Keep right on…..


In an entirely predictable and eminently sensible move, David Wagner began his preparation for the play off campaign with a full on rotate which saw 10 changes to the side that secured the season extension on Tuesday.

Of all the 16 players picked for the match day squad against struggling Birmingham, all but one (Regan Booty) have contributed to the club’s success this season, and many of them provided the club with a rare cup run including holding a Manchester City side of obscene talent to a goalless draw. It should also be said that one of the changes, bringing Smith back, restored a first choice to the team.

While others still had work to do to secure play off positions, Town’s perfect use of their game in hand provided an advantage that they, as significant underdogs for the upcoming competition, would have been both stupid and negligent to foresake.

An injury to Billing at the hands of a fired up Blues player (the challenge was entirely legal but robust), was further justification for keeping key players out of the fray and the only real disappointment was the performance of players who should have been trying to force themselves in to contention for the important games to come.

Town started relatively brightly with lots of control and possession against a tense looking home side who brought physicality to a game they had to win but little finesse, other than their pacy right winger.

In fact, overall, Town were much the better team for most of the first half and good efforts from Holmes-Dennis and Billing as well as decent marauding by both full backs deserved goals but all of this was undone by a poor mistake by Hudson, who endured a pretty terrible first half.

First, he brought down Adams when little threat was apparent and at a stage where Birmingham had rarely escaped from the control Town were exerting over the game. Fortunately for the veteran – surely moving to his coaching role (which he will be very good at) next season – young Coleman was able to easily save Jutkiewicz’s tame attempt.

Just before the half time break, though, he was not so lucky. Birmingham had been winning too many cheap free kicks to throw in to the box to little effect when a back post ball which should have been easy to deal with was headed back across his own goal by the hapless Hudson and Grounds hungrily accepted the gift.

At this point, Birmingham had been reduced, harshly, to ten men when Adams fouled Cranie. It was a foul and a booking but Mike Jones is firmly in the look at me strain of referees and brandished a completely unnecessary red card.

Until the goal, Town had played reasonably well and Smith set up both Payne (who missed the ball completely in front of goal) and Bunn (whose chance was more difficult as he was wider) and coped more than adequately with whatever Birmingham could throw at them, which wasn’t a great deal.

One man was, however, completely anonymous. Lolley contributed very little to events and still looks a long way from being the exciting winger that may be in there somewhere. You suspect that the end of the season can’t come quickly enough for him and only major problems in the play offs will result in his appearance.

The second half was hugely disappointing. Despite dominating possession – which was to be expected against ten men – transition was painfully slow, Quaner, who had a decent first half, suddenly became a clumsy pastiche and the visitors became vulnerable to the break.

Coleman had to make an excellent save – he was one of the few positives to come from an ultimately grim afternoon – to deny the home side after one breakaway and as they became increasingly comfortable defending against monumentally slow build ups, the noisy home crowd could sense a victory quite a while before another raid saw Smith only half tackle on the edge of the area and Whitehead tripping Maghoma for the Blues’ second penalty which, this time, was converted.

Wagner’s change of shape in the second half – reverting to 3 centre halves – robbed his team of the forward play of Smith and Holmes-Dennis which had so nearly paid dividends on 3 occasions in the first half. With Lolley ineffectual and Bunn regressing after a reasonable first half, Birmingham comfortably dealt with Town’s attacks and the visitors rarely looked like scoring.

Seeing out the game with some ease, Birmingham collected 3 vital points while Town opened themselves up to an ill informed and sensationalist media and lost Billing for the play offs. Not a massively successful day, then, but in the long run the rest afforded to the players who will compete in May was far more important.

Billings injury was further confirmation of Wagner’s wise choice (this is after reflection and didn’t seem so admirable when navigating horrendous Birmingham traffic afterwards) – the triumvirate of Mooy, Hogg and Brown in particular will be essential if Town are to further defy the odds post season, and though the Australian played a small (largely ineffective) part at St Andrews, his style of play is far less susceptible to injury than the other two.

Forest and Blackburn – both of whom have cheated by falling foul of FFP in the past – will no doubt continue to bleat, but their plight is nothing to do with the ambitions of Huddersfield Town and Wagner has earned the right to plan for the next few weeks in the best interests of his employers. He will, rightly, pick a team with least possibility of harming the play off chances against Cardiff and he will be right to do so.

Wolves tamed as Town secure remarkable achievement


An heffing dream was turned in to reality last night as Town returned from their traditionally happy hunting ground of Molineux with 3 play off confirming points and an achievement which will live long in the memory.

The game itself was of poor quality – Wolves’ desire on and off the pitch was intermittent to say the least, while Town’s nervousness in a seemingly endless second half created nail chewing anxiety throughout their (rather disappointingly small) support.

With Smith and Kachunga missing, Cranie and Scannell were drafted in to the right side with Wells restored in place of Quaner. More significantly, Brown took his place in the starting line up for the first time since his injury – arguably the difference between a post season competition and automatic promotion.

The home side line up was missing Costa and Cavaleiro and the lack of creativity and pace was evident from the start as Town quickly took control of the game. The lack of atmosphere in a half empty stadium – Wolves fans’ apathy was only interrupted when Van La Parra was on the ball – favoured the more energised visitors, and without threatening to reach the heights seen at other grounds this season, a competent first half display was to prove decisive.

With Ward barely troubled – Wolves should probably have done better with one headed chance straight at him – Town created very presentable chances, particularly for Wells who curled a great opportunity over the bar.

Solid at the back, with Schindler and Hefele putting their Fulham nightmares behind them throughout, Town’s overall superiority was confirmed when Brown, who added considerable skill and zest to the thankfully restored Hogg/Mooy partnership, took a pot shot from outside the area which was well hit but rather surprisingly eluded the Wolves keeper.

Taking a fully deserved lead over lacklustre opponents in to the break, Town simply had to hang on to secure a deserved play off berth.

A slow start to the second half began to jangle the nerves as they allowed Wolves too much time and space and passing became sloppy. Conceding the effortless control of the first half, the game became more of a contest and as Cranie picked up a knock and Scannell tired, Wolves threw on Graham to capitalise on the weakness.

The substitute, clearly welcomed by the hitherto snoozing home crowd, gave Wolves a lift with his exploitation of space and for ten minutes, Town wobbled. Ward came to the rescue with a fine save from Weimann but could only breathe a sigh of relief when Edwards struck the post with the follow up.

Graham caused more consternation to the increasingly anxious visiting fans but, in truth, his delivery rarely matched the perceived threat and, with Hogg patrolling in front of the comfortable pair of Germans behind him, the likelihood of a home equaliser receded in to the eerie silence from the stands.

Town were boosted by the arrival of Bunn in place of Scannell as he not only provided better cover for Cranie but instigated forward momentum which should have resulted in a tension relieving second goal, with fellow substitute Quaner (on for the hard working Wells) spurning good opportunities. Hefele could also have ensured a much more comfortable final 10 minutes but fired wide from a perfect position.

Watching between fraught fingers, the time slipped by very slowly but the sight of Wolves fans leaving well before the end was, at least, some small comfort – they knew that, barring something extraordinary, their team was toothless and increasingly inelegant in their attempts to rescue a pretty meaningless point.

A mundane yet historic victory was sealed when Town comfortably saw off 3 minutes injury time and the celebrations for an extraordinary season could begin.

It has been a patchy and occasionally worrying crawl to the line, but the return of Brown – utterly pivotal to this win – and the recalibration of the team’s shape augurs well for the trials to come. The win was also achieved without the Smith/Kachunga collaboration – their deputies did well (until injury and tiredness affected them) but deputies they will remain.

There were fewer Town fans there to witness it than there should have been – the £30 price tag cannot have helped – which slightly detracted from the evening, but the scale of the club’s achievements cannot be understated given the budget, the competition and the base from where they started.

With 2 games to go, Wagner has more planning time than his competition – an advantage which should not be underestimated given his towering achievements to date.

The job is not done, and the future in the hands of fate but, by God, there can’t be a better story in the English leagues this season.

Frailties exposed by Cottagers

IMG_0395Slick, ruthless Fulham exposed the latent weaknesses of a Town side who have punched well above their weight for much of a memorable season.

The loss of key players for periods on the final mile of the marathon has caused disruption in more ways than just absence. An earlier, enforced, break up of the Mooy/Hogg axis has been superseded by a voluntary and tactical hiatus which continues to backfire very badly. With the foundation stone of many victories removed because no other answer to the number 10 role has been tried, David Wagner’s insistence on playing to one particular style has started to look less brave and more obstinate.

He wasn’t helped by Kachunga’s absence through illness; made doubly hazardous by a naive performance by Lolley which more than indicated that the Brummie is some way out of his depth, both in thought and execution.

It all started so well. Retaining possession with some ease against the initially lethargic visitors, a superb cross field ball by Hefele was (for once) headed on first time by Van La Parra to the raiding Lowe who was brought down clumsily in the box. After Town’s recent problems with penalties, it was satisfying to see Lowe despatch his with aplomb – a skill which may well be in demand in the not too distant future.

Fulham woke up pretty soon afterwards and began to exploit Town’s right hand side where Malone ruthlessly exploited Lolley’s lack of positional awareness without any sign of response. Smith, hopelessly exposed and performing some way below his season standard himself, lambasted Lolley for his errors but to no avail. The tactical mess on Town’s right was not addressed in a disastrous first half.

On the ball, Town seemed fine for 10 to 15 minutes, but a storm was brewing with Fulham’s extra quality beginning to tell. Comfortable on the ball throughout the team, their sharpness allied with pace and excellent decision making was about to rip the home team apart.

First, lack of effective challenges around the box – Hefele, in particular made a very poor effort on the edge – allowed Fulham to work the ball out to Malone who outstripped Lolley with ease to fire home in to the far corner.

In the face of an energised opposition, Town crumbled. Fulham’s early reluctance to press was swiftly abandoned and coupled with their movement and invention, a chasm in class opened up.

The architects of Town’s opener then combined to make a hash of what should have been a straightforward headed clearance which set the dangerous Alite free to run at them. Lowe was sidestepped, Van La Parra made a weak attempt at a tackle before Hogg came in to bundle the Fulham winger over for an inevitable penalty which Cairney executed perfectly.

More calamity always looked likely as Fulham slipped in to impressive cruise control. Dominating the ball, creating space down the flanks with incisive passing and movement, the visitors looked on a different plane to their shell shocked hosts and a third, deserved, goal was always likely.

There was an element of fortune to the third goal when a Sessegnon shot was blocked by Schindler in to the path of Johansen, but his finish was sharply clinical.

For a brief period after the third goal, Town recovered a little and occasionally put together some decent football – largely instigated by the hard work of Quaner, possibly the only Town player to come out of the game with some credit – and both Schindler and Billing went close with headers which may have changed the course of the game.

Any thoughts of an unlikely comeback were extinguished, however, as half time approached, and it was yet another self inflicted wound. Slipping on an over watered surface (even the external, environmental problems surrounding our pitch conspired against us), Schindler could only play a poor ball inside to a pressed Hogg, who was robbed by Johansen to put the game to bed.

Fulham’s intensity, after a bafflingly somnolent start, had overwhelmed a disjointed, error prone home side, and if there was a consolation, the home crowd (largely) did not react badly as the players trudged off. Some booed, of course, but there was more an air of resignation that a clearly superior side had a winning lead that they had deserved.

The second half is barely worth reporting upon. Fulham slipped back in to a pretty effortless containment while creating some very dangerous moments which could and should have heaped more embarrassment on the home side.

Quaner, whose unusual style is taking some getting used to, worked hard to create two presentable chances but a home goal in a scoreless second half would only have served to apply lipstick on to a pig.

Maybe now, expectations will be moderated to more realistic levels. Fulham look very well equipped both for the play offs and, eventually, the demands of the Premier League. Town looked entirely the opposite.

With Leeds losing, the opportunity for both sets of fans to chant their derision of our neighbours was some consolation, but the schadenfreude seemed a little out of place for home supporters who had seen their team comprehensively dismantled. Still, results elsewhere, including Reading losing, mitigated the loss to some extent, even if it feels like a straw being clutched.

It was also good to see the return of Brown who looked good without excelling – his return should stabilise the midfield disruption Wagner has wrought in a failed attempt to shoehorn Mooy in to the number 10 role.

Two difficult away games now loom – Wolves are a very dangerous side on their day, as Fulham found out recently, while the end of Zola’s disastrous tenure at St Andrew’s may lift the Blues – and Wagner will, surely, play his best eleven to secure the 2 points needed to extend the season.


Penalty drama gives Town the big mo.



A game which was a little short on quality but far from lacking in excitement pitted two very different styles in combat and produced a breathless finish which tightened Town’s grasp on a play off place.

The result banished the woes of recent defeats without entirely dispelling the feeling that the squad is creaking with the rigours of a remarkable season, though the mental strength needed to overcome a robust Preston side who, undeservedly, had drawn level late on with a rare chance was both admirable and encouraging.

Like Burton before them, but with more guile and a sprinkling of quality, the Lilywhites presented a physical challenge which straddled the line between professionalism and cynicism uneasily. The approach is legitimate from a club, like Town, trying to find a way to counter the spending power of bigger rivals and their own play off ambitions have only now been extinguished with 2 visits to West Yorkshire in a week.

A far from perfect refereeing performance by the strutting Lee Probert, clearly more used to being on television on the biggest English stages, just about kept the visitors’ less savoury traits under some discipline, though the leniency he extended to one or two of their players – Pearson, in particular – meant his control over proceedings was never entirely authoritative.

Dominating the first quarter of an hour, Town’s early superiority failed to produce clear cut chances but served to shake off the cobwebs from last week’s lacklustre display at Forest.

Old boy Tom Clarke went off injured to a good reception from home fans who remember him with affection, but his team were ahead soon afterwards with a rare attack ending with an excellent strike from McGeady – Preston’s stand out player on the day. Though allowed too much time and space, the Everton loanee’s shot flew past Ward, curling well beyond his reach.

The goal, massively against the run of play however well executed, threatened to expose Town’s fragility given recent results but, to their credit, the home team simply carried on as before and, in the face of increasingly robust defending, continued to probe with intelligent possession.

Ten minutes from half time, Billing was lost to injury. His height had been useful against a team whose main threat came from the air and he had played his part in starving the visitors of the ball, but there was a sense of blessing in disguise when Mooy was reunited with Hogg to revive a partnership which has been a massively important foundation of the success achieved to date. That he was replaced by the diminutive Payne slightly tempered that – a physical battle isn’t necessarily the perfect environment for the Essex lad.

The equaliser, when it came, was laced with irony.

Having been destroyed in the air at Deepdale, the thought that a corner would produce a goal seemed ludicrous and, indeed, 3 previous ones had delivered no threat whatsoever. With the half time break looming, Mooy curled a deep cross over from the set piece which Preston’s keeper misjudged completely to allow Kachunga to head home a deserved equaliser.

Going in level was important and the least Town deserved against a rugged opposition largely lacking finesse or imagination. Rather than a deficit playing on dressing room minds, they could start again and make the revised system caused by Billing’s injury work.

If anything, Preston’s offending increased in the second half and Probert’s indulgence rose proportionately – it appeared that tugging back Wells and Van La Parra was fair game most of the time and, like Burton before them, the Lancastrians were allowed to interrupt the flow of the game far too readily.

Despite more dominance, Town were unable to fashion clear cut chances as well organised Preston’s defensive block thwarted any promising play but with overwhelming possession, the home side continued to probe.

Lowe fouled an opponent near the dugouts resulting in a minor fracas which finally got Pearson booked – despite rash challenges, the nearest he had come was a captain attended ticking off, a courtesy not extended for Lowe’s first transgression.

2 further Preston bookings followed as the visitors began to show signs of fading and all of the play – other than a breakaway following an ill executed corner routine which was brilliantly foiled by Hogg – flowed Town’s way.

On 70 minutes, Town took a deserved lead when Wells – who worked hard in the face of some rough treatment – floated a great ball over to Smith, marauding with menace for once in a below par outing, and a first time ball deflected off a defender, looping up invitingly for Payne to head home (more irony).

Looking to play out the game in comfort, Town maintained their dominance without looking like adding to the score but were hit by an almighty, and demoralising, sucker punch with 10 minutes to go.

Several opportunities to intervene and break up a rare Preston foray were missed before the ball found its way to Barkhuizen to cross for Hugill to head home powerfully from short range.

With two attempts, Preston had scored twice – a very good strike and capitalising on some loose defensive work – and just 3 minutes later, Hugill could have completed the turnaround but put his header from a similar range as the equaliser over the bar.

A winner for Preston would have been a terrible blow in the context of a tricky run in; sowing doubt and despair in to an already flat run and jeopardising the play off place Town undoubtedly deserve.

A point would, at least, create some form of momentum but, in this extraordinarily unpredictable division, late drama was to provide the Terriers with all 3.

With the visitors hanging on for a draw, Town made most of the running in the final stages but looked unlikely to convert possession in to goals. Quaner replaced Wells just before the board was put up to indicate 4 minutes added time, and midway through the extension, a Payne won free kick fizzled out and play retreated towards the half way line.

In the aftermath, however, Hugill – brought back to defend the free kick, clashed with Kachunga leaving Town’s top scorer in a heap in the area. To Probert’s credit, he kept an eye on events while play went upfield and called the game to a halt.

Most of the crowd didn’t see Hugill’s push and stamp, only the frenzied appealing of Hefele over the prostrate Kachunga. Taking his time and assessing the evidence in front of him, Probert booked Hugill and this could only mean one thing which was confirmed as he pointed to the spot.

Had the boot been on the other foot, our protests would have matched those of Grayson, his players and the visiting fans, but, as beneficiaries of the decision (which would have been easier to ignore in fairness to the referee), the fact that the ball was well away from the area does not preclude punishing an assault in it and can be vigorously defended.

Getting the penalty and converting it are not the same thing however. Town’s problem with both gaining and scoring them has dogged us for several years, and the curse seemed to strike again as Mooy’s decent attempt was well saved. However, Quaner was on hand to slot home a not altogether straightforward chance on the rebound and a massive win was achieved.

Town deserved the points for their application in the face of a very aggressive, difficult opponent who continue to be a force in this unrelenting division. While never reaching the heights of early and mid season, and possibly benefitting a little fortuitously by the enforced reunion of Mooy and the excellent Hogg, they didn’t let their heads drop after the blow of the equaliser and an ecstatic crowd – who had also backed the team impressively in adversity – were treated to a joyous Quaner celebration.

The missing link of Brown/Palmer continues to blight Town’s transition play – despite his goal, Payne was nowhere near as influential as the two Chelsea loaners can be – and the return of one or both can’t come quick enough to get us over the line and confirmed for the post season lottery.

With results elsewhere, the magnitude of the win was confirmed – a collapse could still precipitate disaster but this looks increasingly unlikely and (whisper it) there remains a very slim chance of capitalising on any Newcastle implosion following their own last minute woes in the late game.

One more win needed.

Town fail to see wood because, Trees.


For the third time in four games, Town succumbed to a team fighting to stay in the division as they wilted in beautiful Spring conditions under an onslaught delivered by an impressive Forest who performed far beyond their league position.

Harried to the point of exhaustion, Town rarely got in to their stride and their usual fluency and instinctive possession based style was severely disrupted by an aggressive, determined and unified home side who rendered much of the visitors play mechanical, predictable and tired.

Even Hogg – the rock upon which the victory over Norwich was built – struggled in the face of Forest’s relentless energy, which lasted the full 90 minutes and gives great hope to the City Ground faithful who haven’t had much to cheer with apparently haphazard ownership and uncertainty over the past year or so.

Solid at the back, hard working in midfield and often dangerous on the flanks, Forest earned their victory with high levels of energy which prevented Town gaining any momentum and, sometimes, you just have to hold up your hands when defeated by a superior force on the day.

Town’s play, which didn’t start out too badly, became increasingly laboured and the absence of a quality number 10, as in other games recently, was painfully obvious. Mooy can play that role, as demonstrated in the second half on Wednesday, but it deprives the team of his close partnership with Hogg and when Billing is as languid as he appeared for certain portions of this game, the dynamics of the team are diminished.

This is, perhaps, to take too much away from Forest who dictated in all areas of the pitch and, but for two magnificent saves from Ward, a goal line clearance from Wells and wayward finishing, could have inflicted a very heavy defeat on Town, who would have little room for complaint.

In a first half dominated by the home side, Town had one decent chance for Kachunga following good work from Wells and an easily saved shot from Billing while the other goal was under siege. The early threat came down Town’s left with Holmes-Dennis – deputising for the rested Lowe – caught out once or twice before settling, but it was down the usually reliable Smith’s flank that Forest found most joy.

Twice, the home side outnumbered Smith to create very presentable chances. Ward, initially too hesitant in the challenge, managed to thwart the impressive Osborn at his near post but was beaten by a Worrall header only for Wells to clear impressively from under the bar. Brereton then failed to convert an excellent low cross from Ward, but the pressure was too much for the visitors when yet another foray down the left saw Brereton provide Lichaj with a tap in for a deserved lead.

In his pre match interviews, David Wagner had insisted that Forest had no surprises in their locker and pointed to their ability to score and vulnerability at the back. Being mostly right all season, he could be forgiven for being completely wrong for this encounter. As he admitted afterwards, Forest DID spring a surprise by playing 3 at the back and overloading midfield, while their forward line failed to put Town away in a dominant first half and their defence was rarely troubled.

With two changes made at half time to even up the midfield by sacrificing a full back (Holmes-Dennis who, in fairness, was more effective defensively than Smith) for Whitehead and replacing the rather peripheral Van La Parra with Lolley.

While far from glimmering, Town gained a little of their customary control at the beginning of the second half without causing serious threat to Forest’s lead and there seemed a little hope that they could build a foundation to rescue something from the game if they could undermine the home side’s high confidence levels.

However, and even in this brief period of competing more effectively, Forest created the best chance when Ward, unmarked in the box, screwed his effort wide.

The all too brief, and largely illusory, period of parity was abruptly ended by a mix up between Whitehead, who ballooned a defensive header, and Schindler, who failed to react to Ward nipping in and advancing on his namesake before finishing the chance and the game.

A couple of long range efforts aside, Town couldn’t match Forest’s determination and energy and a deserved defeat was assured long before the final whistle.

A late appearance by Quaner offered little and Town desperately need the boost of a Palmer and/or Brown return if they are to safely negotiate some tricky fixtures and secure their play off place.

Revitalised, Forest look well equipped to secure their Championship status and, if we are ultimately unsuccessful in our promotion challenge, Nottingham is always a pleasurable away day even if the football can intervene to put a damper on it.

The worry is that after apparently banishing the thought that Town are beginning to run on fumes with a good victory in midweek, the uncertainty has returned with this lacklustre display. The chances of a complete collapse still seem slim, but form remains worrying, Norwich (who bounced back quite strongly!) notwithstanding.

Canaries choke as Town turn on the gas



A much improved Huddersfield Town, boosted by the seemingly miraculous return of Jonathan Hogg, saw off an incoherent Norwich side with a devastating 7 minute spell in the middle of the second half to march ever closer to a guaranteed play off spot.

The visitors, clearly in some turmoil and turning to Town’s erstwhile head of recruitment, Stuart Webber, for redemption, included an array of talented and expensive players, many with top flight experience, but rarely functioned as a team on a night where the hosts regained their energy levels and ran the Norfolk men ragged.

With Mooy deployed further forward to occupy the number 10 role, Billing joined Hogg in the middle and put in an assured performance alongside the miracle man.

A first half of few chances was possibly edged by Town and had Billings excellent shot following a typical Smith foray curled a little more, an early goal would have soothed any anxiety felt by a team vanquished by relegation threatened clubs in the past 2 games.

Kachunga had a header saved by McGovern but, on the whole, Norwich’s defence coped reasonably well against an energised home side and gradually, the Canaries started to come in to the game.

An early booking for Norwich had stamped the referee’s authority on the game – a welcome change from the poor officiating usually on display – and while short on goal mouth incident, the first half was an entertaining contest, and the sight of Hogg crashing in to challenges, winning headers and marauding around the middle of the park protecting his back four as if he hadn’t almost suffered a career threatening injury less than three weeks ago would have been worth the entrance fee alone.

The visitors also posed intermittent danger and in Pritchard they boast a dynamo of a midfield player who can hurt teams when in possession. Up front, Huddersfield born Jerome is strong and experienced but Town’s one time nemesis, Wildschutt, caused few problems and certainly didn’t look worth the reported £7M Wigan screwed out of Norwich.

Cameron Jerome had the ball in the net but was clearly offside, though there were one or two moments in the first half which emphasised that the visitors could not be treated lightly despite their troubles.

Overall, however, Town were the more progressive side and carried threat from both flanks without troubling the keeper too much – Kachunga’s header and a decent Mooy free kick aside. Van La Parra had served up the cross for Kachunga’s clever header and provided another inviting one agonisingly close to on rushing Town players. His decision making, while far from perfect, is improving.

As ever with Town, the first goal was going to be all important and after dominating the first 10 minutes of the second period, a glorious chance was set up by Mooy for Wells with a great through ball. The Bermudian, however, had a little too much time to think and indecision invaded instinct as he hit his shot straight at McGovern. The move had begun at left back with Loewe, involved a great ball through the lines by Schindler in addition to Mooy’s vision and exemplified Town’s fluency to that point.

Struggling to hold on to possession and forced back by yellow shirts, Town lost their way after the miss and another, rightly, disallowed goal from Jerome followed several dangerous looking situations for the visitors, with Ward forced in to a good, if routine, save from a Pritchard effort and one or two less than composed blocks and clearances during the lull.

Any worry, however, was snuffed out as Norwich’s ascendancy was killed by a long ball over the top towards Kachunga which brushed Bennet’s thigh, slowed the pace of the ball and sat up nicely for Town’s top scorer who finished nicely past the keeper, who needed to be much braver.

Norwich’s subsequent implosion was as astonishing as it was welcome to a revitalised and rampant home side. The mental state of the Canaries can only be a matter of conjecture, but the Carrow Road faithful watching on TV and, commendably, from the South Stand in decent numbers, will be very worried at the capitulation and the scale of the job facing Webber.

Seizing the initiative and propelled by the first goal in far too long, Town ruthlessly snuffed out their visibly deflated opponents.

Intricate, close passing between Van La Parra, Wells and Mooy found the Australian free in the area and, somehow, he manipulated the ball past a wrong footed Norwich keeper to double the lead and seal the points.

More good play just minutes later involving the same 3 players saw Wells grab a deserved goal to ice the cake – his contribution throughout had been inventive and important – but he was helped by some very poor goalkeeping.

At 3-0, Town didn’t take their foot off the Canaries’ throats and Kachunga brought a good save out of the otherwise hapless McGregor and a Wells turn in the box saw him crash the ball against the bar with such force that the ball flew for a throw in towards the half way line.

Dispirited Norwich, who disintegrated after the setback of the first goal, could barely conceal their lack of fight and once the final whistle blew, some of them, notably Jerome who stormed down the tunnel, seemed reluctant to extend the courtesy of acknowledgement to the fans who could’ve stayed at home to watch on Sky but made the long, tiresome journey to Yorkshire. We have all been there watching our clubs and could empathise with their despair – especially having witnessed some terrible thrashings in Norfolk over the years.

For Town, the massive boost of 3 important points, a return to at times scintillating form and, above all, the Hogg miracle couldn’t have come at a better time. With Brown and Palmer on the mend and reportedly due back for Easter, even a slim hope of automatic promotion was resurrected.

On to Forest with renewed hope.

Auto hopes gone for a Burton

Huddersfield Town vs Burton Albion
SkyBet EFL Championship


A hugely disappointing afternoon, and not restricted to an undeserved but reasonably predictable defeat, saw Town’s already slim hopes for automatic ascension to the so called “Promised Land” disappear – logically, if not mathematically.

Undermined by extraordinarily weak officiating and staggeringly cynical Burton tactics, many of Town’s known flaws came rushing to the surface as yet another limited but aggressive struggler frustrated the home side to claim 3 massively important points for themselves.

It is perhaps inevitable that a team which has relied on many, many single goal, though often well managed, victories will occasionally suffer a reversal and Burton may feel vindicated revenging an undeserved defeat at home.

Rather more difficult to justify is their approach to the game. However desperate their league position, the crude cynicism they displayed – every trick in the book was utilised and indulged by a shocking referee – deserves round condemnation and while it worked for them in this encounter, it’s long term viability is very doubtful.

Blatant time wasting, which only became apparent to the referee towards the end of the first half when a long lecture didn’t result in a booking but yet more time wasted, constant haranguing of officials, professional fouls and feigned injuries were depressing to witness in a division where most teams are capable of decent football.

Competing against ugly strategies remains a conundrum for David Wagner and his team. An early goal is pretty much a prerequisite to change the dynamics of the contest and swing the control of events in Town’s favour – forcing the opposition in to greater commitment forward and allowing Town’s flair to blossom rather than stagnate.

Despite the visitors’ frequently successful attempts to interrupt play from the very beginning, Town produced some promising football in the first half with Van La Parra providing creativity on the left and some good runs which released the home side from an increasingly crowded midfield and while Lolley couldn’t reproduce this on the right he nevertheless combined well with Smith on occasion and fired over a couple of reasonable attempts.

Town’s best opportunity to take an all important early lead was denied them by a referee who refused to see a blatant foul on Smith after the full back had got in front of his opponent to threaten his customary danger.

Assuming converted, a goal at that time – within the first 15 minutes – would have changed the whole complexion of the game and Burton’s motivation to strangle the life out of the game would have disappeared.

Instead, the Brewers’ constant haranguing of the referee for Town players to be booked finally brought reward when a collision between Whitehead and Kightly was deemed to be deliberate rather than a simple coming together. Kightly’s dramatics were enough to convince the official.

A largely anonymous Quaner, presumably included ahead of Wells for his physicality, nearly met a Van La Parra cross after the Dutchman had outstripped 3 Burton players and Payne brought a decent save from McLaughlin, but Town’s general play was already becoming stodgy and slow.

For Burton, Sordell played the lone striker role very well and caused Town the type of problems our own front men rarely do – rather than show Quaner clips of his own performance, perhaps the backroom staff could show him Marvin’s movement, aggression and control. A challenge on him in the box was arguably as good a shout for a penalty as the one on Smith.

All in all, the first half performance had been pretty average – in and amongst the frustrations there were glimpses of the form which has carried the team to third place – and despite the absence of an early goal, there was talent on the bench to make a difference.

The first real threat of the second half came from Burton with a weak shot from Sordell ruining his excellent play to create the opportunity, before Jack Payne was replaced by Wells. The diminutive number 10 had buzzed around enthusiastically but to limited effect and the losses of both Palmer and Brown are being keenly felt.

That Wagner chose to leave Quaner on suggested he still felt that a bigger presence in the front line was needed but the German’s influence on the game was marginal at best throughout, underlining Town’s season long problems up front – sadly, Colin does not appear to be the answer just yet.

Competing with a packed midfield, Town tried to get the ball wide but Van La Parra’s first half performance was not replicated in the second as his wasteful traits came more to the fore. On the right, Smith and Kachunga (who replaced the fading Lolley) created more promising situations but the final ball too often found the welcoming arms of McLaughlin.

As desperation started to seep in to Town’s play, poor decision making increased in proportion and movement became more and more mechanical. Rare was the judicious increase in pace usually supplied by Palmer or Brown and the ball wasn’t played quickly enough often enough.

A decent effort from Mooy from a free kick earned by Van La Parra just outside the box on the left was headed over by a defender, Hefele was also thwarted by a defender’s head when the ball seemed destined for the top corner and Mooy fluffed a close in chance which almost fell to Van La Parra.

For all their dominance of the ball, much of it far too stilted, Town’s normal fluency was missing and the link between midfield and attack laboured.

During the second half, and perhaps sniffing opportunity, Clough Junior – hitherto employing tactics which would have enraged his father (referee intimidation not the least of them) – made surprisingly attacking substitutions; first introducing Mooy’s Australia national team understudy Irvine, then bringing on Varney to support Sordell. His final substitution was also positive with old boy Lucas Akins coming on to face the club who released him so many years ago.

The final 15 minutes saw the visitors perceptibly increase their threat and missed a couple of decent chances to take the lead, before a reckless challenge at a corner saw Whitehead flatten a Burton defender – once the resultant melee was over, an inevitable second yellow reduced Town to 10 men on the day and a further selection headache for Wagner for Wednesday’s game with Norwich.

Though deflated, Town continued to strive for a vital winner but lacked the necessary guile against their obdurate opponents who, in turn, managed to turn defence in to attack one final time, overturning possession from an attempted Billing long throw and racing past a thinly populated Town defence to snatch their victory.

In truth, the goal and defeat matters little – one point was barely of any use given results elsewhere – but the impact on the remainder of the season could be debilitating if not managed well.

For all Burton’s ugliness, Town’s vulnerability when faced with packed midfields and sturdy defences came once more to the fore – it is surely no coincidence that too many points have been dropped against the less expansive sides and the injuries of the past few weeks are taking a big toll.

Whitehead, other than his reckless behaviour at the end, was a decent replacement for Hogg but lacks his colleagues remarkable energy and Payne simply isn’t as good as Palmer or, particularly, Brown. This is far from being a disgrace – he has his own qualities – as both of these Chelsea loanee have very good futures ahead of them.

With automatic promotion now almost certainly out of reach, a return to form over the final games in preparation for the play offs is essential. Hogg’s miraculous return will help, but the number 10 role is arguably of more importance.

A game to forget, but a reminder that there is a lot of work to do if all the promise of a great season is not to be undone.