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.