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.