A Miller’s Tale of verve and nerves

In a performance which ranged from scintillating to skittish, Town overcame a spirited if limited Rotherham side as each club ended the night occupying opposite ends of a maturing Championship table.

Shorn of 3 regulars through suspension (pointing, perhaps, to a discipline problem which is worth tackling given that 2 of the players missing were being punished for needless offences) and the necessity to rest Hogg after his indomitable efforts against Reading, Wagner could take some comfort that the first major disruption to his team came against the struggling Millers.

Nevertheless, it was far from ideal to be playing a pair of untried defenders given the unity of the previously unchanged back 4 along with a new central midfield pairing.

In a dominant first half display, such concerns as there were dissipated as Town overwhelmed their fragile opponents with suffocating and controlled possession, menacing intent and individual flair. Palmer, in particular, blossomed around his hard working team mates with an elegant touch and powerful running; only his decision making let him down from time to time in his attempts to create danger.

A very early goal – Kachunga was in the right place to capitalise on some pinball defending – could and probably should have signalled a goal rush against a bewildered and disorganised opposition, but Town’s indecisiveness in sight of goal came once more to the fore.

With the new back 4 virtually redundant – any threat Rotherham possessed was snuffed out before they had to become involved – and Mooy pulling the strings in his unruffled fashion, the long awaited goal glut seemed inevitable but Town’s lack of thrust on too many occasions was to come back to haunt them later.

The relentlessness of this team, however, when both in and out of possession is a joy to behold and must be extraordinarily difficult to both play and plan against. Being constantly on the move, smoothly interchanging positions and having a growing telepathy between pairs and groups of players, Town create complex conundrums for opponents and few have been able to consistently stifle the Terriers’ ambition.

The vulnerability, however, is the (current) inability to translate their superiority in to commanding leads. This was amply illustrated just after half an hour of prodigious superiority when Palmer glided through the midfield with astonishing grace only to delay his pass to Kachunga just enough for the linesman’s flag to nullify his good work.

Immediately afterwards, and to the astonishment of the crowd, Rotherham equalised with an incisive move ending with Ward finishing smartly from a Taylor cross. That it was the visitors’ first coherent passage of play of the game only served to emphasise the lack of Town’s ruthlessness (a flaw which will not have escaped Mr Wagner’s meticulous attention).

To their credit, the setback was immediately dismissed and the lead restored just 4 minutes later as a blistering and typically strong run by Scannell enabled him to release Wells to angle a fine finish past Camp from just inside the area.

Wells has worked very hard to get back on the goal trail and it is to be hoped that he can build on the relief which will have accompanied his strike.

A single goal lead was scant reward for Town’s mastery of their opponents, but far from unfamiliar territory. However, strong performances by the understudies, a sparkling display by Palmer and Mooy’s magisterial presence augured well for the second half.

Hefele’s widely anticipated debut had gone well. There was always the nagging suspicion that his cult status could be tarnished by his actual performance, but he stepped in with confidence and assurance and, thankfully, without entirely shedding the aura of eccentricity surrounding him.

For 15 minutes after the break, Town’s superiority prevailed but a scattering of corners and a high and wide attempt by Palmer was the sum of the threat posed to the visitors.

Hefele did add a new dimension to Town’s generally mundane set pieces, however, and the disruption he causes is a tool which may well prove useful as the season progresses.

From the hour mark, though, Town wilted. The exertions of a 10 man effort at the Madjeski started to bite as possession became much more difficult to maintain, even against very ordinary opposition.

Rotherham could sense an opportunity; though they were never likely to dazzle their way to a point, it became much easier to apply rudimentary pressure on their tiring hosts. Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, who had performed competently on his debut, began to suffer and was not helped by a knock late on which rather opened up a flank for the Millers to exploit.

Palpably nervous, the home side had to dig deep for resilience and should have been undone 5 minutes from the end when Forde’s clipped cross was headed wide by Adeyeme.

While Town comfortably saw out the game following the let off – Hogg, Payne and Stankovic were introduced to quell Rotherham’s quest for an unlikely and undeserved equaliser – the earlier profligacy had created the pressure they were now feeling.

At full time, another single goal victory had been achieved and with Norwich not playing until Wednesday, Town restored their place at the top of the table with a barely believable 22 points from the first 10 games (it took until Christmas to achieve the same points tally last season).

As disjointed and occasionally brittle as the second half had been, this cannot diminish the vitality of the first half, particularly with enforced changes, and though a Millers’ equaliser would not have been altogether surprising, it would have been something of a travesty.

With his wisdom, David Wagner will have learned a lot from the victory. He has capable, competent replacements for his preferred eleven but a ruthless streak needs to be grafted on to the hard work and consummate skills of his squad.

Top of the league and with room for improvement is a very, very good place to be.

Man down? Man up

Football supporters, when gathered together, are not easily fooled.

Charlatans, cheats and the disingenuous are betrayed in front of our eyes on a depressingly regular basis and it is rarely a lack of talent which turns crowds against players, managers and owners; lack of effort, succumbing to easy excuses and taking reward without striving for achievement does.

1,300 Huddersfield Town supporters stayed to acclaim their defeated side at Madjeski stadium, having witnessed a courageous pursuit of at least a point against a talented but rattled Reading team, who held on to a precarious win knowing that an officious referee – the very type that feeds the view that the ambition to become one should preclude it – had given them a huge advantage.

Not that Reading had courted such advantage – they look a very different proposition to last season under Jaap Stam; defensively more robust, fast on the break and containing more convincing potential match winners. The last half hour, however, put question marks over their fitness as their opponents threatened to overrun them despite having had to work hard to contain their hosts while outnumbered.

A quiet start to the game, with both teams probing with decent possession, had seen a long range effort by Smith – released by Kachunga with a delightful nutmeg – easily gathered by Al-Habsi, and a couple of dangerous looking crosses from the home side coming to nought.

Neither side could turn their passing and movement in to genuine chances and a tight contest seemed inevitable. Wagner had reversed his, arguably, over defensive approach adopted against Brighton by keeping the same first eleven of last week, but the vibrancy so evident against QPR was more subdued against far superior opposition.

As the game settled, Reading’s wingers were getting a little too much joy – particularly down their right – but Ward remained untroubled. Town’s decision making in the final third was similarly profligate, though the game wasn’t failing to entertain as two sides determined to play progressive, possession based football retained its intrigue.

After 23 minutes, a seemingly innocuous tussle between Van La Parra and Reading’s full back saw the Dutchman appear to win the ball, yet he was not only penalised but also booked. From a distance, the decision looked very odd – VLP had definitely got to the ball – and it began a simmering within the player which was soon to erupt in to a ridiculous and ill disciplined display of petulance resulting in game changing red card.

Extricating himself from a tight spot in the corner, Van La Parra was brought down by a regulation foul challenge which seems to have grown in his outraged mind in to an assault given his reaction. A volley of abuse in the heat of the moment may have been forgiven, but requests by the referee for a word went unheeded in a shoulder shrugging huff and Town were down to 10.

The situation got to the referee. Smith’s questioning of the decision, which looked to be no more than a mild enquiry was met by a flourished and reactive yellow card – the impression being that the referee had lost his cool as well as the man he had despatched. His performance from then on was overbearingly officious and his card waving ludicrous.

Town endured a torrid time until the break. Substituting the talent of Palmer for the toil of Bunn in the immediate aftermath of the setback was a logical decision given that it added defensive strength and more experience, but it may have transmitted the wrong message to the team who rather retreated too far and succumbed to desperation too easily with long balls to Wells which offered little counter threat.

Shortly after the dismissal, Swift struck a post with an excellent long range effort and the fragility of the visitors became too apparent to the buoyed hosts who dominated possession knowing that loss of it would only be temporary.

McShane also flashed a long range effort wide with Ward grasping, and it seemed we were in store for a very long day.

A regulation Ward stop and some good defensive blocking kept the Royals out without blunting the sense of foreboding and a home side lead seemed inevitable.

Despite shoring up Loewe’s vulnerable wing with the introduction of Bunn, the substitute was too easily beaten by Harriot, whose cross eluded defenders and strikers only for it to fall at the feet of Beerens to fire in a Smith deflected shot past a despairing Ward.

With yet more fortune deserting them, Town finished the half in a confusion of uncertainty had been unable to escape prolonged bouts of pressure, though a rare foray produced a late corner which resulted in a half decent chance for Hudson who headed over at the far post.

Few in the crowd could have predicted the events of the second half, but most would not know that the current Huddersfield Town manager can perform miracles (like transforming Hudson in to a defensive rock and Smith in to an accomplished full back).

A cagey opening 15 minutes allowed Reading plenty of possession but, in contrast to the first half when a man down, it was met by an assured shape and greater discipline. The numerical disadvantage appeared to have been accepted and embraced, with attacks repelled with more authority and limited possession used far more wisely.

On the hour, Wells turned Gunther just inside Reading’s half and was hauled down with a clear run at goal in front of him. The referee enraged the visitors and their supporters with a yellow card, though the distance between Wells and the goal probably persuaded him that a red would have been too harsh a punishment. While his interpretation had some merit, his leniency contrasted starkly with the yellow card he gave Smith and was to give Loewe and Kachunga later.

Instilled by a sense of further injustice, Town took over the game at this point with Hogg and Mooy completely dominating the centre of the park, allowing them to overturn Reading’s previous possession advantage and set their team mates on the way to a brave though ultimately fruitless performance in the last half hour.

While Ward had to make a sharp save from Quinn and Beerens could only fire in to the side netting having been put through but forced wide, Town’s probing became increasingly intense as they searched for the equaliser their relentless endeavour deserved.

Hogg, man of the match by a distance, began to find the marauding Smith at will and the full back’s dangerous deliveries in to the box deserved better than marginally eluding his colleagues in the box.

With Crainie brought on to release Hudson to add height up front with Loewe sacrificed and Hefele replacing replacement Bunn, Town piled on the pressure in the final 15 minutes of normal and injury time.

With the home side wilting, Wells hit a good effort just over the bar, a magnificent ball in by Kachunga was missed at the far post by Hefele and Wells when only a touch was needed and Kachunga was unable to get enough power on a header which came partially off his shoulder.

For the last half hour, it was difficult to tell who was a man down and the home crowd were distinctly nervous at the fragility of their lead – Town were at full throttle and yet again demonstrated their supreme fitness with a display which was exhausting to watch, never mind defend against.

Ultimately, the assault was unsuccessful, but the team’s ability to overcome adversity with a performance of power and creativity was hugely encouraging in the circumstances.

As players slumped to the floor in disappointment at the final whistle, the acclaim from the visiting fans brought a lump to the throat – they had seen the gladiatorial spirit and recognised the supreme efforts of the team and instinctively wanted to lift them and let them know.

Long after the woeful referee’s name has slipped in to history, the spirit and endeavour of this current incarnation of Huddersfield Town will live on. They had taken the game to a very good Reading side with 10 men and indomitable spirit – the lost points seemed to matter less than the growing promise of a squad lead so admirably by Wagner and his staff and good times seem inevitable.

Rotherham may well be in for a backlash on Tuesday, even with a depleted team now that Hudson and Loewe will join a hopefully chastened Van La Parra in suspension.

This was one of those rare occasions when defeat was accompanied by increased optimism – this squad can achieve great things. And the supporters know it.

Rolling the R’s

Following two dour away performances – one a professional if dull victory and the other an unfortunate but uninspiring defeat – David Wagner unleashed a vibrant, attack minded line up against a QPR side reeling from a 6 goal reversal at home in midweek.

Deciding that Bunn’s defensive ability was not needed against the West Londoners and resting Jack Payne, Wells and Kachunga were given offensive responsibilities with Van La Parra and the quite excellent Palmer adding vitality to the attack.

Any lingering disappointment or lack of confidence from the south coast defeat was comprehensively swept away in a first half full of verve, quality and intent as QPR’s early threat was first extinguished then completely neutralised by a team moving smoothly up the gears in to dominance.

Mooy’s trademark serenity in possession, intelligence and precision of pass coupled with Hogg’s immense work rate soon quelled Rangers and allowed the talents of Van La Parra and Palmer to shine, while Hudson and Schindler handled the opposition’s increasingly mundane threats with some ease.

Town’s first foray forward was a blistering run by Kachunga, beating four men before running out of space and winning a corner off a defender. The crowd was lifted by his deep incursion and the relatively slow start by the home team was well and truly over.

Seemingly inspired by his colleague, Palmer started to get on the ball and a sumptuous pass to Smith on the right set another attack in train ending in a wayward effort by Kachunga.

With the insouciant Mooy setting the pace and flow of the game, Town began to strangle the visitors with intricate moves, switching of play and controlled possession, it was no surprise when they took the lead.

Smith, operating excellently down the right again, was fed by another probing Palmer pass and while his cross evaded Kachunga and Wells, it fell to Van La Parra on the left who lifted the ball over for Palmer to finish what he had started with a close range header.

Other than the occasionally dangerous but ultimately ineffective Shodipo on the left, Rangers had little in response – Hogg uncharacteristically gave the ball away a couple of times but the visitors were unable to breach Town’s rugged back line even when presented with opportunity.

For the most part, it was Town in the ascendant and Palmer, in particular, was a joy to watch as he illuminated a dominant home performance with dribbles and good passing, with the movement of Wells, Kachunga and Van La Parra causing concern for the visitors even if clear cut chances were at a premium.

Wells brought an excellent save from his erstwhile team mate Smithies in the visitors’ goal, but he had already been flagged offside.

It has been something of a feature for Town to dominate yet create relatively few chances. Rather than this being a criticism, it is a hope that adding some final third ruthlessness will elevate this so far remarkable outfit even further.

More worryingly, Hudson (for a cynical foul to stop Shopido) and Hogg (for his part in an altercation after he had been fouled) were both booked in the half, and both now teeter on the edge of a ban, joining Loewe who is in a similar predicament. If and when suspensions arrive, it will be interesting how Town fare without the Mooy/Hogg and Hudson/Schindler axes.

Those are problems for a different day, however, and the immediate one was to ensure that Town’s habit of dropping in intensity at the restart wasn’t repeated.

QPR made two changes at half time; up front, the rather limited Washington was replaced by Polter – a big man for a big man, in essence, – and Borysiuk replaced the overwhelmed Henry. Neither substitution suggested a different challenge for the home side, though perhaps Jimmy Floyd Hasselbiank’s mood in the changing room could have an affect on his listless charges.

For the first 30 minutes of a more prosaic second half, Town continued to dictate the pace of the game but, again, without fashioning regular chances despite a few early corners.

They did, however, have a serious penalty appeal turned down as Wells’ attempted flick over a central defender appeared to be thwarted by an arm, which moved towards the ball. It was probably a bigger shout than Newcastle’s against Hudson on that heady day, but the referee was unmoved.

Kachunga then had the ball in the net following good work from Palmer, but was ruled offside. He should have let Palmer finish off his own work, but instinct took over.

Town were finally rewarded with the luxury of a two goal lead, the first of the season, when Hogg found Smith’s excellent run down the right. The much improved right back – it is rare to see him err these days – lifted a cross to the back post and Kachunga rose to loop it over Smithies’ despairing hands.

It was no less than the home team deserved who had comprehensively outplayed Rangers, and the buoyant crowd could enjoy a comfortable victory for once. Or so it seemed.

On 75 minutes, the tone of the game changed with an unfortunate sequence of events which left Town disadvantaged at a corner. Leading up to it, Hudson and Smith collided and the latter was pole axed and requiring treatment. Off the pitch as a routine corner was headed out, the ball was picked back up by Chery with no one available to close him down effectively and his floated cross was met by substitute Sylla to give QPR an unlikely and undeserved lifeline.

12 months ago, such a setback was likely to be fatal for Town with a healthy 15 minutes and lengthy stoppage time to go.

In typical Wagnerian fashion, however, Town negotiated the time largely in comfort, though substitute Whitehead (brought on to shore things up along with Bunn) had to deal with a dangerous situation with a cool header back to Ward.

QPR’s blunt attempts at winning a point via the aerial route no doubt caused one or two palpitations among the fiercely supportive crowd, particularly us long time sufferers, but the unflappable Schindler and the experience of Hudson repelled them effectively.

In an attempt to run down the clock and add height to his defence, and to huge cheers of anticipation, Wagner withdrew Wells for Hefele to make his first home appearance.

It seems that defending wasn’t particularly in the mind of a player who has caught the imagination despite clocking up only about 20 minutes of playing time in the League as he latched on to a loose ball, bounded forward in to space, played a one two with Bunn only to be robbed as he got in to the area.

As injury time started, Whitehead’s intervention calmed nerves and though there were a few balls in to the box to suffer, the 6 minutes were also eaten up with balls in to the corners for Town to shield.

The final whistle was greeted with some relief but the crowd, including the away supporters, knew that the result was more than fair as Town maintained their leadership of the division and by a slightly increased margin following Newcastle’s shock defeat.

With rising and increasingly enthusiastic crowds (boosted by some excellent marketing leading up to the game), a talented and improving squad of players and an intelligent, charismatic manager, the future cannot be anything but bright, even if we have to suffer setbacks from time to time.

The most difficult off field job must have been the choice of man of the match.

Mooy is almost always a candidate and was as supremely influential as ever. Kachunga looks as energetic in the 90th minute as he does in the first; his appetite for work seems unquenchable. Hogg is the team’s heart to Mooy’s brain and has a player ever improved to the extent of Smith?

All of the others gave good and very good performances too, but it is the mercurial Palmer who caught the eye the most. One piece of skill on the touchline while being fouled summed up his performance as he flicked the ball through the legs of an opposing player through to Smith.

Rotherham at home a week on Tuesday gives the team the chance to win a previously inconceivable 5 on the trot, but this is sandwiched between 2 long distance and tough away assignments at Reading and Ipswich.

The game against the Millers may also give Wagner the opportunity to manage the looming suspension problems by utilising his squad more extensively.

For now, rejoice!

A balmy night in Brighton

As a disappointed Danny Ward trudged towards the away support after his error consigned Town to their first defeat of the season, they sang his name as if to put a metaphorical arm around him.

The supporters knew that a fantastic save by the Welshman after just 10 minutes of a game largely bereft of thrills had kept his side in the struggle against a strong, competent but largely unthreatening Brighton side still struggling to match their form from last season.

It was something of a surprise that there were no changes to the side which had completely subjugated Leeds at the weekend, as the victory had come at some physical cost with a handful of yellow cards, but it signalled an intent to try to replicate the performance, all be it against vastly superior opposition.

With Southern England sweltering in record temperatures for September, both sides were to be tested in Mediterranean conditions; a climate definitely conducive to travel on a depleted Southern trains service. Beautiful as Sussex is, the transport system is as poor as regular reports suggest.

In truth, the game had little to commend it with Town stifling their opponents for large swathes and, in particular, quelling the ever present threat of the mercurial Knockaert for all but a couple of moments.

With 10 minutes to go and a comfortable if boring 0-0 result seeming inevitable, the Frenchman was gifted a goal when his relatively tame shot spilled through Ward’s hands like a particularly greasy bar of soap. In 7 games, this was Ward’s first error of note and all sane Town supporters will forgive it with some ease.

That Knockaert found it difficult to exercise more influence was down to Town working hard as a unit, as they had done at Elland Road. Class will eventually arise, however, and a turn which took out 3 visiting players near the touchline late on was sublime.

Other than the early save and the goal, neither keeper had to work particularly hard in an increasingly cagey affair and it was difficult for either set of fans to become motivated by the moving chess laid before them.

Defensively, Town were solid – Smith had a fantastic game both with and without the ball – and in midfield, Hogg and Mooy kept control for much of the game but without being able to inspire much further forward.

Van La Parra’s runs were quite dangerous looking at times, but petered out before he could link with live wire Jack Payne or the hard working but frustrated Kachunga.

On the right, it was difficult to see what Bunn brought to the party. While hard working, his work with the ball was entirely unthreatening and neither here nor at Elland Road has he convinced as a starter – he can, however, be a different proposition coming off the bench.

A goal down, Hefele was thrown on to try to inspire a repeat of the Villa Park miracle, but the excellent Lewis Dunk easily controlled the cult hero (kudos to the several dressing gown wearing Town fans last night!).

A disappointing night then, but the run was bound to end at some point and, at least, the manner of it was slightly unfortunate rather than a capitulation. Having created a team which can defend as a unit from back to front, David Wagner will now surely turn his attention to offensive matters. Too few chances are being created, Kachunga looks too isolated and there is far too few attempts on goal.

As for Brighton, and horrendous train services apart, it really is a great away day. Friendly, knowledgable and grounded fans add to the experience and the stadium looked a picture in the late evening sunshine and dusk.

Back home next for, hopefully, a more expansive performance against the wounded QPR, and a welcome home for Alex Smithies (and the hope that he is picking a few more out!)

Vorsprung Durch Technik

No amount of googling has found a German word – a schadenfreude or a Backpfeifengesich, say – which can capture the emotions of Huddersfield Town supporters right now, but the mingled joy and disbelief, fear that it cannot possibly last and hope that this is, in fact, the real deal surely deserves one.

An efficient, ruthless performance against a dreadful Leeds outfit had little in the way of entertainment, particularly in a dire first half, but David Wagner’s superb engineering allowed the team to lift 3 straightforward points from a fractious derby.

It was exactly the type of away performance produced by winners and promotion challengers as Town relentlessly reduced their hosts to a confused and directionless rabble. With and without the ball, shape was rarely lost and, by the end, 8 minutes of added time merely served to heap misery on the Whites as the hopelessness of their one tactic – aerial assault – was exposed for just a little longer.

Following a frenetic start to the game, with the home side trying to impose themselves early, Town had to deal with the threat of Sacko for all of 5 minutes – his power and pace was then almost entirely, and bafflingly, eschewed until he was substituted in the second half despite stripping Lowe and Van La Parra in the home side’s very first attack.

In a first half littered with fouls and far too many offside incursions by the visitors, both keepers were criminally under employed. Ward collected a few attempted crosses while at the other end, Green’s only moment of discomfort was when he collided with his own defender following a corner.

The hard working Kachunga and Payne tried to cause problems for the home side but despite the occasional promising move, including one which saw the ball in the net but ruled offside, Leeds’ back four were largely untroubled.

The same could be said of Town’s back 8. Employing his notable defensive block, Wagner could be pleased at the control his team increasingly exerted over the game. Comfortable in possession and rarely without passing options, whatever sting the home side possess was drawn very early and the partnerships between the sublime Schindler and Hudson and Hogg and Mooy are fast becoming stuff of legend.

The Australian belied his international travels – halfway round the world and back, no less – as he strolled through the game with poise and panache. He was, however, fortunate that a lenient referee didn’t see his lunging tackle on Bridcutt as excessively dangerous as half time approached. Clearly annoyed at a misplaced pass – his only flaw in the whole game – he flew in to his opponent with both feet drawing histrionics from Monk and his staff close by on the Leeds bench.

Shortly after his uncharacteristic lapse, Mooy produced the first half’s only moment of real class as he extricated himself from a tight spot by flicking the ball over a Leeds player then moving it on in one flowing movement.

While the first half had been a poor spectacle, Town’s control of the game became increasingly straightforward as Leeds seemed strangely reluctant to press the ball as it was passed around the back. Only a header from the largely anonymous Wood which flashed wide caused any trouble for the visitors, who were no doubt relieved that the home side seemed determined not to utilise Sacko, making life far too easy for the Terriers.

A free kick to Town at the very end of the half was wasted when Mooy’s clever ball to the unmarked Payne saw the ex-Shrimper leave the ball, believing he was offside. It may have been the case, but he didn’t allow the officials to make a decision as the ball drifted harmlessly out of play.

If the Leeds supporters hoped that their side could improve on a humdrum first half display, they were to be very sadly disappointed. Town took the game by the throat in another unspectacular 45 minutes, with no Leeds player given any time on the ball and often pursued by 2 or 3 snapping opponents. Reducing their opponents’ options, time and space laid the foundations for a narrow win which didn’t accurately reflect the visitors’ dominance of proceedings.

Perhaps the feature of Town’s remarkable early season form has been the fitness levels which not only frustrate the ambitions of opponents but allows the team to operate as a ruthless unit; always quickly back in to shape if possession is lost, highly developed trust in team mates and the ability to break with pace and threat are massively useful weapons.

Though chances for Town were rare, it still didn’t come as a surprise when the outstanding Mooy joined the joint top league scorer list (with 8 other team mates).

Following some Town pressure, the Antipodean latched on to Payne’s interception of a poor clearance, moved in to space and lashed the ball past Green. It was an excellent strike and earned him a place on that list of Elland Road scorers headed by Dave Cowling – wether it earns him a song like his 1982 predecessor is yet to be seen, but it is a pleasure to witness a rare talent in Town’s colours.

There was a long time to go for Town to hang on to their lead, but other than a poor header by Wood – which Ward saved unnecessarily spectacularly – Leeds second half display was woeful. They were unable to cope with Town’s pressing as the visitors tightened their grip on the game with relentless hard work and calm possession.

In contrast, the home side had little discernible shape and Town could and should have punished them more with several breaks which lacked cutting edge. Not that it mattered, but if there is a lingering doubt about this excellent team, it is their goal potential.

The win could have been crowned, however, by a superb effort from Van La Parra. A clearance came to him 45 yards out and his instinctive shot seemed destined for the net before a back pedalling Green tipped it over.

Van La Parra was also involved in a penalty appeal for Town as Ayling tugged on his arm for an extended period right in to the penalty area, but referee Roger East gave the defender the same benefit of doubt he had given Schindler in the first half.

By no means pretty, the victory gave Town their best start to a season in their history and the way it was achieved in hostile, local enemy territory was particularly satisfying. By the end, the home crowd had long turned on their team and manager which may have influenced Monk’s intemperate post match interviews which gave no credit to the victors and contained no acknowledgement that his own team were a directionless mess. No identity, Gary.

So our remarkable season continues. New and different challenges are met; for example, the disruption of an international break proved not to be a hindrance to momentum and, if anything, the unity and understanding within the team seemed to be even stronger than before.

The unity with the fans was also enhanced – others may scoff at the post match victory celebration but it is a crucial part of Wagner’s philosophies and creates a bond with the club which hasn’t been as strong since 1979/80 under Buxton.

On to the next, formidable, challenge on the south coast.