemented quickly enough to stave off a desperate relegation fight, if successful at all, it should be said that Chris Powell rather sleepwalked in to his dismissal. It is hard to believe that, for example, his defensive and largely ponderous pursuit of survival points would not have been helped by the energy and skills of Dempsey, and his belligerent persistence with Miller (and Smith before him) betrayed an orthodox and conservative approach flying in the face of the evidence in front of all of us.

So Dean Hoyle, as is his absolute right, has decided that not only was change necessary, but radical and risky change. Having lost his FFP battles against more powerful vested interests, he began to change direction some time ago with a clear out of fringe and unwanted players, acceptance of good offers for Smithies, Coady and Butterfield and a hardening attitude towards expensive but non productive assets like Gobern and Vaughan.

Unsurprisingly, Town have been weakened from an already precarious existence in a hugely difficult division – a thin squad, a distinct lack of consistent threat up front and dwindling attendances (as the bored or impatient have drifted away) has created the impression of a bleak future where success would be measured by not finishing in the bottom 3 and the realisation that this attempt to defy gravity would almost certainly fail at some point.

Powell’s tenure will not be looked back upon with much warmth but can’t be categorised as a failure. By the end of last season, the team produced some good performances and even occasional excitement as safety was achieved much earlier than an opening day thrashing would have suggested. Pathetic cup displays denied the club any surge of interest, however, and the trait was continued this season with another weakened team falling meekly at the first hurdle of the League Cup.

So, a new era is about to begin but before it could start there was the small matter of trying to reverse a depressing run of defeats against those lovable neighbours, Leeds United.

Mark Lillis took over for this game and perhaps with a nod to the new mood, named a side with no loan players in it and a squad packed with youth. Some of this was forced through injuries to Lynch and Paterson, but the omission of Steer and Huws was genuinely surprising. Unfortunately, Billings good start to the game was curtailed by injury following a brave challenge on Bamba.

The ongoing soap opera at Elland Road may have reached its nadir at home to Blackburn recently (but don’t count on it; at all). This was followed by Cellino offering to sell the club to fans only to withdraw the offer days later in predictable style. It could be suggested to the fans that they should consider this a good bullet dodging week.

Putting aside distaste of a club with a murky and unedifying history and a following which is widely disliked for very good reason, it remains a mystery why an investor hasn’t been found who can capitalise on a large, modern and much improved city with just one club, a huge nationwide following and, at the very least, the basis of global support.

A succession of shady owners have somehow been attracted to the rotting would be behemoth with the latest staring at another ban under fit and proper rules (and, even if this one is enforced following his appeal and only lasts until June 2016, other troubles in Italian courts remain in the future).

Tumultuous events at both clubs added some interest to what has become a waning fixture through familiarity – Town hoping that the presence of the new manager would incentivise their young team to reverse a poor run of performances against their neighbours while Leeds looked to build on a rare home win in midweek.

For much of an error strewn first half, both teams struggled to create meaningful chances and neither looked anything other than lower table strugglers. For Town, Dempsey stood out with his eye for space, energy and fearless tackling. Lolley occasionally got the better of his markers, too, but was unable to create real danger and his preference for cutting inside on to his stronger left foot is too easily read.

A nasty injury to Cooper who collided with a teammate before a corner held up the game for a long time, and the 8 added minutes were to shape the result of the game.

Just after the injury time board was held up, the previously booked Wooton fouled Huws crudely on the half way line and a second booking seemed to be a formality. After long deliberation, the referee called over Leeds’ captain presumably to warn him that a 3rd bad foul would elicit the red card from his pocket. It was a very poor piece of refereeing – you wondered if he’d been watching too much of the recent Rugby Union World Cup – and became exceptionally costly when the same player put a ball down Town’s left towards Dallas which was not dealt with by an out of position Davidson and this left Wallace exposed to a one two with Wood – Antunucci swept the ball in from close range.

The Australian is becoming a regular liability defensively and Wallace had already cleared up a couple of his positioning errors before the fatal one.

Worse was to follow as a long ball flicked off Huws’ head, wrong footing Cranie and flying through to the troublesome Antunucci who drew Murphy, went round him and tried to feed Cook. To his credit, Davidson had got back and cut out the pass only for it to fall to Wood to crash home.

It was barely believable that one of two poor teams had a 2 goal half time advantage when they should have been handicapped by a sending off, but poor defending is still inexcusable.

A spirited Town revival in the second half was tarnished by poor quality in the final third – even the prospect of Dortmund style pressing won’t help a side without a confident, regular scorer and the sight of Wells failing to connect when completely unmarked in the very first minute was just a foretaste of what was to come.

Had he converted that chance – and there were other opportunities in an enthusiastic response following the break – the game may have changed, but Leeds then put the result beyond doubt with a goal of genuine beauty.

A poor throw in by Davidson to Wells lost possession and Mowatt, who had scored a long range effort against Cardiff days earlier, advanced unchallenged before unleashing a vicious curling shot beyond Murphy.

Vaughan replaced the ineffective Wells shortly after and was to force a couple of good saves from Silvestri (as did Bunn) and, in truth, the home team played reasonably well without creating enough opportunities against a largely comfortable Leeds side who had capitalised on every bit of good fortune which came their way.

Holmes came on for a nice cameo.

While 3-0 was harsh and the refereeing blunder a significant turning point, Town’s woes in front of goal – the otherwise impressive Dempsey unsuccessfully tried to lay the ball off to Vaughan when clean through late on – have to be resolved and quickly.

With another intrusive international break giving David Wagner the chance to assess everything before a daunting looking trip to Hillsborough in two weeks (Town are taking the players to Spain in the break), we can only hope that he finds some answers.

Auf Wiedersen for now.

Reading 2-2 Town

As Town’s young, much changed team finally succumbed to Reading’s incessant probing, conceding a second equaliser with just six minutes to go, the verve and control so in evidence in an excellent first half display had long gone.

Visibly exhausted, Town clung on, deservedly overall, to a valuable point against opponents easy on the eye but prone to over complicating their attacking play and thankfully profligate once they became sharper and more dangerous in a one sided 2nd half.

Missing Whitehead, replaced by Billing, the team which finished so well against Burnley took the field and continued where they left off at Turf Moor with an excellent start as Wells played a one two with a Reading defender before feeding Paterson to finish smartly.

The Forest loanee – who has added flair to a team that can be moribund for extended periods – also brought a good save from Al Habsi following an incisive run by Bunn which was halted in the area by a tackle which created the chance.

Over elaborate hosts rather played in to Town’s hands for much of the half and the midfield trio of Huws, Billing and Dempsey were comfortable in possession and solid defensively while Wells, finally playing a striking role rather than one mixed with midfield duties, linked effectively with Bunn and Paterson – though high balls to him were sometimes inevitable, they weren’t dominant and there were spells of attractive passing from the visitors which must have confused anyone who had been on a scouting mission for Reading.

It was a disappointing shock, then, when a free kick out on the right was mishit by Norwood and caught out Steer at his near post. The mixture of error and fortune was more than Reading deserved and the Northern Irishman’s gesture towards a meagre away support – largely comprising southern exiles and people who had judiciously arranged business trips (!) – was unnecessary.

Rather than spur the home team, the leveller seemed to inspire the visitors who regained midfield dominance and easily quelled any attacking threat from their hosts.

On 25 minutes, the lead was restored when a flick from Paterson to Bunn in to space allowed him to put a lovely ball through to Wells who finished excellently.

The goal epitomised Town’s first half – fluent and incisive – and the home crowd were as frustrated as their team as the whistle blew.

Defensively solid apart from one goalkeeping lapse (Steer has been excellent during his loan period, so can be forgiven one ricket), comfortable in possession and occasionally dangerous, Town looked a different proposition to the stiff, unenterprising and, frankly, dull outfit in evidence too much this season.

As the teams returned, Paterson wasn’t amongst them and an enforced reshuffle brought Lolley on to the right wing. The absence of Paterson’s finally recognised talent was a blow and it showed in a torrid second half for the Yorkshire outfit.

From the off, Reading bombarded their opponents with increased pace and purpose.

Hudson looked to get away with a tackle from behind in the box which fell to Blackman, whose shot was deflected on to the post by Steer and crashed over the bar by Sa.

The escape from an immediate second half equaliser was welcome but portentous – Reading spent the rest of the game creating danger and repeatedly pressurised a Town team which couldn’t gain any possession or respite for long, nervous spells.

With Norwood pulling the strings with his range of passing (the home fans should savour his ability while the weather remains unseasonably good; he isn’t one for challenging conditions, Oliver) the visitors were frequently stretched yet largely resolute.

Inevitably, Town began to look for breathers and their time wasting irritated the home fans on several occasions – as we looked on through our fingers, it wasn’t hard to sympathise but it was the only way the visitors could gain any respite.

Rare forays up field usually involved Lolley whose judgement didn’t match his ball holding ability – particularly on one occasion when Cranie was completely free on the right and in a great position to deliver a cross.

But the turning point of the game wasn’t any of the several dangerous efforts on goal, blocks and Steer saves; it was a miss by Hudson who blazed over from 6 yards after Lynch had challenged Reading’s keeper in the air following a Bunn cross which had looped off a defender’s foot.

We will never know if the referee would have blown for a foul on the keeper, but a goal at that stage would have deflated resurgent Reading and sealed 3 points.

As it was, the inevitable equaliser came when Cranie and Lolley didn’t react quickly enough when the ball found its way to Ola John on the left. The substitute turned smartly and fired in from a quite acute angle, perhaps raising a further question of Steer.

Reading deserved their goal, and perhaps more, for an excellent second half display of far greater fluency and incisiveness than they showed in the first period, but Town’s dogged resistance, coupled with their first half enterprise also deserved reward.

While our inability to stem the home side’s dominance of the second half was worrying, it should be said that this was a very young team missing Whitehead’s experience and the rearguard action, while somewhat on the edge, was exhausting but largely successful.

All in all, the team and manager can take pride in the display.

Stifling inferiority complex

Managers can be strange individuals, shaped by often ridiculous pressures but also prone to clinging stubbornly to systems and players long after the wisdom of crowds has delivered its damning verdict.

There is a case for making a bruising, bustling centre forward the focus of attack with a squad lacking goals and even for pairing him with the player bought to score those goals, but both of these experiments have crashed and burned in recent weeks – the big man has bustled to little purpose while the goalscorer has been pressed to do a job further back which he is incapable of practising and blunted his ability to be in the right place at the right time.

Turf Moor will surely prove to be the graveyard of Miller as anything other than an impact substitute, but managerial obduracy is not only possible, but quite likely.

Facing a very good side for the second week running – Burnley lack the quality of Derby in most areas other than the rather important front line, where they are better – most fans understood that the task was going to be difficult and that the home side’s promotion ambitions, built on relentless hard work and a touch of quality are genuine.

The less forgiving amongst us, however, are worried that the team can be beaten before they begin because the manager gives them a license to fail before a ball is kicked.

Chris Powell may feel that this is unfair; surely we understand the disadvantageously sloping playing field in this division? There is no doubt that lining up against a player, Andre Gray, who cost more than Town’s eleven combined, and a team newly minted from their Premier League relegation is daunting, but that is the job.

Town’s pedestrian first half performance – illuminated from time to time by the excellent Paterson – was made even more frustrating by the fact that they had decent spells of possession rendered meaningless by a lack of movement up front; if Miller has a strength it is to occupy central defenders to create space but it was as if half the team had a different game plan to the other half.

Burnley must have sensed this as all they had to do was maintain a disciplined shape and wait for the ponderous passing in front of them to fizzle out when one of the visitors tried to break the mould of moving the ball from one side of the pitch to the other but invariably, and desperately ironically, there was no moving target to hit in front of them.

When the home team attacked, it was with contrasting purpose to their opponents’ constipation.

The first meaningful thrust in to Town’s territory brought the first goal. Andre Gray twisted Lynch inside out before being brought down by the Welshman’s desperate lunge (though later viewing suggests what looked like a nailed on foul in real time was not entirely convincing on review) and dispatched the penalty past Steer.

Gray was a constant threat and fed our old nemesis Boyd to bring a good save from Steer after pretzeling Lynch again before latching on to a good ball from Vokes late in the half to give the hosts an ominous 2 goal lead.

Paterson, pretty much the only positive for Town in a dismal first half, created a chance for Miller soon after Burnley’s opener but, predictably, he shot wide and for all the slightly built forward’s probing the only reward was several, badly delivered corners. Tom Heaton, Burnley’s highly regarded custodian, nearly contrived to push the ball in to his own net from one of them but, otherwise, the visitors rarely troubled the defenders in front of him.

The booing cascading down from the away end as the half time whistle blew wasn’t harsh. Being 2 down through the efforts of the talented Gray wasn’t a cause for shame but self defeating tactics centred around a limited and failing big man up front was. Fans aren’t stupid and their verdict on the manager’s decisions were loud and clear – his team were not functioning, seemingly endless square passing was not entertaining and chances, let alone a goal looked as elusive as ever.

Being a manager, Powell made no half time changes which seemed positively obtuse in the circumstances and while Miller had a half decent effort early in the half which went wide, the team was crying out for change.

On the hour, and to the rather cruel but predictable cheers of the away fans, Miller was replaced by Wells, whose name had been sung repeatedly from midway through the first half – not, one suspects, out of any belief that he would break his dry spell but merely for relief from the increasingly ugly tactics engendered by his teammate.

A couple of crude challenges had halted Gray’s attempts to inflict further and fatal damage (Whitehead was booked for one of them and misses the Reading game) before the acclaimed substitution and Steer was called in to routine but well executed action to stop shots from Barton and Vokes.

Slowly, however, Town found a way of being more competitive and threatening with a foothold suddenly seeming possible.

Too much of the improved work was wasted by some terrible corners by the ever louche Carayol – he has talent but lacks anything approaching urgency – though one of them indirectly lead to a half chance for Bunn who could only steer his effort wide as the ball bounced up just a little too high for him.

Powell’s next substitution gave 20 minutes to Kyle Dempsey to show us what he can do; an opportunity he grasped with both hands with a cameo of great energy. To be fair to Powell, Dempsey has been ill recently and while early glimpses of the ex-Carlisle man were reasonably encouraging they were somewhat over shadowed by a propensity for errors exposing us defensively.

He made an immediate difference. While Burnley’s defenders easily had the measure of Carayol, they seemed panicked by Dempsey’s surges and ability to provide the missing link between the holding midfielders and the attack.

It was Paterson, however, who conjured Town’s best chance of the game with a fantastic ball to Wells. The striker did well to make good contact with a ball dropping over his shoulder but could only lift it over the bar. The chance served notice to the hitherto comfortable home team that they still had work to do to secure the points and, at last, the small flame of hope which had been building in a better, if far from perfect, second half gained some traction.

Shortly after his attempt, Wells turned and shot to bring a good save from Heaton and this was followed by a Hudson header (from one of Town’s unfeasibly large corner count) and a narrowly wide Paterson effort.

It was very late, but the energy and drive of Dempsey had inspired some belief in to the Town team and while they had to be wary of Burnley’s pace on the break and had to survive a massive scare from a corner which really should have settled the game once and for all, most of the last 20 minutes belonged to the visitors.

Huws, who performed much better than in recent outings, had a shot heading for the top corner well saved, and Cranie (again, a composed presence) may have done better with a header before another decisive run and low cross by Dempsey was turned in to his own net by Duff before it could reach Wells.

Town piled on the pressure in search of an equaliser which had looked barely likely for much of the game and the final chance fell to Bunn who fired over when a little composure could have brought an overall undeserved point.

The late rally was, it is to be hoped, a wake up call for the management team. It took Chris Powell 6 games before his patience with Tommy Smith ran out, only for it to be rewarded with consistently excellent performances from Cranie – we can only hope that his stubborn persistence with Miller (still seemingly benefitting from an effective performance at Charlton and some flat track bullying of a poor Bolton side) is finally over and he will put more emphasis on youth and craft.

Wells can be frustratingly inconsistent and wasteful, but playing behind Miller has only served to emphasise his faults and negate his redeeming, and quite important, ability to score goals. It is time to put some trust in him, play him in his preferred position and allow him to feed off the energy that Dempsey and Paterson showed they can supply.

It’s also time to turn what sound like excuses (thin, inexperienced squad up against expensively assembled teams) in to challenges. Powell only needed to look 10 yards to his right to see what can be achieved by a young, motivated and collegiate squad lead by a strong character who brooked no excuses.

In fact, Dyche was faced with similar problems with a team treading water in the division and almost waiting for the inevitable drop – they were amongst the favourites to go down and went up. Though somewhat trite (you can’t just replicate a success story), it is time for some positivity and bloody mindedness against the odds to come from Huddersfield Town. He may have stumbled on the foundations of that in the second half of the second half yesterday.