Adieu et à bientôt


A raucous celebration of Town’s pundit defying season and a respectful send off for Arsene Wenger at a sunshine bathed John Smith’s Stadium saw Town defeated with few caring.

Given the well publicised revelry that followed the events at Stamford Bridge midweek, it was assumed that Town would turn up and get the ninety minutes over with like a Sunday league team of folklore, and, frankly, who would blame them in a pretty meaningless encounter?
Instead, the home side harried and gegenpressed the Gunners in an opening 25 minutes which should have seen them comfortably ahead before the movement and quality of Arsenal undid all the hard work to hand Wenger a final victory and relieve him of the ignominy of serial failure away from home in 2018.
Perhaps because they were freed from the tension and fear of relegation, and maybe because the formation adopted by Wagner in the monumental performances at Manchester City and Chelsea has unleashed greater potential as a team, Town flew at the visitors from the off creating opportunities for Mounié from a Hadergjonaj cross and Schindler from a corner cleverly knocked down by the Benin striker before Ince blazed over when free in the area following great work by Pritchard.
Arsenal were barely in the contest at this point, but the miss epitomised Town’s ongoing problem of not taking opportunities when presented, a flaw which must be rectified in the close season, and poor Tom Ince’s as an individual. He played well, clearly has a good touch and a decent footballing brain, but his lack of goals is genuinely baffling. He ended his afternoon with a nice strike which was well saved by the excellent Ospina, and, hopefully, next season will be a happier one for him.
On 22 minutes, the stadium stood to applaud Wenger’s career in English football. The ovation was moving and respectful, though it was also refreshing to hear Town fans chanting about Arsenal fans’ hypocrisy and the comeback from the Londoners that Herbert Chapman’s departure was as a result of us being less than good. Both claims were flawed – you can simultaneously hold two thoughts in your head without hypocrisy and Town were very, very good when Herbert upped sticks, but irreverence punctured the sanctimony quite nicely.
With Pritchard buzzing around Arsenal’s suspect back 4, Mounié winning his aerial battles and the midfield coping well with the visitors more illustrious individuals, it was a half of no little promise for the Terriers ruined only by Arsenal demonstrating a rare moment of class with a combination which bamboozled the hosts and ended with Aubameyang sliding home the winner on 38 minutes.
If the goal was harsh on Town, it served to emphasise that shunning chances to score will almost inevitably cause you pain, particularly when the opposition features players of high quality.
The second half of a surprisingly entertaining game saw Arsenal create more chances with their movement and awareness of space only to be thwarted by a combination of excellent interventions and poor final passes.
In turn, Town continued to play with verve and spirit, comfortable in their relatively new formation, and had Arsenal under decent spells of pressure. Depoitre, the hero of Stamford Bridge came on for Ince to rousing acclaim and added a physicality up front to Mounié’s more subtle skills.
The change made Town more vulnerable to Arsenal’s swift counter attacking but increased the possibility of an equaliser they deserved. It nearly came in the final 5 minutes. A deft touch by Löwe set up Mooy whose dipping effort hit the bar before Depoitre’s header was saved to his right by Ospina to deny the hosts a fitting end to their remarkable season.
A good natured afternoon’s entertainment focused, rightly, on Wenger’s departure, but in and amongst the tribute to him, Dean Whitehead was afforded a well deserved ovation a few minutes from the end, the P4P9 cyclists were lauded for their considerable efforts and Dean Hoyle – a participant himself – addressed his adoring public with the class and humility we have come to know and love.
A second season in the top league is a great opportunity for the club to progress and the leadership of Hoyle and, hopefully, Wagner will be fascinating to watch. We have seen the demise of teams who somehow lose their identity – Swansea and Stoke, notably – a trap in to which these two are highly unlikely to fall.
Thanks for reading this season, and have a great Summer.
Until August then…

Class divide bridged



Huddersfield Town stank the place out at Stamford Bridge last night. And we loved it.

Having smothered the state sponsored and petrodollar fuelled City on Sunday, it was a trip to the capital to engage with the oligarch.

Southampton’s win against Swansea, which sealed their survival barring an outrageous turnaround of goal difference by the Welsh club, who could have been playing until the weekend without scoring, meant that Town were faced with the considerable task of securing a point against either Chelsea or Arsenal.

The mitigating factors bestowed upon the Premier League Champions by the fawning media – Souness was a particular delight – largely suggesting that, somehow, their joyous mood and celebrations played in to Town’s hands along with the hot weather which strangely only impacted on the home side, where completely absent at the Bridge.

Chelsea had to win to cling on to their faint hopes of a top four finish and it was being played at night without that pesky sunshine.

Conté’s decision to rest Hazard and Giroud was retrospectively wheeled out in the Pensioners’ defence, and with their squad being thin in quality and without much depth, the criticism was obviously very well made.

For Wagner, the heroics at the Etihad meant juggling with a recovering (and genuinely thin) squad and three changes were made; Van La Parra, Depoitre and Billing were thrown in to the mix.

An evening of almost unbearable attrition followed. The defensive block was not so much deep as positively subterranean. In a first half where the visitors barely ventured out of their own half, they nevertheless managed to largely contain Chelsea’s rather laboured possession but they were grateful that Rüdiger snatched at a back post chance, blazing over the bar, and Morata took a touch too many when freed in the area allowing Lössl to smother.

For all their quality, penetration largely eluded Chelsea and the sea of red shirts weren’t for parting. The waves of attacks were relentless though – Van La Parra struggled to retain possession or carry the ball away from danger and became something of a liability. Depoitre battled manfully but in predictable isolation as the back nine plugged away to deny the hosts space and time whenever they tried to breach the final third.

The home fans’ annoyance with Town’s increasingly leisurely approach to taking dead balls, throw ins and free kicks must have been music to Wagner’s ears. A frustrated, impatient opposition plays in to his hands, just as City had 3 days earlier. Their vexation came to a crescendo at the end of the half. With seconds remaining, Chelsea were awarded a corner and Willian wandered over to take it – he took so long, that time ran out. With typical entitlement, the men in blue surrounded the meticulously timekeeping referee and Town were 45 minutes plus away from survival.

Within 5 minutes, Town’s cause was hugely boosted when Mooy took advantage of a loose ball following a crunching, fair challenge on Willian and played the ball over Rüdiger for Depoitre to charge on to. Caballero rushed out to try to intercept but, instead, met 200 pounds of Belgian muscle and came out distinctly second best and prone on the floor. Shrugging off the keeper’s challenge as if he’d been tackled by Dave Cowling, Depoitre lifted the ball in to the net before whirling away to celebrate with the incredulous visiting support.

The lifeline was huge but short lived. Chelsea resumed their onslaught, by now with Hazard and Giroud on the pitch, and equalised with a hugely fortuitous goal which cannoned off Alonso’s face from a Zanka clearance. The luck wasn’t misplaced – when you attack for virtually the whole game, chances are that you will get a break, but it was a bad time to concede when the Terriers had had little opportunity to increase the pressure and frustration on their hosts with the lead.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the game descended in to chaos for the last half hour. Ominously, Chelsea were finding too much space down their right and Hazard was on the ball far too frequently for comfort.

Despite mainly relieving pressure with hoicks up the field to no-one, Town had one or two opportunities to break and if Billing had been able to get the ball past Kanté, Pritchard would have been clear and likely to score.

The vast majority of the game was in Town’s half, however, and tackles, blocks and determined organisation was holding out the increasingly desperate Chelsea attacks. The pivotal moment arrived with just 7 minutes left. A corner caused mayhem in the box with at least two Chelsea players swiping at the ball before it looped up in the air for Christensen to head powerfully goalwards. His compatriot in the Town goal clawed the ball on to the post with a remarkable, defining save before a combination of Depoitre and Mooy finally cleared.

It wasn’t the last pinball moment in Town’s box, but it was the last with any real danger. Lössl made a routine save from Morata and Giroud looked momentarily threatening before scuffing a shot wide, but Town held firm with relative comfort.

To the indignant howls of the home fans, Town ate up time with injuries, long walk substitutions (Smith and Willian scuffling as the former ambled off) and painfully slow dead ball kicking by the eventually booked Lössl.

It was ugly and undignified but we hadn’t come for artistic merit points, rather an actual and hugely valuable one.

The last act of a tumultuous, historic and immensely brave evening was the sight of Malone’s unusual gait running at a Chelsea defender, then in to him and earning a free kick which Mooy floated in to the corner with the last kick.

With survival guaranteed, Town players rushed towards their 12th man – the magnificent support which has never waned through all the inevitable difficulties of hauling a fundamentally Championship squad over the line with one game to spare and with points at the homes of both the champions and the previous champions.

4 days of monumental effort and togetherness has brought huge reward – the finances are astounding for a club which, not that long ago, was simply existing to survive in the second tier. But the money wasn’t the story last night; the belligerent, down right ugly at times, battling spirit was.

Survival puts Town at another level. Much needed strengthening, particularly in wide areas to increase our often feeble threat, will surely come and it is to be hoped that Wagner can resist the lure of other clubs and lead us towards a future not wholly dedicated to scrapping for our lives, as exhilarating as that has been.

A massive celebration on Sunday will be just reward for everyone involved at Huddersfield Town and the vibrant, loud and inventive supporters.




Citizens arrested



With dogged determination, fierce discipline and exceptional bravery, Town gained an unlikely but thoroughly deserved point against one of the finest teams in Europe on a stiflingly hot Manchester day to improve their chances of survival and give their confidence a much needed boost after the Everton disappointment.

Free scoring City will be provided with a plethora of excuses for not adding to their ton of league goals against their presumed sacrificial and lowly opponents, but this would be to ignore the visitors’ tactical excellence which subdued their undoubted talent and quelled their fluid, deadly style which has seen them score in every home game of their remarkable season.

On paper, Wagner’s selection of all four of the squad’s full backs, with Kongolo utilised as a third centre half, suggested an ultra cautious approach but, in reality, it brought together the imperious Schindler, the ever improving Zanka and Kongolo’s obvious quality in to a more coherent unit, added Hadergjonaj’s energy and talent in to the middle while removing Van La Parra’s propensity for error and irresponsibility and Quaner’s too frequent uncertainty.

Surviving a rather torrid opening ten minutes which saw Silva denied by a good save by Lössl and City playing with a familiar menace punctuating their dominance of early possession, Town settled well and Mounié and Pritchard’s high pressing started to bring the visitors in to the game.

Mooy, who had an excellent first half, put a long range shot just wide before the ferreting Pritchard’s disruptive determination won a free kick in a position ripe for a well delivered back post cross. City were obviously thinking along the same lines and were caught wholly flat footed by a clever ball in to space which Hadergjonaj sprinted on to with great timing. Unfortunately, the Swiss was unable to connect properly and his first time shot was easily saved by Ederson.

It was a clever ploy which seemed to ignite Town’s confidence though they could only look on as De Bruyne curled a shot past Lössl’s right hand post after a great cut back by Sané – the Belgian has scored so many similar goals in his phenomenal season and it was a relief and a surprise to see the ball skim wide. It proved to be his last significant contribution other than a shot straight at Lössl, and, indeed, City’s last golden opportunity other than a mix up in the second half between Lössl and Mounié.

Town’s growing belief and energetic high pressing saw them, remarkably, gain an ascendancy as the half wore on. Pritchard tested Ederson with a good strike which the Brazilian touched round the post for an unproductive corner, Mooy set up Löwe with a sweet lay off which the German rather lashed at to waste an excellent opportunity and the normally fluid Champions were looking a little viscous and forced.

The effort expended to subdue their opponents started to tell as half time approached with Mounié in particular looking heavy legged and the visitors began to retrench in to a deeper defensive block. However, just before the break, Mooy had a perfect opportunity to free Pritchard after winning the ball with City committed forward only to overhit his pass to his own, evident, annoyance.

City created moments of potential danger in and around the area but failed to capitalise with poor final balls – perhaps rattled by the upstarts not sticking to the script, there was a welcome uncertainty to their play and movement and their trademark instinctive style seemed to be largely absent.

Town saw out the half, no doubt relieved to get back to the cool of the dressing room, but an argument could be made that they had created the better chances and hope, while remaining slim and precarious, was far from extinguished.

The second half was a defensive master class from the visitors – nearly capped off with a minor miracle – as Zanka, Schindler and Kongolo combined to thwart the world class talent constantly probing for weakness. In front of them, Hogg came in to his own and provided an unyielding protection which gained vital breathing spaces as Town began to eye a prize.

With Mounié still struggling – it was a little surprising that he reappeared in the second half – Depoitre replaced him on the hour to provide any relief the visitors could find though his lack of game time was apparent for much of his half hour.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Town increasingly relied upon clearing the ball high and long as the fatigue of containing the home side began to take its toll. The home support, who had come to see a procession, became increasingly annoyed at Town players going down with injury and obvious, if understandable, attempts to run down a clock seemingly moving backwards.

With both full backs booked – Löwe for bringing down the underwhelming Sterling to halt a moment of genuine threat – and Depoitre as isolated as his French counterpart had been, Town’s defensive discipline tightened and the three centre halves stepped even further up with unflappable timing, great awareness and tenacious challenges. Kongolo made one on Sané which will be a highlight of the season.

City’s penetration and crossing was marginally, and sometimes wildly, off and with Town players smothering anything more intricate, the champions’ potency receded in the final quarter even if their overwhelming possession of the ball increasingly raised the anxiety levels in the – magnificently loud – visiting support.

4 minutes injury time was indicated (perhaps a little generously to the visitors); rather than spurring on the home side to greater urgency, it afforded Town two situations which could have won the game. Malone, on for the struggling Löwe, robbed Bernardo Silva just inside City’s half and sprinted in to unmanned space and the opportunity to end Town’s relegation worries opened up for the ex-Fulham man only for him to shoot at Ederson rather than take one extra step for a better angle. It should be said that Van La Parra may have been more aware of the opportunity to sprint forward in support rather than standing and admiring Malone’s attempted audacity.

Malone’s chance was reminiscent of Will Griggs’ winner for Wigan in the cup but, sadly, Town had to settle for the sensation of preventing City scoring on home turf for the first time in their hugely impressive season.

Depoitre also found himself in possession in the area with not a great deal of company, but he was unable to bring the ball under control quickly enough to deliver a blow.

The final whistle was delayed by an idiot running on to the pitch but relief came and the visiting fans were able to celebrate an excellent, brave and potentially valuable performance. Sadly, the players had to leave the pitch which was invaded by other idiots (no doubt our own will follow suit if the next 6 days secures our survival) and couldn’t come over to acknowledge the fantastic support.

However slightly tinged by Malone’s missed opportunity, the enormity of the challenge conquered could not be diminished – a fundamentally Championship squad had held a startling array of talent in their own back yard and, at the same time, continued the tradition of not allowing City a home goal since the November mauling of 1987.

There is also, perhaps, a question about Wagner’s insistence on playing often inadequate wide men this season when the 5-4-1 option has been so rarely utilised. The arrival of Pritchard could have been the basis of such a change much earlier, including at home, but any criticism needs to be heavily tempered after a game where he pitted his wits successfully against one of the best managers in the world.

It is to be hoped that the system is used for the final two games – though the next two opponents aren’t on the same level as City, they are likely to be more effective than the champions proved to be in this game. Chelsea, in particular, are in excellent form and they have incentive to win 3 points.

Town’s future, meanwhile, lies in the balance – Tuesday’s shoot out between Southampton and Swansea will provide more certainty about what Town need to achieve (and we can hope that City’s lack of potency was a mere blip as they condemn Southampton to defeat next Sunday).

Whichever way it goes, the performance at City will live long in the memory and will hopefully give the club renewed confidence to write the next chapter of a remarkable story.