Eagles take it easy




David Wagner’s pre match suggestion that this would be a battle between a team and a collection of high quality individuals back fired spectacularly as Crystal Palace’s undoubtedly more talented players managed to pull together and overwhelm Town’s disconnected journeymen.

From the very first minute, the Glaziers took the game to their hosts, moving the ball with precision and speed, stretching Town all over the pitch and easily overcoming wintery and ever changing conditions without the allegedly necessary geographic advantage of being northern.

Dismal from beginning to end, the Terriers completely wasted an opportunity to put serious space between themselves and their opponents in the race for survival but, in truth and on this evidence, the chasm in quality was such that the South London outfit look far more equipped for survival and their Premier League status will be confirmed much sooner, if ours is confirmed at all.

Many players performed well below par, but the utter shambles down the left involving Malone and Ince in a genuinely shocking first half epitomised Town’s failings on the day. Malone was exposed defensively time after time while Ince barely put a foot right and lost possession to such an extent he may as well have been Palace’s twelfth man.

Not that they needed any help. Rendering Mooy and Hogg redundant in midfield, their scrappy, slightly fortunate, opening goal had been coming – they wasted several opportunities after isolating Town players with their incisive movement – and Tomkins took advantage of messy defending at a corner, poking home after his initial attempt had drawn a good save from Lössl.

A frozen gloom settled over the stadium. Town rarely recover from such a setback and the crowd were largely reluctant to provide the backing normally relied upon as the reality dawned that the visitors were simply more hard working, coherent and skilful than their own team.

Every so often, the crowd were briefly enthused by the idiosyncratic stylings of Collin Quaner down the right but as the threat evaporated, so did the support.

Pritchard’s foraging and intelligence was, at least, something to hang on the hook of optimism but his work was largely wasted as soon as he had created space for a colleague – why he himself was hooked in the second half to give Kachunga minutes was baffling, though the returning German at least added some spark to a lifeless performance.

Adding comedy to the tragedy of the first half, Mooy managed to injure Malone on the touchline in a joint challenge on Townsend, mercifully forcing the full back off for Löwe for the second half.

Thoroughly outplayed by an incisive and committed Palace, more change was necessary than the enforced one, but Ince remained on the pitch and Depoitre’s industry and ability to unsettle was ignored.

With Palace content to contain, Town enjoyed better possession in the second period but all the old failings emerged with sideways passing, first defenders being hit with regularity and creativity at a premium.

Down Town’s right, Hadergjonaj – wisely chosen as Town’s man of the match – at least ruffled the Eagles’ feathers with intelligent running and a determination to fashion danger, but his efforts were still largely thwarted by a disciplined Palace rearguard.

Despite their more conservative approach, Palace regularly created danger on the break and their incisiveness in attack was a stark contrast to the home side’s desperately laboured advances, not helped by a horribly ineffective Van La Parra cameo which barely improved upon Ince.

By all accounts, Benteke has had a poor, often disinterested season, but his selfless centre forward play allowed much of the visitors attacking play to flourish. Mounié, by contrast, was barely involved but the more robust Depoitre remained on the bench.

It was the Frenchman who had Town’s best chance, however, firing wide from inside the area just before a Palace counter attack saw Zanka put in an unnecessary and ill timed challenge on Townsend in the area and the game, already spluttering, was dead.

Milivojevic despatched the spot kick decisively and the points were headed to South London.

An epic blizzard introduced itself to the game shortly afterwards and the more cynical of us began to dream of postponement, a stroke of meteorological luck Town neither deserved nor received.

They could, however, have made much more of the advantage as snow whipped in to their opponents’ faces but managed to deliver pathetic crosses, corners and free kicks straight at defenders.

With the stadium emptying to the news that the ineptitude of others had somehow managed to leave Town unpunished for their ragged and unacceptable display, hope remains but the cold reality is that when the collective spirit goes missing, as it did in this encounter, Town look nowhere near equipped for this league.

Palace, however, looked the real deal. The horrible mess of Frank De Boer’s reign has been replaced by the experienced sagacity of Roy Hodgson and now that they have their stronger players back from injury and a comfortable fixture list, many may be surprised at just how high they will finish. Considering their disastrous start, even survival would be a great achievement, and they will do that with ease.

Town, meanwhile, face a worrying few weeks – two tough away games may plunge us in to the bottom three and heap on the pressure for the visits of Watford and Everton, or Wagner may use the break to reinstall the spirit so desperately lacking yesterday.


2 points down the Swanee



A committed Swansea, who rode their luck a little at times, overcame the dismissal of their primary attacking threat after just 11 minutes to earn a point they would have been happy picking up with a full complement of players.

A delightful day for statisticians proved a horribly frustrating one for the Terriers who racked up impressive numbers apart from the one which counts.

Facing ten men is never the advantage it appears and Swansea have form for resisting the best of attacks – few blank out an outrageously talented Spurs, for example – and old foe Carvalhal not only knows how to organise a team to keep a clean sheet at Huddersfield’s home, he didn’t even have to change formation to achieve another one despite the reduction in numbers.

Sitting back and offering virtually no offensive threat, Swansea denied the hosts space in important areas which, in turn, slowed Town down for too much of the extensive power play.

Neither wide man covered themselves in glory with crossing which ranged from poor to negligent as the red wall in front of them seemed to attract whatever type of ball – low, high, driven or floated – they attempted far too often. Operating down the left, Van La Parra was at his frustrating worst. Other than a jinking run which earned a (wasted) free kick on the edge of the area, he often interrupted the flow of attacks as effectively as the Welsh rearguard and consistently failed to use Malone’s running ahead of him.

It wasn’t the best of days for David Wagner, either. 9 men behind the ball was always going to slow the pace of the game and while leaving things as they were made sense in the first half, his eventual changes were far too late. The game was crying out for Williams’ aggression and power over Mooy’s more considered style – the Australian’s ability to dictate an already determined tempo was neither necessary or helpful – and Depoitre’s unsettling presence would have given Swansea much more to think about.

Replacing Pritchard, who has the ability to unlock defences in tight situations was an altogether puzzling decision, particularly as Van La Parra’s wastefulness was blunting forward movement far too regularly.

None of this would have mattered had the chances which were created been taken. Malone, inexplicably, missed a straightforward contact with the goal in front of him, Ince should have fed Mounié for an easy chance before heading against the post late on and Fabianski pulled off a great save from a Mounié pile driver, deflecting the shot on to the bar.

Wave after wave of attacks floundered with poor decision making, ineffective crossing and over elaboration and it slowly dawned that the man advantage was something of a poisoned chalice which forced the visitors in to a deep defensive block which they executed with considerable effort. It is to their credit that the Welsh side didn’t tire under the siege and, indeed, on their only meaningful venture in to Town’s box in the second half they could have compounded their host’s misery but for some poor control.

The sending off itself looked a straightforward decision though Hogg – who had a good game – was fortunate not to be booked in the same challenge, and Ayew’s lunge didn’t appear malicious, more clumsy. It could have been worse for Swansea, however, as Mawson, booked for a wild challenge which failed to connect with Pritchard was also lucky that a colleague took a time wasting booking which had much more to do with the ex-Barnsley man.

Unsurprisingly, the Swans took every opportunity to waste time and with all the substitutions taking place in the second half it was genuinely baffling that only 4 minutes were added on. Not that there was any evidence that a few more minutes would have broken the deadlock.

Frustrating as it was, the contest was also fascinating and quite excellent sport which kept the loud and supportive crowd enthralled to the end. The effort put in by both sides was creditworthy, and though a huge opportunity was missed by the home side, another point towards survival and results elsewhere compensated a little.

Next up is Crystal Palace, a team in trouble but with players – notably Zaha – returning and Town face another formidable task in the search for the 6 points likely to be needed for survival. Let’s hope they don’t have anyone sent off.




Outclassed but not humiliated




It was difficult to shake the feeling that Saturday’s game at the site of his greatest triumph was anything other than one to get out of the way for David Wagner ahead of back to back home games which are likely to determine Town’s fate in the top division.

With his counterpart picking a full strength and rather frightening team despite the small matter of Juventus on the horizon, Town’s pre match chances, already paper thin, took a nosedive and, realistically, leaving Wembley without injury or suspension complications and their new found confidence intact seemed worthy objectives.

Spurs are a fabulous football team. Of course, assembling such a team requires astonishing amounts of cash but Pochettino is far more than a cheque book manager – his team plays with unity, understanding bordering on telepathy and style. Like everyone else, they are behind Manchester City but their football can be just as thrilling to watch even when coasting.

Ever the pragmatist, Wagner knew that for Town to gain anything from the game, a hell of a lot would have to go right for his team and Spurs would have to be below par. As it transpired, a largely indifferent first half performance – occasionally illuminated by Spurs’ alumni Pritchard until he was forced off with a dead leg – allowed the hosts a single goal lead which should have been more.

The first quarter of the game, other than an initial Town flourish, saw Son shining. Combining energy and silky skills, the South Korean tormented Hadergjonaj and forced Wagner in to a humiliating substitution of Collin Quaner – who wasn’t at all happy – after half an hour, presumably for his lack of or ineffective support of the struggling Swiss.

Fortunately, and for all their possession and easy control of the game, Spurs’ radar was a little off in the final third. Their often devastating balls between the lines, finding colleagues in dangerous spaces, were imperfect and allowed Town off the hook on two occasions, Lössl made a decent, if routine, save from Kane and an Eriksen free kick ricocheted off Quaner’s head on to the outside of the post. The visitors, pulled and stretched all over the pitch, looked increasingly vulnerable and the breakthrough was inevitable.

Town lost possession in Tottenham’s half, the ball was played up to Kane who expertly chested it down to Deli Alli. With Son already bursting through the middle unchallenged, all it needed was a decent pass and Alli delivered. Taking the inch perfect supply in his stride, Town’s chief tormentor took the ball past Lössl with some ease before steering the ball home past Schindler’s despairing effort to block.

It was no less than Spurs deserved and by half time – despite Ince providing more stability down the right – the Terriers could cling on to the consolation that they had been let off the hook.

They weren’t particularly helped by the performance of substitute referee Kevin Friend. His eagerness to punish the visitors in favour of the home team was a constant annoyance, particularly when coupled with his leniency in reverse. Establishing any sort of rhythm against a team of such high quality is difficult enough without the assistance of an apparently star struck man in black. He was to deny Spurs a pretty obvious penalty in the second half to even things up a little, but that decision alone is testament to his incompetence.

A better second half followed, however. More organised, sharper in the tackle and the press, the visitors even looked occasionally threatening particularly after surviving several scares in the opening exchanges, including an excellent Schindler block at the near post from Kane and a bizarre attempt by Kongolo – who was less composed than normal in the face of the opponents’ quality – to impede Son from a prone position which should have resulted in a penalty.

Clinging to these lifelines, Town briefly sensed an unlikely opportunity to capitalise on their own good fortune and Spurs’ profligacy. Striding out of defence, Zanka lofted a great ball behind the home defence for Ince who tried his luck from distance. The shot was decent but the under employed Lloris – up to this point he had kept out a weak Van La Parra effort – was equal to it. The spectacular nature of his dive and save was a little over the top but, nevertheless, the visitors had, at least, given Tottenham something to think about.

A surging Danny Williams run created more excitement for the underdogs but as the subsequent attack broke down and the ball floated out to Van La Parra, the Dutchman failed to get it under control, was forced towards the touchline on halfway and his attempt to lay the ball back to a colleague only found Kane.

There looked to be little danger as the England striker collected the ball, but with outstanding vision, he curled a perfect, 50 yard ball directly in to the path of the onrushing Son, who diverted the bouncing ball past Lössl with aplomb.

It was a moment of sheer quality, emphasising the difference in class between Town’s spirited scrappers and an excellent Spurs side developed by Pochettino over the past few years, but hardly the source of any shame.

The goal pretty much ended the contest, and was particularly demoralising for the visitors coming as it did just as they were enjoying their best spell of the game. If Spurs weren’t relaxed enough before the second goal, they were able to slow the pace after it and ease their way to a comfortable victory.

Town had their moments as an attacking force without unduly troubling the home defence, particularly down the right where Hadergjonaj (who had a pretty horrible day defensively) linked neatly with Ince on occasion. Sadly, balls in to the box invariably hit the first defender and too much of the Terriers’ play going forward was rushed and forced, in stark contrast to Spurs effortless movement and passing.

From a corner, Kane uncharacteristically swept a good chance created by his own movement wide. The useless git. (Hopefully, he will have his shooting boots on in midweek).

While The Old Lady awaits for Spurs, Town can now focus on the next 5, crucial games which have probably weighed heavier in Wagner’s mind than the unlikely event of a Wembley upset, and despite being a long way away from their opponents in this game, he will be encouraged by a second half where Hogg and Williams pressed their more illustrious opponents pretty well, Schindler and Zanka impressed and Ince’s performance showed greater promise than of late.

Despite playing within themselves in the latter stages of this game, it has been a pleasure to watch Spurs in the two encounters. Their ease of movement, rarity of error and occasionally devastating, serpentine transitions make them quite a bit more likeable than the other big guns.

On to survival.