One for Owd Jim

For those who venture in to the bear pit of Down At The Mac, the gentle, meticulously researched and highly informative retrospectives of David P Gowing (Owd Jim) were a weekly delight.

Chronicling the history of an upcoming fixture, David took the old BBC maxim of informing and entertaining to produce effortless nostalgia from bald facts and evoked memories celebrating the legacies of both Town and their opponents, bringing to life matches from yesteryear which provided a context for the new battle ahead.

Sadly, after a short illness, David died last week in his Canadian home and a distinctive voice of our club was lost.

He would have loved an opponent like Wolves to write about – a great opponent over the years featuring fabulous teams and players on both sides and not a few extremes (Wolves have beaten Town 7-1 on 3 occasions).

The two clubs are taking very different paths in their pursuit of success these days, with heavy Chinese investment in the Black Country contrasting with the necessarily more judicious approach of Dean Hoyle, and over the 90 minutes, the game was a fascinating duel of philosophies.

For 35 minutes, the visitors were entirely outclassed by the spirit and unity of a team riding waves of confidence with verve and flowing excellence, but Wolves were able to deploy quality from the bench in a second half where the home side had to stretch every sinew to repel their resurgent opposition.

Inside the first ten minutes – a period of play where Wolves had barely touched the ball – Van La Parra was holding his finger to his lips to silence his tormentors in the away section of supporters after slotting home a rebound from the post and finishing a fine Town move involving Mooy, Palmer, Wells and a fatal error by Batth.

Dazzling possession football preceded and followed the goal, with any rare Wolves threat looking cumbersome in comparison, though there were glimpses of the trouble to come as Ward watched a couple of efforts clear his bar and Bodvarrson proving to be a handful, if insufficiently supported.

For the moment, though, the home support, who created a genuinely excellent atmosphere once again, could revel in perhaps the finest display from their team for many a year.

At the heart of it all was Mooy. Ably assisted by the hard working Hogg at his side and the movement of Wells, Kachunga and Palmer in front of him, the Aussie totally dominated Wolves with calm assurance, touch and a range of passing which regularly unleashed Van La Parra on the left and the vastly improved Smith on the right.

On his full League debut, Palmer showed his strength and ability, combining well in the flowing attacks generated by a team playing with great cohesion and unity, but should have doubled the lead when Hogg, Kachunga and Smith combined to set him up in the area only for him to slice his shot wide.

Another Palmer effort, following more fantastic build up play, was hit straight at the keeper but was a decent effort from outside the area.

Wells also wasted a good opportunity; his attempt to squeeze the ball past Ikeme having been released by Palmer was not the best option with Kachunga available in the box.

Perhaps feeling relieved at only being one down despite being comprehensively outplayed, Wolves began to stir as half time approached and the chalking off of an equaliser for a marginal offside decision at least gave them the motivation of perceived injustice to fire them up for the second half.

Wolves were a different proposition after the break. Their strangely passive performance in the first half which surrendered huge chunks of possession enabling Town to test an unconvincing looking defence was replaced with a dynamism which Town had to combat with increasing tenacity.

With the guile of Teixeira added to midfield, the visitors pushed the home side back and began creating chances by using the ball as intelligently as their hosts had done in the first half.

Conor Coady, who played well without having quite the impact of Van La Parra against a former club, had an early shot blocked, and Ward saved smartly from Doherty as the visitors’ probing became increasingly alarming.

There was little respite for Town, though Van La Parra was a willing and effective outlet down the left. A foul on the Dutchman lead to Town’s best chance of the half as Hudson headed over an excellent free kick delivery by Mooy, arriving slightly too early to control his header.

On the hour, the menacing Teixeira hit the post with an effort from distance and at this point, there seemed to be an inevitability about an equaliser and, possibly, worse.

Hogg and Mooy were unable to impose themselves as they had done previously and the former was guilty of a couple of loose passes which could have been disastrous. Behind them, however, the central defensive partnership of Hudson and Schindler came in to its own, with the veteran adding his experience to sheer Teutonic class.

At times living on the edge, Town replaced Palmer with Jack Payne and the hero of Newcastle provided a busy, effective performance which, at the very least, caused problems for the visiting defence without tangible reward. Van La Parra’s misjudged curling effort was also scant reward from some good approach play.

The moment of the match came as the clock ticked towards 70 minutes. A corner from the right was met with power by the impressive Bodvarrson from close range, only for Danny Ward to get down low to his left and produce an astonishing and game saving stop. It was to lead to David Wagner sprinting over to the Liverpool loanee at the final whistle, tacitly acknowledging that the Welshman had kept Town at the top of the table with one of the best saves anyone is likely to witness.

Later, Oniangue was to bicycle kick a good chance wide, but Ward’s save changed the temperature of the game as Town regained composure for the final 15 minutes, dealing with Wolves’ more desperate aerial route better than their earlier more intelligent approach play.

Bunn came on for Wells, allowing the hard working Kachunga to defend more effectively from the front and providing better cover for Smith against the threat of Wolves’ left full back, Doherty.

With Scannell coming on for Van La Parra, making the slowest exit from the field imaginable, Town headed for the corners and ate up big chunks of 5 minutes added time to secure a victory which was exceptionally hard won against an opposition who will be a powerful Championship force as the full impact of their chequebook is deployed.

It isn’t a hard case to make that Wolves deserved a point for their second half performance, but as enjoyable as Town’s early dominance had been, their resilience in the face of serious probing was equally admirable.

Belief, spirit and togetherness delivered maximum points again; good fortune was earned, again, and Town’s bogey team status for Wolves was maintained by the class of 2016 as they remained at the summit of the division ahead of the international break.

Listening in the early hours far away, David would have loved this game, result and table topping reward – RIP Owd Jim.

atat

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