As Desmond battered away at Cumbria and Scotland, England’s second city was blown away by another powerful, energy packed performance by a rapidly transforming Huddersfield Town side roared on by a support brimming with belief in the style imposed on a formerly dispiriting and dispirited squad who seem to revel in the freedom granted by sheer hard work and excellent planning.
Even allowing for occasional individual errors, every single player contributed to a comfortable and thoroughly deserved first victory under what is beginning to look like inspired management from a man (and his team) settling quickly and easily in to Yorkshire life, and an equally brave and bold appointment by Dean Hoyle.
The progress made with substantially the same players whose inferiority complex under the previous manager was palpable has been extraordinary. Comfortable in possession, relentless out of it and coherent as a unit, this first win for Wagner is a massive step forward for what remain evolving strategies but which improve with practice and phenomenally increased fitness levels.
As each game passes, the team develops personality. Aside from the immense and incomparable Whitehead – who has been magnificent all season – we now have genuine heroes to follow. They may not be the best players we have ever seen (though don’t put it past this bloke making them that), but the effort and teamwork is something to behold.
There isn’t a great deal of fancy stuff – though Paterson’s skill to release Huws on the wing early in the second half was worth the, very reasonable, entrance price – it is more about supporting the player with the ball, perpetual movement and a relentless error inducing pursuit of the opposition.
While never quite reaching the heights of some of last week’s play against far superior opposition, the debilitating fear which seemed to infect our pre Wagner play has virtually disappeared and replaced with a confidence and occasional swagger which you just know is going to become a feature of our immediate future.
For all the bad luck endured in the first two defeats – particularly last week – the stars aligned nicely for a trip to a team suffering from significant injuries and evidently low in confidence after what may well have been a gravity defying start to the season. Rowett has done a good job reviving the Blues since Lee Clark’s struggling tenure, but there may be bumps on the road they are keeping on to the end of if this game is anything to go by.
A goal inside the first minute was a mighty help, but it epitomised Town’s new philosophy as a sweeping move from the left back position, involving two decisive passes and an excellent low ball from the impressive (at last!) Scannell was dummied by Wells for Lolley to bundle home a little scruffily.
What marks out the goal was the comfort in possession of Cranie and Chilcot at the start, Wells’ defence splitter to Scannell and Lolley’s determination to run pretty much the length of the pitch after his initial ball to Wells from halfway in his own half. Wagner must have been purring at the pitch perfect execution of the ideas he has been installing in the players in his few short weeks in charge.
The boost of the goal, which must have released a lot of tension, allowed Town to take control of the game, dominate possession and create more moments of danger for the home defence, with Lolley coming closest to adding a second when another great ball from Scannell found him alone only for his side footed attempt to deflect off a defender.
Birmingham rarely threatened though Steer (solid throughout) had to make a smart if routine save at his near post and was as relieved as the rest of us when a rare moment of midfield sloppiness allowed the home side to counter quickly down their right only for Brock-Madsen to poke wide from close range.
Otherwise, any threat from the Blues was elegantly thwarted by Whitehead’s uncanny game reading as the player of the season to date cruised through another first class performance until, worryingly, a second half injury curtailed his day. Pray for his recovery!
As was the case last week, Town hurried the opposition in to unwise and ineffective long balls with Wells and Paterson working tirelessly up front to force errors. Throughout the game, the visitors deprived their hosts of space and time, rarely loosening their grip on a team with pace but little guile.
The second half followed a similar pattern, though Town’s share of possession decreased. Their resolve did not and a solid defensive performance was only let down when Toral found space in the box only to fire straight at Steer, who blocked. Otherwise, the home side were comfortably contained and Town’s counter attacks were threatening but not executed clinically enough until the irrepressible Scannell made a strong run down the right, shrugging off challenges before feeding Wells to finish the game off from close range. It was a well deserved goal for the front man who had worked tirelessly without much reward until his drought was finally broken.
Scannell himself had threatened to double the lead but could only collide with the far post following excellent work by Paterson and Huws.
A late Paterson effort which was deflected wide following a good run by substitute Carayol (who provided an encouraging cameo going forward if a little suspect defensively) would have added gloss to a very good day, but Town had to see out 6 minutes of injury time – fairly comfortably as it transpired.
While I refuse to resort to calling the revival a “journey”, Wagner grasped the zeitgeist of the travelling support at the end as he insisted that all players came over to show their appreciation. He knew, as we did, that while there is a lot of work to be done (the performance was encouraging but far from perfect) this was an important moment for everyone involved.
He knew last week that the fans appreciated the efforts of him and his team and knows that we also have a part to play with patience and encouragement – while we can be a dour bunch at times (not altogether without reason!), supporters know effort and execution when they see it, and we are definitely seeing it.
The last time Town won 2-0 away in this division stretches all the way back to Elm Park in March 1998 (fun facts brought to you by Daniel Gee) and it is with not a little hope that this one is the harbinger of some very good times ahead.
As for performances; Whitehead barely needs further deserved praise and his recovery is vital, Chilcot shone in a solid defence, Paterson added flair and movement, Scannell was at his unplayable best at times and contributed hugely to a welcome clean sheet, Nahki’s hard work and much improved general play was rewarded with a much needed goal and Steer was a solid and comforting presence throughout.
But this was, above all, a team effort and the supporters felt part of it – loud, encouraging and increasingly enthused, it won’t be long before this new brand of football encourages back the many who have fallen by the wayside through the numbing struggles since we arrived at this level.
Finally, and an indication that Wagner won’t be following accepted wisdom, Miller came on as a late substitute. Now if he can transform Ishmael, he really is the Messiah. Would you put it past him?