The Disneyfication of football



A far from unexpected reversal at the hands of 5 times European champions Liverpool was still tinged with disappointment and regret following the taming of double European champions Manchester United just 7 days earlier.

It is not wrong for Town fans to hope that huge chasms can be bridged every week, and even when stark realities are confirmed, their support remains constant for a club which continues to strive to punch way above its weight and a management team on a steep learning curve.

Anfield, possibly the most anticipated away day of the season, provided perhaps the greatest disappointment. Like their great rivals down the East Lancs road, Liverpool is now a global club attracting bandwagon support in their millions and the impact is painful.

Gentrification appears complete with a staggering amount of fresh out of the bag scarfs and other merchandise adorning wide eyed, selfie taking occasional or first time visitors creating an insipid audience soaking up an atmosphere they simply can’t create.

Between a relatively stirring rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone and celebrating their first goal in the second half; nothing.

It should be said that the apparent high proportion of experience seekers was probably exacerbated by the attractiveness of the fixture. A likely win against the unlikely newcomers wasn’t going to over excite their regular support and the secondary market for tickets would have been more active than normal, but those images of a swaying Kop bristling with humour and vocal support are from a very different age.

Outside the ground, an urchin of around 7 was carrying a teddy bear in a shoebox and asking for a penny for the guy outside the Arkles pub – probably the most authentic sight of the day.

The travails of the home side in the Premier League of late made this a good time to play them. Shorn of two world class players in Mané and Coutinho and the artistry of Lallana, central defensive frailties and goalkeeping doubts suggested a more level playing field for the Terriers though this did ignore Liverpool’s home form which had only been disturbed by Burnley – the only side to score at Anfield so far.

Having subdued Manchester United with a deep defensive block, it was hardly surprising that David Wagner would adopt similar tactics against his friend’s team and replacing Kachunga with the more expansive Van La Parra offered the opportunity to counter with pace.

For much of the first half, the plan worked very well though the counter attacking fizzled out after the first, rather encouraging, 10 minutes and disappeared entirely once Van La Parra had to be withdrawn with injury. With Depoitre left as the only outlet and quality on the ball at a premium for the visitors, Liverpool took complete control.

Despite their overwhelming dominance of the ball, the home side lacked pace and creativity, allowing Town to cope easily with the wave of attacks mounted and restricting their more illustrious opponents to a couple of tame efforts on target. The normally excellent Mohamed Salah was subdued on the right, the Moreno/Milner axis on the left was mundane to say the least and Sturridge starved of service.

Admirable as the visitors’ discipline was, the first free kick of any note was only conceded late in the half (to dramatic effect), offensive threat was non existent. Depoitre won many aerial battles but all were pointless with no team mate far enough up the pitch to capitalise once Van La Parra had gone.

When Town finally conceded a free kick, Kachunga hacking Moreno down on the left, a potential turning point of the game ensued. A floated cross to the far post looked innocuous enough but Kevin Friend saw Tommy Smith tugging at Firmino’s shirt – an event which eluded everyone else in the ground – and pointed to the spot.

The largely disappointing Salah stepped up only to fire his shot too close to Lössl who beat the ball away. Henderson shot the rebound narrowly wide and Town had escaped.

Uninspiring when in possession and unthreatening on the rare occasion we crossed the halfway line, Town’s resilience and organisation was, at least, something to cling to, but the weight of Liverpool’s possession was bound to tell unless the visitors could improve their ability to retain the ball and somehow create problems. The complete absence of away goals since the demolition of Palace on opening day did not augur well.

With the game settling in to a familiar pattern early in the second half, perhaps the hope was to turn the crowd against them but this rather ignored the soporific support attracted to the game and our own offensive frailties.

As it was, the inevitable mistake arrived early when Smith inexplicably headed a nothing ball in to the path of Sturridge. As poor as the erstwhile England man had been, he could barely fail to score and lifted the ball over the exposed Lössl to finally animate Anfield.

Going behind to a soft goal, Town disintegrated rapidly as the Reds found their fluency. Unable to relieve pressure, the rearguard action became increasingly desperate and desperate out balls to the tiring Depoitre were never going to provide breathing space.

Zanka, who was excellent and clearly now finding his feet, had to intervene to prevent a second goal with a marvellous last ditch clearance for a corner only for the set piece to lead to a second and game ending goal for Liverpool. Firmino, who had been largely anonymous in the first half, escaped the attentions of Mooy (who had one of his least influential games for the Terriers) and stooped to extend the home side’s lead.

From that point, it was only a question of how many for the home team who rediscovered their confidence and exposed the (understandable) gap in class between the teams.

Wijnaldum provided the class to finally put Town to the sword as he worked an opening in the box despite the attention of half of the visiting team and slammed an unstoppable shot past Lössl in to the top corner to complete a routine victory.

Mounié was brought on to accompany Depoitre up front to no great effect while the performance of Hadergjonaj when he came on for Smith offered a little positive amidst the gloom. He defended well, attacked with pace and looked a very good back up for his captain and, possibly, a replacement.

The positives were massively outweighed however and the lack of adventure and goal threat on the road is becoming an urgent issue. While a result at Anfield was always unlikely, to barely trouble a vulnerable home defence was disheartening, brave as the first half defending had been.

Thankfully, a traditional English atmosphere will return at home to West Brom next week – results at the John Smiths Stadium will be the key to our survival or otherwise but it is to be hoped that the lacklustre away performances will be tackled by Wagner and maybe the return of Palmer after the international break will give us the opportunity to turn dogged defensiveness in to more expansive displays.

An afternoon to forget, though the Scandinavians can cling on to the memories for a long time to come.



Town slay giant and stun the world


A routine victory over an error strewn and off colour Manchester United brought Town 3 valuable points and a third victory of a season which had turned slightly sour over recent weeks.

As expected, David Wagner learned quickly from the drubbing handed out in the last home game by a frighteningly superior Spurs side and, assisted by the availability of more midfield options, set up a team brimming with energy, commitment and bravery.

From the very beginning, the illustrious and storied visitors were knocked out of their usual swaggering stride as the Terriers maintained a solid defensive shape and found a near perfect balance between aggression and discipline, even if they collected a couple of early yellow cards which could have proven costly against a side containing an abundance of tricky, pacy players.

Deliberately conceding possession and abandoning the habit of knocking the ball around the back which had undone them at the Liberty Stadium, Town’s rope a dope strategy worked perfectly on an afternoon where the synergy between crowd and team reached new heights.

Up top, Depoitre discomforted the visitors’ back four with a rampaging display which planted seeds of doubt amongst their ranks and those seeds flowered quickly once Manchester were deprived of the services of Phil Jones who succumbed, yet again, to injury.

Despite the probing of Martial, Lingard and Valencia down the flanks, all of United’s play floundered in the last third with Lusaka shackled by the blossoming Schindler/Zanka combination and the tenacity of those around them. Attempts to play through the lines were even more easily rebuffed and opportunities to break began to emerge.

A 3 on 2 break following a Town corner caused the greatest alarm only for the alert Kachunga, whose day was to be curtailed before half time with a back injury, to sprint back and intercept the danger.

Coping comfortably with their opponents’ often crude attempts to break them down, Town always looked capable of springing forward with purpose and the visitors looked unusually vulnerable at the back, particularly with Jones’ withdrawal, and Mata’s uncharacteristic sloppiness in control finally opened the door.

Mooy, playing in a very deep 10 role, intercepted the Spaniard’s attempt to recover from a poor first touch and, easily shrugging off Mata’s attempt to pull him back, burst forward with menace. To his left, Ince had bust a gut to get alongside and was released by the Australian. Twisting substitute Lindelöf one way then the other, Ince’s shot was parried by De Gea but only in to the path of Mooy who swept home the opener.

If Town are extremely vulnerable once they go behind, the opposite is true if they edge in front with exemplary game management allowing them unprecedented numbers of single goal victories. Minutes later their lead doubled when a long clearance was comically cocked up by the hapless Lindelöf allowing the lurking Depoitre to take a fine first touch which rounded the stranded De Gea and the less illustrious Belgian on the field stroked the ball in to an unguarded net.

Town fans were now in dreamland. The manager, rightly, favours vision over dreams, but for folk who have witnessed 1-0 defeats to Orient or Hartlepool on miserable Tuesday nights, relentless ineptitude in seasons of struggle and days where hope appeared extinguished, leading the behemoth of English football by 2 goals, and deserving it, was barely within the realms of possibility.

Manchester United were severely wounded by the self inflicted setbacks and their global fan base must have been rubbing their eyes with disbelief as a club many have barely heard of dismantled their team of elite talent. In this, they had something in common with 20,000 plus Yorkshiremen looking on in awe.

Late United flurries were dealt with comfortably as half time approached and a score line reverberating around the globe was maintained.

Grit and determination, combined with guile at the right times, had created an intensity which the Old Trafford outfit could not match, but the sanctuary of the away dressing room and an angry José Mourinho offered the chance for them to plot redemption.

Slightly improved in the second half – the celebrated if unloved Portuguese withdrew the petulant Martial and the ineffective Mata for Rashford and Mkhitaryan – United still struggled to make an impression on a superbly marshalled home side featuring a defensive midfield duo in Hogg and Williams who broke up the visitors’ best intentions with disciplined aggression, superb awareness and unbridled energy.

Smith and Löwe, with their best displays of the season by a distance, assisted by Ince and Van La Parra (on for Kachunga shortly before half time), coped with United’s wave of attacks down the sides despite the introduction of the excellent Rashford while Lukaku’s influence continued to be suppressed.

Half time had also seen the weather worsen as the outer edges of a storm caused a little bit of a wind and some driving rain, though it is difficult to rationalise how a team that plies its trade in Manchester could complain of disadvantage.

The magnificent Depoitre continued to bully defenders and provide the perfect outlet for his team but, wether planned or in recognition of his extraordinary exertions, he was replaced with 20 minutes to go by Mounié. While it was good to see the Frenchman return from injury at last, he couldn’t perform the same role to the same effect and his languid style had a detrimental impact on the pattern of the game.

Thankfully, Van La Parra, who mesmerised at times without creating enough real danger for the visitors, was a reliable out ball for an increasingly exhausted Town rearguard. His ability to get us up the pitch was invaluable as pressure relief – another feature of Wagner’s remarkable game management since he has transformed the club.

United’s quality had rarely been in evidence, though the touch and pace of Rashford caused occasional palpitations, and Lössl had not been called in to action until he repulsed a Herrera header fairly late on, but was finally seen in the 78th minute when Lukaku, rather than let a ball go out for a corner, chased it down, created half a yard of space and delivered the type of cross he himself must have been yearning for all afternoon. Deep, swinging and undefendable, Rashford couldn’t miss as he arrived at the back stick.

Manchester United’s propensity for late goals, stretching way back to the Ferguson era, should have set alarm bells ringing but, spurred on by a crowd which subdued red celebrations as they sensed the team needed them more than ever, Town found another level of resilience to resist the visitors’ increasingly crude assaults.

Hogg and Williams’ protection of their back four intensified with the former making crucial tackles and interceptions and the latter carrying the ball away from danger with power and grim determination. Van La Parra continued to run down the clock with mazy runs and trickery and could even have set up others for a third and decisive goal had he looked up earlier once or twice.

There was one, final, scare in the four minutes added time the referee had found from somewhere. Yet another cross in to the box evaded defensive head on its way to Smalling, by now playing as an auxiliary front man, only for Zanka to haul his injured body in front of the shot and Town’s historic and hugely significant victory was confirmed.

Mounié’s largely ineffective 20 minutes aside, every player excelled in a monumental performance. A deep midfield trio suppressed United at source, Zanka put in his mot accomplished performance to date alongside the ever superb Schindler, Van La Parra excelled in his role (as had Kachunga), Ince offered pace and defensive discipline and the full backs came of Premier League age.

It is difficult to choose between the performances of Williams and Depoitre as the most influential, surrounded as they were with examples other outstanding achievements, and it is perhaps more pertinent to reflect upon the combined efforts of a magnificent team effort against an elite club brimming with talent.

The discipline required to deny quality players time and space cannot be over emphasised – United were shackled by Town hunting in packs but with discipline and an ability to restore shape effortlessly.

Wagner’s ability to learn lessons, leave the past in the past and create solutions for increasingly difficult challenges remind remarkable and, yesterday, he went toe to toe with, whatever people think of him as a person, one of the finest coaches in the world. Visions, not dreams.

For us mere mortals, and a fair few in attendance could remember United’s last visit including 2 of the 3 scorers on that day, defeating an institution on our resources remains barely conceivable – Wagner will already have moved on to plotting how to outwit his friend next week.

Whatever happens this season, the euphoria of yesterday will be remembered and relived for many, many years to come.

Swan dive



It seemed as if Town had got away with a generally poor first half performance before Lössl presented Swansea with the lead by making a mistake which will be punished at Premier League level. It would also be punished at Championship, League 1, League 2 and all the way down the pyramid.

The Swans, more progressive, aggressive and penetrating deserved their half time lead and would have gone in front much earlier but for an excellent Lössl save down to his right after Zanka had given the ball away to Abraham.

Sorely missing Mooy’s ability to dictate play and retain possession, Town strained to contain their hosts threat down the flanks – the widely touted Malone, in for Löwe following a couple of mistakes by the German, was regularly bypassed with balls behind him and his positioning looked on a par with Jason Davidson while his attacking forays rarely threatened.

For 25 minutes, the home side pressed relentlessly – Hogg was typically combative in response but evergreen Leon Brittan totally dominated to build a platform for his side’s first home win.

Leroy Fer was slightly fortunate only to see yellow after crashing in to Lössl very early on, but the aggression should have served as a warning to the visitors who simply couldn’t settle. Passing was either sloppy, too short or inappropriate with players regularly putting team mates under pressure and errors began to flow. Lössl got away with two poor attempts to find a red and black shirt before his costly error, Billing seemed half asleep and was caught in possession too often and the midfield battle was lost.

Perhaps frustrated that their control had not brought the goal it deserved, Swansea began to run out of steam after 25 minutes and Town stepped up their game for quarter of an hour and missed the best chance of the game when Ince, desperately needing a goal, fired well over from 8 yards from a Van La Parra assist. Taking the lead at that point – Ince also had a chance when put through by an excellent Lössl clearance but went down under pressure – would have entirely changed the complexion of the contest against a side who would have begun to feel the pressure of disgruntled home support.

The minimum requirement was to get to half time level, but Lössl’s brain fart – his decision to try to pass out was not only badly executed but unprofessional – robbed Wagner of the opportunity to change things and introduce Mooy’s qualities to a game rather short of composure.

As it was, Mooy replaced Hogg (who had been booked and always liable to attract a second) and one of his very first acts was to put in a tremendous challenge on Fer, only for the ball to bounce kindly for the Welshmen and Ayew lobbed Lössl with some aplomb before Abraham finished from close in and the contest was, effectively, over.

Mooy exerted an element of control over proceedings without reaching his normal heights, but Swansea were able to contain the visitors with increasing comfort. Smith and Van La Parra managed to get round the back to put balls in to the box but they were largely harmless. Van La Parra’s deflected shot rattled the top of the bar, but a goal never looked likely.

Depoitre battled away throughout against a solid home central defence, Kachunga was probably the pick of a disappointing Town side, but most will not look back on their efforts with much pride.

Despite the late first half error, the real turning point was Ince’s miss. Town rarely recover from conceding first but, conversely, they are good at seeing out narrow wins if they score first. The worry, of course, is that goal scoring is becoming a major problem and this needs, somehow, to be fixed.

Still, only Manchester United and Liverpool next.

Reality bites




A mixture of individual mistakes, some top quality opposition and a rather large dose of naivety condemned Town to the first, and probably not last, heavy defeat of the season.

The visit of Spurs, boasting fine players in all positions and exceptional ones in some, represented the toughest assignment by far of a campaign where challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Town’s first steps have been promising if not wholly assured against largely mundane opposition and built on defensive resilience in the absence of offensive threat.

Moving Ince in to the number 10 role instead of the inexperienced Sabiri, with Van La Parra restored on the left was a fairly obvious choice for David Wagner, but the injury to Palmer is beginning to hurt his plans as neither understudy possesses the Chelsea loanee’s power and, hard working as he is, Kachunga has so far failed to convince on the right where Ince should be.

Tottenham’s system of 3 central defenders and two highly mobile wing backs presented the home side with conundrums they were never able to adequately resolve and with Mooy being largely neutralised from influence, it proved to be a long, often chastening, early afternoon for the Terriers who, nonetheless, did contribute to an entertaining first half.

The visitors started strongly, forcing a corner from their very first attack but gained nothing from it nor from a free kick following a Zanka foul on Eriksen.

Town also imposed themselves on the game early with a good effort by Smith beaten away by Lloris the high point of some promising attacking. The pressure produced a corner on the left following an Ince shot taking a deflection, but, rather cruelly, this was to eventually lead to the Londoners’ first goal.

There seemed little danger as the ball came back to Lössl to clear, but the Dane’s attempt to avoid offside players on the right saw him rather shank the reverse ball he intended for the left wing. A straightforward header by Trippier should have been comfortably dealt with by Löwe, but he misjudged it dreadfully and Kane was in the clear behind him, marginally onside.

The in form (to say the least) England striker strode in to the box and beat Lössl with some ease to extend his remarkable scoring run and all of Town’s early promise was upended by one error and the marksmanship of Kane.

To their credit, Town continued to take the game to their illustrious opponents and strong appeals for a penalty when Kachunga seemed to be pushed in the back in the area were waived away. More joy down the right led to crossing opportunities which were woefully spurned or misdirected and the contrast between the two teams in the final third couldn’t have been more stark.

Spurs’ second goal owed something to fortune but the crisp interplay which unravelled their hosts in the space of seconds between the halfway line and the edge of the box before Löwe inadvertently directed the ball towards scorer Davies was of the highest quality.

Demoralised, the visitors should have gone further in front when Lössl, whose previous assurance seemed to desert him throughout the game, kicked fresh air as he attempted a clearance under mild pressure from Kane and was hugely fortunate that the centre forward’s poise temporarily deserted him allowing the Dane to smother his attempt at rounding him.

Spurs threatened to run riot at this point and stripped their hosts bare again before Dele Alli hit the post when appearing certain to score and the Premier League newcomers were in severe danger of being badly embarrassed.

The third goal arrived before the half hour mark as Kane produced a solo goal of stunning beauty and simplicity. Effortlessly rolling the attentions of both Zanka and Schindler, he curled a perfectly executed shot past Lössl, doubling Town’s goals against column

With the ball, however, the Terriers were still capable of decent play but without asking enough serious questions of their opponents’ back line and delivery in to the box continues to be a major issue for all of the wide players with some sailing behind harmlessly. With the massive frame of the impressive Depoitre to aim at, the profligacy is becoming unforgivable.

The highlight of the whole game for comprehensively outplayed Town came from a surging and powerful and run by Depoitre, reminiscent of Kindon at his finest before the Belgian fired a mighty shot against the bar with Lloris beaten.

Coming just before half time, a goal may have changed the tenor of the contest though this would more likely have resulted in Spurs slipping in to a much higher gear than the one they adopted in a largely pedestrian second half.

Though thoroughly chastened by the manner of the goals conceded, particularly the first two, Town had contributed positively to an entertaining 45 minutes which had seen class prevail over honest endeavour. The crowd seemed to accept the limitations of their team in the face of such superior quality, applauding the effort if not the execution. While some unrealistic souls may wonder how Town failed to quell a forward line valued in the hundreds of millions, most accept that a team destined to finish top 4 would have to be seriously under par not to put a relative minnow to the sword.

Kane’s majestic strike and menacing threat was a privilege, if not entirely pleasurable, to witness. Eriksen was also sublime – his awareness of space and teammates were an education to see live – and Pochettino’s trademark style hugely attractive even at a lower tempo than his team usually achieves.

The second half was pretty forgettable in comparison. Town tightened up and were more effective in denying space but at the expense of producing any threats of their own, while Spurs contented themselves in easy possession with the occasional flash of flair – to the credit of Zanka and Schindler, they acquitted themselves much better and the learning experience should be valuable.

An injury time fourth was a little rough on Town but the type of error made upfield by Kachunga, who had a day to forget, will be punished by a team with Tottenham’s ability on the break. To his credit, Kachunga chased back all the way to help out but Sissoko scrambled the goal in via Schindler to put a gloss on a comprehensive victory.

In between times, Alli dived and was booked (his attempt was possibly more laughable than Van La Parra’s at Burnley), Kane left the field to applause form the home side – a rare event which has riled some but delighted others as an expression of sportsmanship and the home crowd continued to enjoy themselves defiantly in the face of a heavy defeat.

Decent cameos by Billing and Malone may hint at changes for the next game, with the former looking assured in possession and progressive in style.

David Wagner’s teams have never been immune to the odd hammering – when the plan goes awry it can fall apart pretty spectacularly – so it wasn’t a great shock that a highly talented team could emulate Fulham and deliver a beating.

Lessons need to be learned, and they will be, as it will not be acceptable to capitulate so easily in the face of high quality from the top 6 every time we face the challenge, but despite the score line, despite some disappointing performances – Löwe appears to be in a slump and Mooy was unable to dictate play for all but a few moments and the wide men simply failed to do their jobs properly – and despite cruel reality finally hitting home, the experience was still (sort of) enjoyable.

Hopefully, the enforced break will allow Wagner and his staff time to get some players fit for Swansea away – a game, in the scheme of things, of more significance than the glamour on show against Tottenham.