Huddersfield Town and Charlton Athletic are two clubs on on diametrically opposed trajectories, and after just a few minutes of a game which was to prove to be a very, very long night for the South Londoners it was clear that a home win was guaranteed.
Charlton’s off field disharmony has been bubbling away for some time – largely surrounding an unusual and, to Addicks fans, unacceptable form of ownership which has resulted in a succession of unfathomable decisions – and the disarray has clearly spread on to the pitch.
If there is any consolation for the clutch of hardy souls who witnessed a gutless, occasionally nasty capitulation from their team, it is that they couldn’t have picked a worse time to play a resurgent Town side who, without ever reaching the heights of recent performances, oozed confidence and determination. It may also be the case that the result may be the final straw which provokes change for a club it is pretty hard to dislike (apart from when they insist on being drawn against us in cup competitions time after time).
Chasing shadows for almost all of the first 20 minutes, the visitors offered nothing but a grim determination to defend in depth which was never going to end well. If any thought did go in to adopting a passive and prone formation, it may have been the hope that as their opponents have tended to convert a relatively low percentage of chances created from long periods of possession, frustration would bring reward.
As is often the case, combating an opponent bereft of ambition proved a little frustrating with space at a premium, and Town had to show patience as they probed their deep lying opponents with long spells of possession gradually building up pressure until the impressive Paterson combined with Lolley at a short corner and twisted Fox inside out to get to the byline. Having created the space, he picked out Hudson to head home from 6 yards.
The opener didn’t signal an onslaught, however, and Town lost their way for a period with their previous fluency deserting them and possession was surrendered too cheaply too often.
With very little to concern them coming from their opponents, some were guilty of over elaboration and the ball wasn’t being moved quickly or accurately enough to reestablish rhythm and coupled with a succession of free kicks gained and conceded, the game descended in to a scrappy affair with little quality.
In this slightly difficult period, Hogg came in to his own and was to be found all over the pitch snuffing out the limited danger Charlton could muster, and trying to get his team mates flowing again. Even at their least effective, however, Town worked hard to subdue their already dispirited opponents ensuring an entirely comfortable half for Steer who didn’t have a save to make.
Shortly before half time, the inevitable victory was sealed with a second goal from a corner. Despite Town’s poor return from such set pieces, Charlton came in to the game with a dismal record of conceding from them, starkly illustrated by Henderson flapping at Lolley’s whipped delivery. The ball fell to Smith at the far post whose goal bound shot was diverted past a man on the line by Wells. Glances towards the linesman suggested that Town players feared an offside decision, but the flag stayed down.
The goal was timely and due reward for the home team who had battled to elevate their game when they had become bogged down, and the visitors must have been filled with foreboding for the second half – they had utterly failed to take advantage of the dip in Town’s fluency with any of their own and were comfortably the worst side seen at the stadium so far this season.
With the game already seemingly won, Town improved in the second half as Charlton disintegrated all over the pitch, though they finally had an attempt on goal soon after the restart which Steer collected rather than saved.
While still some way from irresistible, Town slowly recovered their cohesion and a delicious cross from the much improved Davidson, building on his performance on Saturday, was volleyed by Wells straight at the keeper. Coming early in the half, what would have been a spectacular goal could have opened the floodgates sooner, but that was to come.
Huws was replaced before the hour, making way for Holmes which, in turn, moved the lively Paterson further back in the midfield. The Welsh international had played with his usual assurance but the after effects of the virus which had prevented him playing on Saturday had taken it’s inevitable toll.
The injection of the diminutive American’s pace and direct approach signalled the start of the eventual crushing of Town’s hapless opponents. While his decision making can be suspect – Wagner was furious with him for spurning the opportunity to take on a nice ball from Wells and shoot early in his appearance – there is a dynamism to his runs which will, surely, finally turn promise in to achievement.
Lolley, who worked hard without replicating his marvellous display at the weekend, was replaced by Dempsey on the right side of midfield and the combative Cumbrian added a different but effective dimension to the play.
Encouragingly, the two substitutions, far from disrupting the team changed the dynamic of the home side and for relatively inexperienced players to slot in so seamlessly is testament to Wagner and his staff’s work.
At around the same time, Charlton made two substitutions of their own – including Scrabble dream Reza-Ghoochannejhad who was to have an unhappy, possibly deliberately self inflicted, end to the game – to precisely no noticeable effect.
With fresh legs, Town’s pressing intensified to the point that Charlton were harassed to exhaustion. Hogg, who had already been the pick of the team in the first half, was superb in the second – his energy, composure and impeccable positioning demoralised a visibly shattered Charlton and the home team finally went in for the kill.
First Paterson, a creative spark all evening, drifted between and past less than committed red shirts and planted a powerful shot beyond the flailing Henderson – the goal was no more than his effervescent play deserved and his growing artistry is a massive asset enhancing the hard work going on all over the pitch.
Soon afterwards, the battling Dempsey poked a ball square to fellow sub Holmes whose shot took a deflection past an increasingly distraught Henderson (later to be sent to face the press in place of Charlton’s manager – a move which smacked of cowardice and further grist to the mill for the beleaguered Valiants fans). Holmes delight at scoring his first senior goal was a delight itself and it is to be hoped that he can now push on, mature and establish himself in the squad.
As if Charlton’s problems weren’t grave enough, Reza-Ghoochannejhad – thank you, Lord, for copy and paste – was first booked for a crude foul on Davidson and swiftly followed up with an unprovoked assault on Bunn to earn a second booking. It looked premeditated, allowing him an early bath and sparing him the ignominy his team mates were soon to face. Those same team mates looked furious and the disintegration was nearly complete.
In injury time, Bunn easily beat his full back and delivered a low cross to the near post. That our left back was waiting to bundle the ball home was something of a surprise (what was he doing on the opposite side of the pitch and up front?!); Charlton’s pathetic attempt at defending certainly wasn’t.
The threat of being dragged in to a relegation fight is rapidly receding, and another home win on Saturday against Fulham will surely convince all but the most sceptical, but Wagner is far from satisfied, demanding more from his squad after the game.
In truth, the performance was a little patchy against opponents whose mediocrity made them strangely awkward, but the team stuck to their principles in the face of some crude tackling – the game was very well refereed, thankfully – and a ramshackle, troubled opponent was eventually given the beating their display deserved.
Hopefully, the people of Huddersfield will begin to show up in greater numbers to witness a transformation of a scale not seen since Buxton – if we can keep hold of him, Wagner is taking us to exciting places.