All about the Mooy


Another single goal victory in front of a packed Boxing Day crowd saw Town register a fourth win on the trot and banish their November stumble once and for all.

The narrow victory barely reflected Town’s utter dominance over a lethargic Forest side who lacked any semblance of confidence or cohesion despite being handed the advantage of a thoroughly ill deserved lead when Pereira capitalised on a lucky break with a good finish.

The anaemic visitors, embroiled in yet another interminable attempted takeover, were starved of space, time and possession by their vibrant hosts and could only be grateful that Town’s familiar failings in the final third allowed their manager to scramble for flimsy face saving positives after the game.

The cold, blustery conditions didn’t prevent the Terriers from building their victory on relentless custody of the ball with their gloved Antipodean the principal architect.

On the rare occasion he loses possession, Aaron Mooy has a ridiculously simple remedy. He goes and gets it back. The confidence he instils in his team mates is invaluable – knowing that a pass to him in virtually any circumstances guarantees a safe pair of feet is an extraordinary asset.

The glabrous Aussie continues to defy hyperbole and, yet again, dazzled in a Town performance which brimmed with intensity and controlled aggression without translating in to enough goal scoring opportunities.

Alongside Mooy, the industrious Hogg destroyed Forest’s midfield and with Van La Parra and Kachunga raiding with menace from the flanks, the visitors were stretched taut throughout the afternoon, but largely negated Town’s signature use of advancing full backs and the hosts had to find alternative, more central, routes to goal.

Scintillating as much of the passing and movement was in the first half, the final ball or shot was often disappointing and the search for a more physical striker – almost certainly complete if not finalised – to provide another dimension up front may be the key to convert thrilling possession in to goals.

Nahki Wells, who contributed a lot to general play but far too often outside the area, should have rounded off a great move between Palmer and Kachunga but failed to connect with the latter’s low hard ball across the six yard area.

Palmer threaded another good ball in to the area from the edge of the box to Wells who shot wide, while Kachunga played in Mooy late in the half for a blocked attempt.

With a pacy burst, Van La Parra disappointed with a weak, wide finish and, overall, Town simply didn’t do enough once bearing down on goal to level, even if their overall performance completely dominated Forest.

At the other end, debutant keeper Coleman had to deal with a tricky situation after just 30 seconds when the hugely disappointing and apparently disinterested Bendtner bore down on goal only for the youngster to beat him to the ball.

Forest’s goal owed a great deal to luck with a ricochet off Mooy falling perfectly for the swift Pereira who outpaced Hefele to chip in an unlikely opener. Hefele showed considerable constraint, and wisdom, not to bring the floppy haired Portuguese down.

Trailing at the halfway stage, undeservedly but ominously given that Town had gone over 50 games without overturning a mid game deficit, the fear was that the momentum of a very good December would be halted and, similar to the Wigan game, the irritation of being beaten by an inferior side was looming.

An irresistible second half display of power and control swept such doubts away. While remaining unconvincing at the sharp end of the pitch, relying on two freakish goals for the win, Town barely let the visitors breath in a second half illuminated by Mooy’s command of a football.

At times seeming to defy the laws of physics, both with his passing and retention, the Aussie stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch, including some very, very good displays from team mates Hogg and Kachunga.

For all his sublime touch, however, it was his worst which provided Town with a deserved, overdue equaliser. Completely out of context – it was like watching Jack Nicklaus shank one off a perfect lie – and dripping with irony, Mooy’s comical slice from a practised corner routine found the head of Kasey Palmer who instinctively headed it goalwards. Glancing down from the bar and off the keeper’s back, Town were level.

There were to be no more guilty feet from Mooy, who purred around the midfield with astonishing poise and no little bravery at times as he evaded clattering challenges as if someone was giving him advance warning.

His appreciation of space is simply glorious and will, regrettably, be seen on a higher plane sometime soon as the football world takes notice of a sublime talent adorning an unlikely stage.

A scruffy winner, put through his own goal following a nothing cross by Van La Parra by the hapless Mancienne, whose day was shortly to get even worse, was a poor way for Town’s overwhelming superiority to be asserted, but few were complaining.

Forest, inexplicably, withdrew Pereira – whose pace was their biggest, nay only, threat – rather than the entirely ineffective Bendtner in favour of Assombalonga, and produced little in a second half where they were harried out of the scraps of possession that fell their way.

A parody of their huge and much admired teams of the past, the Tricky Trees were fortunate not to be the first team to concede 3 to Town as substitute Payne latched on to a poor back pass but was unable to squeeze the ball past the keeper inside the back post. A slight deflection made the trajectory of the ball much wider than the effort deserved.

Payne had replaced the fading Palmer, who had a very good first half including some penetrative passes in to the area for chances, just after the winner along with Lowe who replaced his understudy Holmes-Dennis at the same time.

Town saw out the game with good control, featuring two crunching Hogg tackles, a clearly superior fitness and trademark possession. They were helped with the sending off of the hapless Mancienne who (not without justification) reacted to a throw in decision with a petulance no longer tolerated by referees to earn a second yellow.

The scarcity of goals to embellish dominant performances aside, a deficiency surely to be resolved soon, this squad is performing way above expectation and deserves all the accolades and success so far. The no limits philosophy espoused by Wagner and a fearless approach to a very tough league will surely herald an exciting 2017.

As for Mooy, he is surely the most accomplished player ever to wear the blue and white of Huddersfield Town. Savour him while you can.
(Merry Christmas and a Happy, prosperous New Year to all who read these ramblings).


Pleasure in the house of pain



Carrow Road has long been the graveyard of ambition for Huddersfield Town. Supporters of all vintages will remember to the point of trauma thrashings at the hands of Norwich where their overwhelming superiority seemed inevitable with Town looking as if they had walked the interminable distance to Norfolk.

Those of us unfortunate to witness two visits within 6 months of each other in 1998, resulting in a 9-1 aggregate deficit, featuring Craig Bellamy torturing Jacko’s unfathomable decision to play a high defensive line to feed Iwan Roberts (there was an unusual streak of cruelty that year) can be forgiven our yellow tinged nightmares.

It can only be assumed that few made it in 1969 for the last victory. Dual carriageways in rural Eastern England were a far off dream back then, supporters living outside West Yorkshire were decidedly exotic or freaks and the Greaves revolution was still in its early stages.

Quite rightly, David Wagner has no interest in any of this (possibly like everyone else!); suggesting that the travails of previous teams could be visited upon the current one would undoubtedly be an insult to his intelligence and an assault on his forward looking philosophies. But he hasn’t had to witness it.

The first sign that the horrors of the past were not to be revisited was a tepid rendition of “On the Ball, City”, Norwich’s quaint anthem reputed to be the world’s oldest football chant. A full, confident and optimistic Carrow Road usually belts it out to inspire their team – just another aspect of our ritual humiliation – but this was flat.

The fear in the yellow hordes is palpable. They only have to look at the teams around them in the division, and even below, to see clubs of their size and status in otiose paralysis waiting for an Asian sugar daddy to transform their fortunes when they fail to regain admittance to the bloated league above.

The suspicion that their cheerless, dour manager was being tolerated for as long as results were acceptable are now being realised – despite an abundance of talent at his disposal, their usually vibrant identity is disappearing as function is preferred to flair. There is no other way to explain Wes Hoolihan’s banishment from their first XI.

For once, then, Town took to the Canaries’ field without the odds being stacked against them and, for the omen seekers amongst us, the victory at Newcastle followed a poor performance at a small ground and maybe the relief at playing in an infinitely better arena would inspire them back to such triumph.

Early signs were not good. Kasey Palmer was caught in possession almost immediately – the first and last mistake he would make all night and Lowe, who would also recover to have an outstanding game, was robbed of the ball by Murphy who fed Oliveira in the box only for the Portuguese to fire wide as Stankovic (a major selection surprise) slid in.

Within 5 minutes of this inauspicious start, Town took the lead and Norwich levelled in double quick time. The visitors goal owed everything to a fabulous turn, run and pass by the impressive Palmer, who found Tommy Smith in acres of space to cross for an easy Kachunga header from, admittedly, an offside position which was, luckily, hard to spot in the pace of the attack.

From the restart, Norwich raided down Town’s apparently abandoned right and Brady managed to loop over a cross before the ball went dead. Despite the lack of attention in the box, Howson did exceptionally well to generate power and accuracy from 12 yards with a header which just evaded Ward’s despairing dive.

A lesser team, and certainly the ones who have represented Town over the years at Norwich, would have crumbled in these circumstances. Instead, Town took control of the game in a half where their opponents were left chasing shadows out of possession and under constant and considerable pressure when they had it.

Mooy, Palmer and Hogg dominated their counterparts entirely and the mixture of calm keep ball and explosive bursts forward bemused the hosts in to hurried, error laden football to the increasing derision of the home support.

This was no better illustrated than a harassed Durrans spooning an attempted back pass in a despairing attempt to rid himself of the Palmer pest snapping at his heels. Wells was on to the error in a flash but his first time control took the ball slightly too wide and allowed Bennet and Bassong to combine and clear the danger.

Town’s command of the game grew with every minute and sporadic Norwich attacks were broken up effectively as the home side’s rhythm was constantly interrupted.

On 40 minutes, Town deservedly retook the lead when Kachunga and Smith combined again down the right and a simple ball inside was toe poked through Bassonga’s legs past Ruddy.

The move which lead to the goal contained 18 passes including a superb ball forward between the lines by Stankovic and emphasised the dominance enjoyed by the visitors in a first half – equaliser aside – of control, aggression and organisation which reduced the Canaries to a shambling mess.

Anticipating a home revival in the second half, Wagner changed tactics from expansive pressing to a defensive block, pulling the wide men deeper back and Palmer slightly advanced to try to capitalise on any over extension by Norwich.

With more of the ball, Norwich improved without adding a great deal of composure to their play, but it was Town who had the first chance of the second period when Smith and Kachunga combined yet again but for the German to screw his shot wide when a 3rd goal – its nearly Christmas and a 3rd goal in any game remains elusive – would have buried their fragile opponents.

Norwich’s best chance, by a distance, was of Town’s own making. A tiring Hogg tried to find Kachunga with a loose pass which was punted upfield towards Stankovic. With his inexperience on full display, the Serbian’s attempt at clearing the ball merely swished at the night air and Oliveira was in the clear with Ward in no man’s land. His lob, however, was misplaced and drifted wide and Town were let off the hook.

Ward, who had a good game and helped his defenders at set pieces more than is his custom with catches and punches, was called in to action on a couple of occasions to make reasonably routine saves, though he would have been beaten by a late Bassonga header had it been on target.

Town’s second half attacking was sporadic, though they may have been more incisive had Palmer not been hacked down on a few occasions when he had turned opposition players with space in front of him. A reasonable refereeing performance was a little tarnished by the leniency shown to some cynical Norwich tackling.

Infuriatingly, Wells was caught offside when a very promising break looked on and the frustrated striker was booked for putting the ball in the net long after play was halted.

With judicious substitutions – the more defensive Bunn replaced Van La Parra and Billings’ height was introduced for the exhausted Hogg – and dogged defending, Town held on for a great victory celebrated in normal fashion.

3 wins in 6 days, including at 2 very difficult venues, has reinvigorated a season which was in danger of losing momentum and Wagner is to be highly commended for sticking to his ideas and philosophies even when dips in the performances of some players had appeared to indicate some frailty.

With good displays all round, the maturity, energy and talent of Palmer shone through. While Mooy was a creditable choice for man of the match – his class graces virtually every game – the youngster from Chelsea gave a peerless performance embracing both the beauty of the game with his poise under pressure and ability to spin in to space and the ugly side of pressing opponents in to error.

It is also exciting to realise that this squad still has room for improvement. A good overall defensive display in the second half shouldn’t disguise the fact that we weren’t far from the thin dividing line between success and failure at times and the inability to kill off teams with a third goal (or more) is asking for trouble.

But a long overdue win at Carrow Road is no time for carping – it was a memorable night in a season of high achievement and great promise.

Hungover Town steal points from Brewers


Over 20 minutes in to a dour, physical battle in a tight, cramped arena, Aaron Mooy finally registered a successful pass and there could be no more stark illustration of the lack of room available to the visitors and the severe restrictions this imposed upon them.

The Aussie improved as the game progressed, but even his mastery of space was severely tested as an energetic if limited home side demonstrated how they have turned their tiny, efficient ground in to a graveyard of ambition for many sides as they have made their remarkable rise over the past few years.

With 4 changes made from Saturday’s morale boosting win, Wagner introduced graft in an attempt to counter the stifling and aggressive style of Burton who present a unique challenge in a Championship dominated by clubs with resources ridiculously in excess of the Brewers’ wildest dreams (and, to a lesser but important extent, ours).

While there could be few complaints about Town’s resilience in a truly turgid first half – Burton managed one, easily saved shot on target, which was one more than the visitors – there was precious little connection between the component parts of the team and attacks floundered weakly on the rare occasions that the shackles were loosened.

Bunn and Billing spurned the chance to impress with rare starts. The former struggled with the lack of pitch width and the young Belgian’s languid style was barely suited to the frenzy all around him.

In contrast, the two replacement full backs Holmes-Dennis and Cranie acquitted themselves more effectively, particularly the veteran who became Town’s most effective performer and, eventually, just as much a match winner as Wells. In a bruising encounter largely bereft of entertainment, Cranie added another fine display to the one at Blackburn (in very different game circumstances) and he should surely be utilised much more on the right hand side (including centrally) of a defence which can be vulnerable.

The best that can be said of an entirely incoherent first half performance which vied for the worst 45 minutes of the season was that Town didn’t allow their complete lack of control to hand the game to their opponents. With no fluency, and possession overturned far too regularly, it was incumbent on the defence not to succumb and the whole back four were comfortably up to the challenge.

Eerily reminiscent of the Shrewsbury debacle in the League Cup, where a low energy display in similar surroundings was punished, the fear was that Burton – a far superior side than the Shrews – could turn the screw in the second half and galvanise their impressive home form; and so it was to prove.

With possession at a premium, Town rarely escaped the constraints of their aggressive and confident hosts who make up for a general lack of finesse by harnessing raw power to create opportunities. As they were in that cup game, Town were way outside their comfort zone and were forced in to an ugly resilience which could, and probably should, have been breached on several occasions.

A rare foray upfield which saw a Kachunga effort cleared off the line offered brief respite from Burton’s relentless momentum and the visitors had to strain to resist their far more progressive hosts.

Billing and Bunn’s disappointing nights were brought to an early end before the hour with Van La Parra’s unpredictability carrying far more threat and Palmer adding greater strength to an over worked midfield.

Schindler and Hefele, who had largely worked in harmony in the first half, started to become a little detached and pressure began to mount. While there was more sound and fury signifying nothing about much of Burton’s dominance, Town were grateful for a miscontrol by Dyer when put through and even more in debt to a fantastically timed block by the excellent Cranie.

Hefele, increasingly erratic, survived a hand ball appeal which, while rightfully turned down, caused palpitations for supporters well used to such decisions going against their team.

Pinned back and rarely composed, Town’s only outlet was Van La Parra who worried Burton far more than Bunn even if little came from his forays and a battling 0-0 draw seemed to be the height of expectations.

With the foul count mounting, a decent referee began to reach for his pocket regularly and had to deal with simmering feuds involving Hefele with Ward (whose snide transgressions have not reduced with his status) and Kachunga with Burton’s whole left side.

The interruptions benefited Town by relieving pressure – in open play, Burton looked by far the most likely to grab the winner – but they remained largely on the back foot until a foul on Kachunga gave Town a routine, midfield, free kick which seemed at the time simply an ideal opportunity to get the ball far from our goal with just 5 minutes left.

Mooy, who had covered a lot of defensive ground in a much improved second half display following an uncharacteristically slack first half, whipped in a decent ball towards Hefele. Jumping with 2 defenders, the German’s touch looped towards his compatriot Schindler who headed towards the back post.

Wells, whose performance had ranged between poor and missing, rose high above his marker and generated significant power to beat the keeper. It was a very good finish and a distinctly below par Town were about to mug the home team for 3 wholly undeserved but welcome 3 points.

Unsurprisingly, Burton lost most of their verve with the late setback and it was Town who should have put the contest beyond doubt in the final 10 minutes (including injury time) with a Kachunga burst only halted at the last minute – he should have shot earlier – and McLaughlin beating away a Wells effort after being put through by Palmer.

The tightly packed away terrace celebrated with the players in customary fashion, and all of them, the players and the management may have felt a tinge of embarrassment at the nature of the win, tempered by the fact that there has been precious little luck flowing our way over the past few weeks.

A very different, very yellow, challenge awaits in front of the Sky cameras on Friday night but what, on paper, looked a far more daunting task may well be welcome relief following a very uncomfortable night in Burton.


Mooy’s bravura performance lights up the stage

img_0378Roared on by a noisy, enthusiastic and hostile home crowd both enraged by a sense of injustice and buoyed by their team overcoming all too familiar and deeply infuriating officiating, Town completed a victory over a clearly talented but disappointing opposition which perfectly replicated early season triumphs to give renewed hope for the season.

An impressive points haul from the first 10 games had provided a valuable cushion against the ravages of a slump in form to the extent that a long overdue win propelled the club in to 4th position, all be it in an increasingly crowded space behind Newcastle and Brighton which adds greater vulnerability to any future barren spells.

Preston and Fulham aside, many of the performances in that late Autumn spell of fallow fruitlessness were not dissimilar to those early successes, with the team falling the wrong side of preposterously thin Championship margins at times, as good fortune faded along with the form of some of the players.

As a spectacle, the game was theatrically entertaining, replete with heroes and villains, plot twists and a welcome return of the rousing encore of celebration.

Town’s leading man was the formidable Mooy. Free of debilitating journeys, the Australian delivered a masterclass of poise, intelligence and control which almost completely overshadowed City’s Tomlin; a nightmare inducing nemesis in the past.

Even his rare errors with the script – he misplaced two passes early on – were quickly recovered and his immense presence cajoled his enthusiastic team mates back to their true potential. The speed of thought, calmness of execution and an uncanny instinct for space will surely mark him out as one of the players of the Championship season.

An unerring feature of all of Town’s wins this season has been the scoring of the first goal. Quite remarkably, every win has been built on this foundation and only a single point has been recovered from a losing start, so it was no surprise that the home side’s intent was established very quickly.

After an early set piece was defended adequately, Town continued where they had left off at Ewood Park with a good tempo and were soon troubling the visitors. An early opportunity for Wells saw the out of sorts striker attempt a long distance lob when he should have taken the ball further, but his ambition was admirable if misplaced.

With Van La Parra tormenting his would be markers – he performed some fantastic turns to launch attacks – and domination of the ball, Town were rewarded with the early goal so crucial to this season’s success when the irrepressible Kachunga found Smith on the right with a perfectly weighted ball. Impressing on his return from suspension in place of the unfortunate Cranie, the stand in captain returned the favour with an inch perfect cross for the leading scorer to head home with some ease.

Smith could have added to his impressive assist statistics just 5 minutes later when another incisive sortie down the right allowed him to find Wells in the area, but the Bermudian rather fluffed his lines first by hitting a defender and then firing a tame shot from the rebound straight at Fielding. A second goal would have eased Town’s victory considerably, but such luxury is apparently to be denied us this season.

With a platform duly built, Town’s intensity muted the visitors who became over reliant on long balls to their tall forwards which were largely dealt with by the improved Schindler and Hefele, even if they didn’t always win the aerial battles.

City manager Johnson, of whom more later, had clearly paired the prodigious talent of Abrahams with the gnarled experience of Wilbraham with the intention of exploiting the perceived weakness at the heart of the home defence, but this seemed to be at the expense of Tomlin’s artistry and the portly ex-Posh man’s frustration lead to an astonishing spat with his manager in plain sight of all and hearing shot of many.

“Never <expletive deleted> talk to me like that again” was his reported line to his young boss; sadly, we shall probably never know the context of his outburst but it was heartening to witness disharmony in the opposition. Future ramifications remain to be seen.

Meanwhile, Van La Parra’s runs, Mooy’s probing and the eager running of Kachunga and Palmer continued to worry the Robins.

A good first half hour, with the lead and control established, was cruelly interrupted following a free kick awarded for a Schindler challenge on Tomlin. Throwing their numerous big men forward to prey on the home defences’ neuroses, it was central defender Flint (who had earlier headed wide from another set piece) whose harmless looking, mistimed header should have been cleared by Palmer but instead fell back to him to hook over towards the now unmarked Wilbraham who poked the ball past Ward for Abraham to finish. Both looked suspiciously offside but an admittedly well positioned linesman gave them the benefit of the doubt – which he should – and Town were undeservedly pegged back by a scruffy goal.

Town recovered their composure and a fine effort by Van La Parra appeared to strike a defender’s arm before Fielding made a good stop. Following up, Wells’ attempt to play the ball back in to the area also appeared to be blocked by a limb – his appeals were, predictably, turned away and the two incidents, in quick succession, brought to mind penalties awarded against us at Newcastle and at home versus Wednesday and the reluctance of any referee to rule in our favour continues to bewilder and frustrate.

Towards the end of a first half he had officiated reasonably well, the referee then took centre stage. First, he allowed the already booked Freeman to get away with considerable dissent, railing against a free kick award against him. A brief lecture must have left Van La Parra baffled at the inconsistency – his rant at Reading bringing a second yellow card earlier in the season.

Mr Stroud then incurred the wrath of the visitors with a decision against Abraham which halted the Chelsea loanees’ charge in to open space following a challenge on Hefele which looked fair. Ward may well have mopped up the danger, but such is the youngster’s pace this was far from an inevitable outcome and Town had been let off the hook. Fine margins.

If his marginal decisions in the first half had, at least, a semblance of rationality, the next one was inexplicable. Early in the second half, Wells (much livelier than his sluggish performance at Blackburn) chased down a slightly underhit headed backpass which didn’t quite reach the area. Instead of clearing, Fielding went to pick it up, handling it before Wells had chance to nick it past him and, almost certainly, create a clear scoring opportunity.

Despite Johnson’s feeble mitigation that his team had cover (they most certainly did not), a red card looked inevitable. Instead of reaching for his pocket, however, Mr Stroud prevaricated and allowed ridiculous doubt to cloud his judgement before producing a yellow card.

Once the free kick had come to nought, the home crowd galvanised against the man in the middle. It is probably no exaggeration to suggest that Stroud was also taking the cumulative heat of weeks’ worth of infuriating decisions which have gone against the Terriers, but this is not to excuse his lily livered decision.

The home support, already heavily invested in a pulsating game, increased the decibels and hostility and the parallels with all those early John Smith stadium wins were building.

Feeding off the support, Town’s sense of injustice spurred them on with raids from right and left beginning to trouble the visitors who had little respite from the intensity of their opponents. Van La Parra and Lowe were combining to better effect than in previous home games and Mooy’s impeccable passing and vision allowing Town to overwhelm their stretched opponents.

The winner came just short of the hour. With delicious karma, Fielding miscontrolled a firm back pass (he knew not to pick this one up) and the vigilant Wells swooped to score.

Further chances came and went – Town were scintillating at times – but the comfort of a third goal was not to be and they almost paid the price when a lovely Tomlin flick and interchange with Wilbraham set Abraham free only for the youngster to fire high and wide under pressure from Hefele.

A visibly fading Van La Parra lost possession three times to allow Bristol to attack. Fortunately, little came of them and the Dutchman was replaced to a deserved standing ovation.

An injury to Hefele saw Lowe tap the ball in to touch only for Johnson to petulantly kick it back, with some venom, at the defender, prompting an angry reaction from the German. His ire paled, however, compared to his boss and compatriot’s when City shaped to give the ball back in sporting fashion only for them to use it as an opportunity to attack.

Given their frailty at set pieces, Town defended well against some late corners and professionally ate up the last 10 minutes in the style we became accustomed to earlier in the season.

A thoroughly entertaining encounter came to an end and, at last, 3 points has been won for the first time in 8 attempts. It had been clear in the previous two games that the mojo had returned, even if a single point had been the scant reward.

To their credit, the home support has never given up on the team, the manager or the project he wants to complete. Spurred on by anger at yet another poor referee, the noise – finely orchestrated in the south stand throughout – gave the team heart and momentum against awkward opponents.

Bristol’s comeuppance was well deserved and their manager’s antics provided further satisfaction at the win.

Two awkward away games in the space of 4 days now await, but they can be faced with the confidence of a team near to getting back to its best. Old frailties lurk – chances need to be created and taken more often and the vulnerability to high balls is improving but not eradicated – but the control of games has returned and they have nothing to fear.

Lies, damned lies and statistics


Streaming from the hollowed out husk of Ewood Park – Blackburn’s support appears to have dwindled to the ultra loyal who attend even in the face of the vandalism their club has been subjected to over the past half decade – Town supporters were scratching their perplexed heads over another dominant, often exhilarating, performance which could only garnish a single point.

With Mooy providing the artistry, Hogg the steel and Van La Parra the excitement, the visitors had ripped in to their hosts from the kick off and would have been good value for a 3 or 4 goal lead by the interval but for their now familiar profligacy once the relentless possession reached the important end of the pitch.

Instead, a bewildered Rovers, who had barely threatened and were denied even the briefest opportunity for a platform to build a performance, shuffled off the pitch level courtesy of a soft but awardable penalty after being comprehensively outplayed in all areas. It can only be hoped that their level of embarrassment was equal to their opponents’ frustration at not having beaten them to a pulp.

The conundrum of a team which can master all elements of the game between the penalty areas – the passing, movement and aggression overwhelmed an increasingly bewildered home side – yet becomes afflicted by hesitation and doubt in sight of the goal is baffling and becoming an urgent problem to resolve.

It certainly didn’t help that last season’s top scorer managed to be entirely anonymous as his team mates ran amok. Seemingly both uninterested and disinterested at the same time, Wells’ display was lethargic at best and no better illustrated late in the second half when Kachunga, from much further away, was the first to try and capitalise on a Steele spill. That he lasted beyond half time was a mystery; his contribution to an otherwise superb team performance was minimal to say the least.

The ferocious start by the Terriers saw them take the lead early. Only 6 minutes of complete domination were needed to force a couple of corners, some attempts on goal which were scrambled away and create palpable fear in the home ranks.

Lowe delivered an excellent corner – he was far better at them than Mooy who invariably hit the first defender – and Palmer timed his run to perfection to score easily from a few yards out.

Rather than adopting entrenchment to defend the early lead, Town turned the screw and tortured Rovers with an insatiable appetite for the ball, a hugely improved tempo from the Wigan game and a determination to keep their opponents on the ropes.

An inordinate amount of corners reflected the dynamics of the game. The incessant probing of the visitors, almost entirely on the front foot, was met with a mixture of defensive resilience – often desperate – fatal hesitancy and rank bad finishing. Delight at Town’s intoxicating style was tempered by the rising frustration at their inability to turn their prodigious play in to match winning goals. Even just one more, in a half which deserved to see them open up a chasm would have buried their hugely inferior hosts.

Chances came and went with monotonous regularity. Oddly, these chances often seemed to fall at the feet of defenders, with Hefele denied twice and Cranie – who was excellent throughout – blazing over when he really should have scored, and hitting the bar with a header.

At one point, it seemed that everyone bar Ward and Wells would be given opportunity to score and, predictably, retribution for the wastefulness was just around the corner.

Having created virtually nothing – one harmless header following a free kick fully 30 minutes in – a rare venture forward by Blackburn resulted in a throw in which was directed towards Danny Graham who let the ball run past him to evade Hefele’s attentions. Sadly, and it is a toss up between naivety and recklessness, the recalled German put a hand on the striker who went down to win a penalty.

Though soft, the contact was entirely unnecessary; not only was Mooy covering and would dealt with the routine threat easily, Graham simply isn’t quick enough to have capitalised on any error.

The much travelled and constantly over rated Graham scored from the spot. It was the only conceivable way he could have scored in a game where he and Gallagher had to feed from meagre scraps largely involving hopeful punts upfield to relieve pressure.

The penalty decision served to heap more frustration on to the shoulders of the away support as, with one mind, thoughts drifted to the travesties on Monday. It is enough to fuel illogical conspiracy theories about the way Town are falling foul of refereeing absurdities this season.

Further chances were spurned in the remainder of the half, and to their credit, the comical injustice of being level with a very poor home side didn’t quell Town’s ambition or desire, but execution remained elusive.

In truth, the second half rarely hit the heights of the first. While Town maintained their dominance and continued to create promising situations, the chances became scarcer and less threatening as, to their credit, Blackburn’s defence coped better with the visitors’ thrusts, which were perceptibly less intense.

A rising drive by Mooy narrowly missed the target and the Australian forced an excellent save from Steele followed by yet another good block from the rebound, while Palmer’s silky skills took him in to good positions but less good decision making.

Town’s pressure remained robust and unrelenting but the guile of the first half dipped and as the game wore on, the home side looked increasingly dangerous from breakaways.

Late on, Hogg had to intervene to stop what looked like a certain goal as Blackburn’s increased pace (introduced by substitution) exposed Town’s attacking intent in the manner exploited by Wigan in the last game.

Thankfully, the travesty of a home winner was avoided, but even a point seemed like a defeat following a hugely encouraging and commanding display where the statistics were as remarkable as they were frustrating. With just short of 70% possession – a figure untainted by inconsequential passing as has been the case on too many occasions- and 29 efforts on goal, it barely needs a report to point to the chronic goal scoring problem which has blighted an otherwise hugely encouraging season.

Late breakaways and a stupid decision in the area aside, Town’s defending (as a team) was much improved. In part, the quality of the opposition determined a much easier away day than in the recent past, but this would be to ignore an ability to largely smother the intent of that opposition with hard work, smart possession and good discipline.

One point from two games which should have garnered six is, of course, irritating to the point of vexation, but both games showcased the inherent ability of a squad which, while lacking essential ruthlessness, is worthy of patience to see how it blossoms in the second half of the season.

After yesterday, however, the future of Wells is clouded with doubt. It was almost perverse for him to perform so badly in such a team display – his heart simply didn’t look in it and a replacement in January is surely the priority for the club, however much that is easier to say than do.

That aside, however, Town were a joy to behold for large segments of the game and the faith in Wagner’s philosophies should have been revived among those there to witness it.


Blip turns to slump

In a display which echoed many from the golden period of the season when in possession, Town’s slump in form was extended by habitual failure when out of it.

Lacking the essential slices of luck which permeated the rise to the top of the league, this was still a self inflicted defeat which will test the manager’s search for an answer to persistent defensive frailties which extend beyond the nervous and naive home debut of Stankovic, however bad his performance.

David Wagner’s search for central defensive solutions saw two new combinations tried in a confidence sapping home defeat to a physical, tactically astute Wigan who were, nevertheless, grateful to a shockingly lenient referee who waived away two eminently awardable penalties with brazen incompetence.

Captain Mark Hudson and Stankovic were paired together for the first time, presumably on the basis of their limited culpability for recent defensive debacles, but Hudson’s hamstring injury put paid to the brave new world after just 7 minutes, forcing yet another new pairing as Schindler joined the Slovenian when a revitalising spell on the bench would have been hugely more preferable; particularly as it forced the German onto an unfamiliar right side of the pair.

Starting well, Town pressed the visitors relentlessly and created presentable chances, particularly for Kachunga, whose slightly mistimed header just cleared the bar following good work from Van La Parra.

Though often infuriating, Van La Parra is, at least, direct and his running at defenders is a contrast to the painfully slow build up practised by his team mates, and a well drilled Wigan side were given far too much time to set up defensively for most of the game.

They were nearly caught out by an excellent move which released Smith to fire a cross in which just eluded Kachunga at the back post. A goal at that point would have capped a very good opening, with little seen of Wigan as an attacking force.

While there were to be a few more notable attacks worthy of overwhelming possession statistics, they were to be oases in a desert of painfully laboured movement sadly lacking in spontaneity and littered with damaging, basic errors.

As the game matured, so did Wigan. Their defensive resilience improved, helped by some lame crossing of the ball from both wings (not helped, in any way at all, by the lack of presence in the box) and when they had the ball, they used it with intelligence and, crucially, pace.

The warning signs of the visitors’ ability to exploit a high back line arrived after 20 minutes. Twice, Wildschutz’ pace saw him carve out two good chances; the first he screwed wide and the second brought a comfortable save from Ward – neither finish was worthy of the opportunities.

However, with the vulnerability exposed, Town’s nervousness without the ball ratcheted up and a collective neurosis descended on the frail back four which was not to be dispelled for the rest of the game.

Kasey Palmer, his inexperience shining through at times, tried one trick too many just over the halfway line in a futile attempt to find space – a fault which surfaces too often – and he lost possession. Van La Parra’s insipid challenge set Wigan free and Wildschut swatted away Stankovic’s equally weak attempt to stop him marauding down the right, with most of the home players stranded further forward. Mooy, to his credit, tried hard to do what he would be called upon to do again later in the game, but he was unable to catch the fleet footed Dutchman.

With only Hogg making a concerted attempt to cover, Wildschut’s ball in to the box clipped off him and set up Burke for an easy conversion.

As much as the goal was against the run of play, Town’s inability to heed the previous warnings of Wigan’s ability to break quickly and smartly was a huge frustration and the (admittedly rather wild) early season optimism drifted away into the cold night air.

A first half which promised much but delivered too little after the first quarter prolonged the late Autumn misery around a club on such a high just a few short weeks ago, and Wigan finished the stronger side with another chance for Wildschut spurned.

In mitigation, the central defensive disruption hadn’t helped and a disgraceful tackle on Scannell after just 3 minutes by Warnock (a serial dirty bastard) saw the winger limp through to just before the end of the half before finally succumbing. It did seem strange that he carried on for so long, however.

Town were in a hurry to make amends in the second half and applied intense pressure on the visitors from the whistle in the second half. A weak Wells header was scant reward for a dynamic start, but the Bermudian made up for it with an excellent turn that took Wigan’s defensive line out of the game for a crucial few seconds having been fed by Stankovic in space. His delivery was also excellent, just eluding Smith before finding its way to Mooy who finished with some ease.

With almost a full half to play, this was Town’s opportunity to turn the screw on their opponents, and the best spell of the game for the home side extended until the hour mark with much quicker play, good interchanging and a more convincing intensity.

At this point, there seemed to be only one winner but a clear cut chance couldn’t be created for all the improved approach play and self immolation wasn’t far away.

Another promising spell of pressure was ended when Wells gave up possession cheaply. The slight danger appeared to be easily dealt with by Stankovic, but his winning tackle fell to the wonderfully named Max Power whose clever chip released Wildschut’s pace against a flat footed home defence. Putting his previous rather feeble efforts behind him, the speedy front man finished with cool ease and accomplishment and all the frustrations temporarily banished by the equaliser came roaring back to the surface.

With the platform for victory diminished considerably, Town reverted to the nervous, slow build up that improves possession statistics while not affecting the one that counts.

For all Mooy’s quality, and he was easily the best performer on the home side, including stopping two dangerous first half breakaways by the visitors, the play lacked cohesion again and Van La Parra’s decision making frequently negated his positive running with the ball and the overall standard of balls in to the box by him and others was poor.

In the Championship, as we have seen on many occasions, moments turn games and the sight of a stubbornly unmoved referee and linesman (who was in a far better position to see) as Wells was clipped from behind in the area was baffling and massively frustrating in equal measure.

When Kachunga was charged in the back and felled was met with a similarly insouciant response, it was hardly surprising that Warnock’s clearance with his upper arm while on the floor wasn’t even spotted.

Town’s defensive weaknesses were, undoubtedly, the main cause of this damaging defeat – Wigan had quite a few negligently assisted breakaway chances in the game, not just the two chances they converted – they were clearly robbed of golden opportunities to equalise and have another platform to go for a confidence boosting win.

Had one of the penalties been given, the outcome may well have changed, but the yawning defensive cracks which have condemned the club to a grim run of form would still be dominating post match discussion; a team which struggles to convert possession in to goals will always have to rely on resilience at the back and the current fragility is extreme and not obviously solvable in the near future with injuries, loss of form and suspension (Smith) complicating matters and reducing options dramatically.

There is, without doubt, a lot of talent in the squad and while overwhelming possession is easily mocked when not accompanied by results, it does, at least, provide some hope that the rather mechanical, over engineered performances are capable of being turned around.

With the benefit of hindsight, too many changes to the central defence have merely compounded problems. The lack of pace afflicting all the choices – with the possible exception of Hefele, though he is hardly lightening – is worrisome to say the least. Playing higher up the pitch against a team intent on defence was understandable, but persisting with it against Wildschut’s pace was horribly wrong.

The problems up front are less acute but more entrenched. Wells is clearly unsuited to the role despite his one bit of good play which lead to the equaliser and his burst through which should have lead to a penalty – it was unfortunate that Wagner’s decision to bench him in favour of the stronger Kachunga had no real chance to flourish with Scannell’s injury, though the availability of Bunn made more sense as a substitute.

A depleted squad now takes on a resurgent Blackburn – replete with 2 big forwards and an excellent set piece exponent in Marshall, and it is difficult to see a reviving result at Ewood Park in the current circumstances.