Pawson earns his spurs




Huddersfield Town had a mountain to climb against a high quality Tottenham Hotspur who, despite the loss of two important players, could still field a side of internationals of pedigree with threats all over their starting eleven. Craig Pawson, a referee who sends a shiver down the spine of all but the top six, decided that the climb would be undertaken in polyester leisure wear.

Crucial, game changing decisions, fell to the visitors with debilitating persistence rendering the Terriers’ commendable efforts redundant in a first half of comical, negligent and partisan decisions.
Offences against Löwe, on the edge of the box and possibly inside it, and Pritchard who was stopped with a subtle but easily perceptible foul, preceded Spurs’ opener, finished expertly by Kane from a quality cross.
To, literally, add injury to insult, Kongolo suffered a knock in a challenge on Moura which would force him off later; perhaps a far greater blow than an expected defeat and compounded by Schindler injuring himself in the process of being completely bamboozled by Moura in the second half (it was the second time, and in virtually the same spot, that the impressive Brazilian had left a Town player wondering if he was on this earth or Fullers).
In the least unexpected development of the game to that point, Pawson pointed to the spot as an arm brush by Hadergjonaj on Rose saw the England man fling himself to the floor to gain one of the softest penalties you are likely to see. The taker, a rarely applauded visiting player last season turned pantomime villain this, put the spot kick away with all the expertise he had shown in the summer but moments earlier he had jumped in to Löwe from behind to the now customary approval of Pawson.
If the game wasn’t over after the first referee assisted goal, it was now. It has become tediously repetitive to point out Town’s dogged refusal to earn points from behind, though they could not be faulted for their efforts in this game and had Depoitre’s effort on the end of a good move instigated by Billing and Durm gone in rather than rattle the over worked John Smith’s Stadium woodwork just before half time, a comeback would have become theoretically more possible.
A superb drive by Löwe from 30 yards when the deficit was just one could have changed the course of the game but Gazzaniga was able to scramble the effort away rather uncomfortably.
Like last year, Town started positively and most of the action was in the Spurs half before the Pawson gifts began to be bestowed though Loris’ deputy Gazzaniga was largely untested and the visitors’ ability to quickly turn defence in to devastating attack almost allowed Kane an early goal only for Lössl to see the danger and block.
Up front, Depoitre and Pritchard worked hard to cause problems. Despite the hosts failing to create the chances their possession suggested they should have, the pairing should be given an extended opportunity – but the Billing long throw tactic needs to be throttled back without Mounié’s superior aerial ability (as well as the monotony).
The crowd were not fooled by the score line – Town had gone toe to toe with an exceptionally good side, falling foul to incompetent, obsequious officials and hadn’t crumbled, earning the applause for their first half efforts, carefully calibrated to ensure they knew the cascading boos which followed were for Pawson.
It would have been easy, almost forgivable, for Town to go in to Washington Generals mode after the break and allow the inevitable superiority of the North Londoners to breeze through the second half in preparation for the somewhat more formidable challenge of Barcelona on Wednesday. Let us hope that Spurs don’t face a referee with the same pre-conceptions.
Backed by a loud, consistently supportive home crowd, the Terriers made a good fist of a goalless second half. Defending stoutly on the occasions that Spurs’ quality created openings and being brave in possession, a longed for home goal never looked particularly likely – substitute Mbenza’s drive towards the top corner, saved by Gazzaniga, being the best opportunity, but there were signs of hope that our luck will turn at some point.
Pawson finally gave Town a break when a Zanka challenge on Kane went unpunished – the foul was significantly worse than the one he had been booked for – but they throw these scraps out from time to time to cover their general bias.
Problems remain, of course, but the commitment and energy displayed will surely see fortune change at some point though the thought of possibly going to Turf Moor without Kongolo and Schindler is a little depressing.
The afternoon, however, belonged to Pawson. It isn’t Spurs’ fault that he favoured them consistently and they hardly needed the help – despite not being at their fluent best, the technical skills on show from a lot of their players, particularly their ability to kill any sort of pass fired at them dead, were fully in evidence as was the vision to pick out players in space to create danger. It is more than likely that they would have won without their 12th man, but the unfairness leaves a bitter taste.
Not for the first time this season, Town performed much better than in the corresponding fixture in the inaugural Premier League season, without reward. This is small, rather meaningless, consolation but allows Wagner to apply his trademark sense of calm while a lot of us will be losing our heads after the next 3 difficult games (2 of them horribly difficult). As more obvious points gathering games approach in November and December, it is to be hoped that the pressure created by being ensconced in the relegation spots with very few points does not overwhelm the collective psyche.
Amongst the positives in yet another defeat was the appearance of Mbenza – in his last substitute appearance, he looked entirely lost and out of his depth, but not this time. He looked strong and progressive, topping a good cameo with Town’s only decent effort of the second half. Along with Durm, who exhibited his pedigree throughout, the emergence of the summer signings may be beginning. They are desperately needed.
And finally, the home support. Muted and worried for long periods of previous home games, they roared back against Spurs, recognising the application of a team desperately searching for a turning point and not shirking in the face of disappointment – they will help bring that about.

Maddison finds avenues



Individual errors, ruthlessly and gratefully punished by an under pressure and often under par Leicester side consigned Town to yet another defeat and the very real possibility of being overwhelmed by their lack of potency up front.

It was, perhaps, significant that the first two catastrophic errors were committed by 2 players new to the team – Durm, on an otherwise solid debut, and the raw Diakhaby made basic mistakes which doomed the game management which has gained so many points under Wagner.

In stark contrast to the insipid display at the same venue on New Year’s Day, Town took the game to their opponents from the off and were ahead within 5 minutes as the impressive Billing’s long throw in to the heart of the home defence caused enough confusion to allow Zanka to sweep in for a crucial lead.

A decent first half performance was ruined, however, when Town conceded a soft equaliser from their own corner. With men committed upfield, first Mooy and then, fatally, Durm, failed to deal with possession. The Australian couldn’t control a bouncing ball effectively but the threat of a breakaway was non existent when it broke to his German colleague. His attempt to sidestep a potential, rather than actual, challenge disastrously fell to a Leicester player who slipped to a team mate with a panorama of fast breaking options in front of him and defenders caught flat footed. Wisely, he chose Vardy whose first touch played Iheanacho in for a simple finish past Lössl.

To their credit, Town didn’t crumble with the setback though a careless tackle by Zanka gave Maddison the opportunity to craft an opening for Vardy from the free kick which the Yorkshireman snatched at and put wide.

For all their intent, the visitors’ attempts on goal were weak and speculative but, overall, they comfortably matched their hosts in an encouraging first half ruined by a single mistake, ruthlessly exploited.

Stout defending in the early part of the second half kept a visibly roused Leicester at bay, though a misplaced Mooy pass allowed Chilwell to release Vardy’s electric pace behind Town’s defence culminating in an easy save by Lössl.

The turning point came just after the hour mark. Van La Parra did well on the left, cutting inside and releasing a perfect ball in front of Depoitre who, inexplicably, failed to shoot before the ball was taken off his toes by the recovering Maguire (the same player he had memorably beasted in the home game last season).

The inability to take such an opportunity – Depoitre was also guilty of heading straight at Schmeichel later in the game – was hugely costly. Up to this point, Leicester had been largely unimpressive and receiving little support from a very quiet crowd; a second setback could’ve undermined them, allowing Town to take advantage of the discontent.

Instead, a naive foul on the edge of the area following poor control by Diakhaby sealed Town’s fate. The impressive Maddison evaded the top of the wall – why Billing wasn’t in the middle of it rather than at the edge may be something to consider – and his ferocious effort flew past Lössl who had little chance of stopping it, despite post match claims.

Deflated, the visitors became easy pickings for the revitalised home side and, yet again, moments had fallen badly for the strugglers. Van La Parra gave the ball away cheaply just inside the Leicester half, allowing Iheanacho to return a favour to the lightning fast Vardy, playing the ball perfectly behind Zanka for the now ex England striker to lift the ball over the exposed Lössl.

There was still time for Depoitre’s header in to Schmeichel’s grateful arms but the last 20 minutes were comfortable for the former Premier League Champions who must have been relieved that they had been let off an uncomfortable hook with Depoitre’s spurned opportunity.

Things are now looking bleak for Town. Even reasonably competent performances – and for an hour, one mistake aside, this was one – bring no reward and pressure builds on the obvious vulnerabilities of a team which finds it ever so difficult to score.

However, just as people drown because they panic rather an inability to swim, Town’s management have been adept at finding solutions in the past and cool heads are needed.

Wagner has been mocked for his comment about this squad being better than any he has had at Town, but he is right. Despite the ultimately disappointing result, his team were infinitely more effective than they were nearly 9 months ago even if it wasn’t good enough to gain a point.

Worryingly, however, the team still looks like a work in progress with little impact being felt by the genuinely new signings who have yet to integrate. Durm, error aside, looks promising on this showing but Diakhaby needs a lot of time and work, leaving us reliant on Kachunga who, sadly, is out of his depth.

Other results – including a worryingly emphatic home win for Burnley who represent the only realistic chance for points before the next international break – left Town rock bottom if not quite at crisis point yet. This will be reached if the chronic goal scoring problem shows no sign of resolution, and soon.

Billing remains the brightest positive of a difficult start to the season – comfortably Town’s best player, it is difficult to recall a single error in his game and he is a reminder that patience with talent is a virtue. There is more to come too; as his confidence grows with experience, he may be the player who adds the unexpected for a team which can be robotic and over drilled.

But it remains the fact that we are in a bad place right now, and it would be a brave man to predict anything but relegation on the evidence so far.














Going down like a Wilf




With arguably the best performance of the season, Town succumbed to a seasoned, slightly cynical Crystal Palace side buoyed by their talisman Zaha, who appears to be the difference between comfort and struggle. Other than the Ivorian, the South East Londoners look very ordinary and the home side should have buried them in a game they largely dominated.

It is, however, becoming an immutable law that if the Terriers don’t open the scoring, points are not accrued.
These two theories, Palace’s inevitable defeats without their Wilf, and Town’s huge vulnerability to going behind gathered more momentum at the end of a feisty affair with the home side bemoaning their luck as, once again, they fell on the wrong side of wafer thin margins.
Playing with greater intensity and pace than has been seen for some time, Town found their wingbacks with refreshing regularity – Lössl’s distribution was excellent at times and Kongolo’s range was just as impressive – though it was down their left, with Löwe and Van La Parra that they created most threat. The right side had similar service but largely failed to deliver.
Kachunga’s inclusion at the expense of Diakhaby was presumably to negate the threat of Zaha, but along with Hadergjonaj, they allowed Palace far too much freedom down the left and all of the visitors’ threat came down their flank, and this wasn’t limited to Palace’s main man.
The back three coped with Palace incursions reasonably comfortably however and Town were largely ascendant in a decent first half hour and should have been ahead 17 minutes in when a sublime cross field ball found the impressive Löwe. The German, progressive and combative throughout, delivered a perfect ball which left Hennessey in no man’s land and defenders caught ball watching but Mounié headed over when a goal looked inevitable.
Strikers are allowed to miss chances, of course, but at the elite level at which Town are trying to compete, misses like this one are cruelly punished. A goal at that stage would have transformed the outcome – as Palace were to prove, getting the first goal allows you to adapt to circumstances far more easily than when behind.
The defining ten minutes came close to the half hour mark. Schindler made a rare mistake which left his central defensive partner Zanka in trouble. Zaha nipped in to intercept the pass which had fallen short, prompting the Dane to instinctively bring down the winger with a poor challenge which deservedly brought a booking. This was not enough for his opponent who proceeded to throw a ridiculous tantrum, beating the floor in frustration, and carrying a visible red mist around for the next few minutes.
The subsequent free kick was weakly wasted, going straight through to Lössl, and Town worked their way down the right to Hadergjonaj who was upended by a late Zaha tackle which drew another deserved booking and the Palace bench demonstrating to their only hope to calm down.
Shaking off his strop for a few minutes, Zaha then demonstrated his immense quality with a run which seemed to mesmerise Hadergjonaj and Kachunga, neither of whom put in a challenge. Their dithering encouraged Zaha in to the area, where he couldn’t be touched, and he curled an excellent finish past Lössl for the all important lead.
For ten minutes, Town disintegrated. Their shape was lost, their passing became negligent and within minutes Zaha should have put the result beyond doubt rather than shooting tamely to enable Lössl to make a routine save.
As they settled down, Town finished the half strongly but the lack of composure and instinctive finishing in decent positions let them down, as it usually does. One excellent incursion saw the impressive Löwe find Van La Parra free on the left of the area only for the Dutchman to kill all momentum by receiving the ball stood still and destroying the chance to create an opportunity.
Van La Parra had a good first half – if anything, he had far more reason to complain about rough treatment than Zaha – but most of his good work disintegrates on contact with the penalty area.
Billing was also subject to persistent fouling – one particularly egregious, late challenge was far worse than Zanka’s – but he was influential, composed and effective. Alongside Mooy, who played well but made a couple of potentially costly errors in the second half, he is growing in stature and maturity.
A frantic second half saw Town relentlessly pressing for the equaliser and increasingly threatened by Palace counter attacks. Dominating possession and, on the whole, using it with intent rather than having it for its own sake, the hosts battered on the door for long periods and delivery in to the box improved substantially over the first half.
On the hour, a brilliantly contrived attempt by Mooy, brimming with technique, hit the inside of the post but bounced out. It rather summed up Town’s fortunes during the game – whatever good fortune was available seemed to favour the visitors, though they could point to several dangerous counter attacks which could have sealed the points. One of them saw Kongolo being given the benefit of the doubt as his telescopic legs wrapped around Ayew to stop him in the area.
Town created several moments of bagatelle in the Palace area which brought Hennessey in to action and a late Billing effort cannoned off a defender for a corner when it could have gone anywhere. The same player found the net but play had been halted for a foul in the area.
In and amongst the waves of offensive play, Palace infringements – by the unpunished Milivojevic in particular, who committed two fouls in the space of 30 seconds at one point – started to mount along with some fairly crude time wasting. It would be hypocritical to complain about the latter – we are rather good at it ourselves when needs be – but the addition of only 3 minutes injury time was baffling and the leniency of an indecisive and rather weak referee is a different matter. McArthur piled up a dive in the area and a couple of fouls before finally making it in to the referee’s book, and all of this was completely overlooked in favour of Zaha’s self pitying interview after the game.
Diakhaby replaced the energetic but rather limited Kachunga after 70 minutes and again showed that there is raw talent and pace to be polished over time – if anything, his introduction was 10 minutes too late. The brief cameo by Mbenza on the other side – Van La Parra having faded as the game went on – provided rather less comfort. He looked a little lost in possession and has yet to demonstrate he is ready to challenge on the left.
The baffling substitution, however, was to pair Depoitre and Mounié as Town went to a back four for the last 10 minutes. The ploy has never worked – to be fair, this latest attempt to defy experience wasn’t as starkly useless – and it left the more subtle skills of Pritchard again unused. After the performance of the team at Everton – and Pritchard’s unsuitability for Wagner’s formation of 3 at the back – it was no surprise to see him on the bench, but his ability to unpick mass defences was surely a better option than another battering ram?
Overall, however, there were reasonable grounds for some optimism in defeat. Several players performed very well, there was significantly more pace and purpose in attack and despite being exposed more than usual, the defence coped well – particularly Kongolo.
We lost because of moments not going our way. Mounié’s miss, the Mooy effort and the general run of the ball in the area in the second half, but Wagner has to find a way to inject clinical action in to his team – the lack of goals from open play is now at crisis point, if it wasn’t before now. With Spurs and Liverpool up next at home, the drought in front of their own supporters looks likely to continue.
Tough times.

A Grand Old point




After all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth over Town’s stuttering start to the season, we enter the infernal international break with one fewer point than could have been reasonably predicted (and out of the League Cup, as per usual) following a very good draw at a difficult venue. Ever so slightly below par.

It is not unusual for people to react, sometimes hysterically, to disappointment and defeat in the moment and the aftermath. Optimism dissipates quickly as context is temporarily overlooked or ignored completely; it is an entirely natural emotion, even if expressed with a lack of grace or gratitude.

A forgettable encounter at Goodison Park saw Town stifle their hosts all over the pitch and but for a single error by the raw but promising Diakhaby, the stranglehold they had over an admittedly depleted Everton would have garnered a first win.
Thoroughly disciplined, the visitors rarely conceded space, overcame a ludicrously early booking for Billing (made even more vexatious by the referee’s leniency towards Davies in particular) and worked hard with and without the ball to revive the spirit which has carried us this far.
Key players stepped up. Mooy, looking far more comfortable in a deeper role, provided the midfield anchor preventing Everton playing between the lines and he was supported by a mature performance by Billing which indicated he is coming of age. Despite the aforementioned early booking, the Dane glided through the game, scored his first top league goal and provided most of the, too rare, progressive impetus.
At wing back, Van La Parra put in a fine display. Error free, his role of getting the team up the pitch was carried out with relish. His faults have been debated long and hard, and remain relevant, but he continues to be a vital part of a team which needs breathing space.
Up front, Mounié‘s hold up play and aerial challenges were beyond reproach – despite Town’s underwhelming form, he looks to have improved and his further development will be interesting to see.
Not unsurprisingly, the home team saw most of the ball in a tepid opening twenty minutes but were restricted to two long range, off target shots. Tosun’s effort caused fleeting concern as it flew over the bar but Lössl comfortably allowed Zouma’s drive to pass harmlessly wide.
By frustrating the home team and fans, not allowing them to gain any sort of rhythm, either in play or song, Town built the foundation to attack with more purpose and after just a few minutes of a more expansive approach, they were in front.
Löwe, solid at left wing back, swung in a dangerous near post corner which was inadvertently flicked on by Calvert-Lewin, straight on to the immaculately coiffured head of Phil Billing who gave Pickford no chance.
Sadly, the euphoria was extremely short lived. From the kick off, the ball found it’s way down Town’s right channel and a weak, ill advised challenge by Diakhaby on Digne allowed the left full back time and space to cross. The French international seized on the rare commodity and swung in an excellent cross which Calvert-Lewin converted following a well timed run in front of the exposed defence. Lössl got a hand to it and may feel that it wasn’t as strong as it should have been, but it was a powerful, well placed header.
The goals enlivened a poor spectacle but failed to ignite the game which rarely rose above tedium thereafter, which is exactly what Town needed.
Everton’s pedestrian approach play and Town’s deliberate slowing of the pace at every opportunity eventually stirred the quiet home crowd in to whinging, which was music to the ears of a club in some need of a positive result. The visiting support was vocal throughout and appreciative of the destructive nature of the performance.
The final hour was a struggle between a home side failing to turn possession in to threat – only the introduction of Lookman for the injured but anonymous Walcott added anything resembling menace – and visitors comfortably adapting to the soft challenge. One decent ball in to the box by Lookman could have ruined the day, but it narrowly evaded Siggurson’s despairing back post lunge.
Otherwise, Town carried some threat at times with Mounié firing a decent effort straight at Pickford from distance and he was visibly annoyed with Van La Parra for trying to convert off his toes after he had skilfully worked a position from an aerial ball.
Durm replaced the dependable but non threatening Hadergjonaj for the last quarter of an hour and the German very nearly fed Mounié in the area following a good Town move down the right, only to be thwarted by a good interception.
If anything, Town looked the more likely to grab a winner on the break though this would be to over emphasise the actual threat they posed. As Wagner acknowledged later, the final third remains a problem with creativity at a premium but this game looked to be one where the team was getting back to basics and they succeeded in that limited but necessary ambition.
Throughout our short tenure at the top table, the balance between adventure and solidity remains the most difficult conundrum. Durm’s cameo hinted at one possible solution – if he can consign his injury problems to history, he looks accomplished and easily capable at this high level of providing the delivery we so often lack.
The game itself may have been a humdrum affair, but for the visiting support a return to the fundamental qualities needed for survival in an ever toughening division more than compensated. Perhaps, like Wagner, we can all leave the immediate past behind and see how he develops the team to meet the huge challenges ahead.