No, after you sir





The thin veneer of improved performances relative to last season’s corresponding fixtures, an already rather desperate trope put forward by Pollyanna match reporters read by a few hundred devotees, was comprehensively shredded by a disastrously poor display against an inventive, pace laden Watford who had the game won within 20 minutes and left kicking themselves for not substantially improving their goal difference.

Honourable defeats, battling draws and luckless pursuits of points count for nothing if opportunities against the less than behemoths are spurned as unprofessionally as they were at Vicarage Road.
Even during a dominant, encouraging first 10 minutes which saw Town retain possession and cause their hosts problems with a good raid down the right, a subsequent corner which lead to Mooy bringing the first of 3 good saves by Foster and a Pritchard effort which curled just over with the former England keeper rooted, there were signs of fragility which were to be easily exposed by the home team.
Zanka, who struggled throughout, along with Schindler, with neither being able to control the muscularity of Success, set the tone for the opener with an attempt to win the ball 30 yards out which barely merited being described as a challenge but, in contrast to what was to come, was reminiscent of Moore on Pelé.
Watching live, Pereyra’s run in to the heart of Town’s defence looked mesmerising and jinking. Replays exposed the ugly truth – the Argentinian barely had to do anything other than run in a straight line through laughably weak dangling legs of several defenders before poking the ball past an apparently uninterested Lössl.
If just one in attendance had attempted, let alone completed, a regulation block or tackle, the danger would have been snuffed out without anyone having to mention the incident again, but the incomprehensible waving through put the visitors one down and gave the hosts a timely boost after 10 minutes of, well, not much.
Lacklustre up to that point, Watford’s confidence was given a platform and with several individual talents they were handed permission to express themselves. Their confidence, particularly after the break, often translated in to over playing but the result was in little doubt once the second went in.
Deulofeu was released down Watford’s right and he skipped past an ill advised lunge by Löwe before surging past Hogg who couldn’t tackle for fear of conceding a penalty. The Spaniard crashed a powerful shot between Lössl and his near post.
The shot was as ferocious as Lössl’s positioning was weak. In stark contrast with his opposite number, who made a solid save from Mooy, a spectacular if fairly routine save from a Billing drive and a fabulous tip on to the bar from a great Löwe effort, Lössl’s application looked distinctly weak. He may not have been at fault for the events which lead up to both goals, indeed he is entitled to expect much more from those in front of him, but it is difficult to think of a single game where the Dane has made any sort of difference so far.
A late corner saw Depoitre, who bundle about to little effect, win the ball in the air and see his header squirt sideways towards corner taker Mooy. It failed to meet even that unintentional objective, capturing the season long failure of our strikers in a nutshell.
Other than the 2 goals, intermittent sloppy passing and the pretty overwhelming evidence that Mbenza isn’t, and may never be, ready for this level, Town performed reasonably well at times and, at least, had viable efforts on goal. But this is akin to asking Mary Todd Lincoln her view of Our American Cousin.
The second half was a horrible, inexcusably shambolic display and a walloping was only avoided because of Watford’s aforementioned showboating tendencies.
Early on, a misplaced pass by Zanka – perhaps still fantasising about a move on to the top 6 or maybe a European giant – saw Deulofeu miss a glorious chance with Town entirely exposed and more were to be spurned, including a virtual bass pack to Lössl from 6 yards.
Watford’s movement and invention, even if over elaborate at times, caused regular panic and the lack of any sort of composure in the Town defence saw them invite increasing pressure as the performance deteriorated from lame to amateurish.
When Schindler knocked Success over with 10 minutes to go, an innocuous free kick turned in to Watford’s third as Löwe was exposed for pace by Femenía who crossed for a well deserved Success success.
In truth, the game had been over for a long time. The genuinely, if sporadic, threatening attacks from Town in the first half had been replaced by forward play groaning under the strain of tortuous progression and posed little threat. Mbenza had a decent shot easily saved by Foster following a pull back by Mooy, but the visitors’ execrable scoring stats were never likely to be improved.
With Billing disappearing, Mooy struggling and Depoitre redundant, forward momentum was limited and defensive frailties always on the edge of exposure. In and amongst the gloom, Hogg can hold his head high but few, if any, of the others will look back and believe they helped the cause. Pritchard tried hard, at least.
There were many away performances like this last season, but any progress made in recent games took a major step backwards and a resolution to our problems in front of goal look as far away as ever. The last thing needed was a resurgence of sloppiness and downright unprofessionalism at the other end.
On their day, and they have had quite a few so far, Watford are a very good Premier League team, but to gift them the points in the manner Town did is unforgivable. The return of Kongolo can’t come soon enough and Mbenza made you yearn for Van La Parra who didn’t even make the bench with – checks team sheet while rubbing eyes – Quaner preferred.
Next up is freestyle Fulham with their leaky defence. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Town not walking alone




As the exhausted players slumped to the ground after another, undeserved and cruel defeat, the overwhelming, genuine backing they received from a disappointed but hugely proud home support – deprived of a goal deep in to October – must have strengthened their resolve in their search for victories.

In stark contrast to last season’s weak submissions to Klopp’s men, only the now ubiquitous absence of even a small slice of fortune and the not unexpected denials of a penalty and goal which, had they taken place at the other end, would have triggered the big club rule, stood between a very good, unrewarded performance and the point they deserved.

Liverpool is blessed with an outrageously talented squad, and, man for man, they are technically a few steps above a Town side who have to compensate with unity, supreme concentration and planning. On a gorgeous late Autumn evening – for all the miserable, grey winter days at the stadium, there are few more beautiful sights than a sunset over our ground – the inherent imbalance was very nearly levelled as the struggling home side regularly interrupted the fluidity and often lethal passing and movement of last season’s Champions League runners up.

While the second half never lived up to the pulsating events of the first 45 minutes, the home side’s performance belied their lowly position. Disrupting high flying Liverpool is far easier said than done, and the physical and mental qualities needed to achieve it are quite daunting but with aggression, belief and massive effort, Town matched their storied, illustrious opponents in all but the final score.

Despite looking off colour for long periods, perhaps a mixture of their opponents’ relentless energy and a dip in their own high standards, Liverpool took advantage of rarely conceded space when Gomez found Shaqiri with a ball which squeezed past two home players leaving Town short at the back. The Swiss played in Salah who was half a beat quicker than Schindler and able to place his shot wide of Lössl for a barely deserved opener and eventual winner.

The goal took the lid off a game which had rather sauntered along to that point, and it was the home side which made most of the running. Defending stoutly when necessary but not desperately which was so often the case against the top teams last term, Town began to worry the visitors with raids down both flanks culminating in the two incidents which ultimately determined the direction of the points.

Yet again, an upright was found by Hogg’s beautifully struck shot from outside the area with Allison well beaten but that small margin which continues to separate us from points we deserve paled in to insignificance against the injustices of not being awarded a clear penalty when Milner’s flailing arm redirected the ball and Pritchard not being given the benefit of considerable offside doubt.

Had either of these decisions gone the home side’s way and an equaliser achieved, the game may have taken on a different shape and changed Liverpool’s conservative approach to the second half, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Terriers simply aren’t getting the rub of the green at crucial moments.

An excellent free kick from Billing flew just wide too and the attacking intent, particularly down the right, more than suggested that the identity we have rediscovered in the past few games isn’t going to be lost against even the most talented opposition.

Klopp’s contain and counter tactics in a less entertaining but no less committed second half saw Town having to try to pick their way through a high quality defence while avoiding being sucked too far up the field which rather dulled their efforts in the final third.

An on form Liverpool would have made much more of two or three lightning counter attacks which were either thwarted by last minute challenges or uncharacteristic hesitations, but their forays were sporadic and the intense pressure which often breaks the spirit of opponents through overwhelming force was notably absent.

For all their efforts, Town’s only reward until the final minutes was a Depoitre header comfortably saved by Allison, but Hogg, Mooy and Billing easily matched the visiting midfield and, for the most part, possession was maintained with some comfort even if it rarely resulted in danger to the Liverpool goal.

The chance did come along, however. What appeared to be another innocuous cross was badly dealt with by Van Dijk and the ball looped up for Mounié to fire over when he really should have done better. In his defence, the ball fell quite awkwardly and the presence of Depoitre may have put him off (why are we relentlessly repeating the failed and desperate looking dual striker approach when behind?) but it was the type of chance you have to convert at this elite level.

With the miss, Town’s chance of a deserved point went. There were moments of potential in the last ten minutes, but the blocked shots of Mooy and Depoitre and a miss from Zanka following good work by substitute Diakhaby didn’t constitute golden opportunities.

At the other end, Salah shot wide when in an arguably more advantageous position than for his goal while Firmino (yes, they brought him on as a sub!) fired over from another good spot.

As with most encounters this season, barring the capitulation of a scratch side at the Etihad, the direct comparison with the same game last season was very encouraging. It would be self deluding to deny that Liverpool were not at their best (even if the home side had a lot of influence over that) and the absence of some of their even more talented players did not level up the contest to an extent, but there are many positive to take from the game.

Durm is improving all the time and looks to be an excellent addition, our midfield looks settled and more than competent, we were defensively excellent for large swathes of the game and the identity and belief remain intact despite the absence of any sort of good fortune.

Town fans can be a miserable bunch if they don’t believe players are good enough or lack effort – the volume, intensity and persistence of support created a magnificent atmosphere which has become unique in the Premier League, and the numbers staying behind to applaud the exhausting efforts of all the players tells you everything.

Instinctively, we understand how difficult is the challenge for Wagner and his squad, but while ever they produce displays as committed and good as this, we will continue to back them. Wagner himself absolutely gets this – his post match comments about fans still backing the team who haven’t scored at home for a long, long time were genuinely felt. We know the context of the infernal statistics even if the highly paid, sometimes offensive, talking heads on radio and TV clearly do not.

We may well be relegated, but recent displays suggest that an upturn and a committed fight are coming. Keep patient.

The brave and the foolish





Burnley v Huddersfield. Defiantly Northern. Traditional kits, stirring the emotions of history – no place for day-glo here. Lowry’s inspiration writ large and present on Harry Potts Way (no poncey apostrophe). Tribal rivalry, separated and emphasised by foreboding hills. No tourists. Wooden seats and view restricting poles. Jumpers for goalposts, isn’t it?

The fixture is a glorious affront to the Premier League and a reminder that selling English football’s soul is not as easy as they thought – well run, community clubs from small, often decimated, towns can still gatecrash their over manicured lawns however hard they try to quell and ignore them.
People should walk miles to get to this game, through pouring rain and over hill and down dale. Which, of course, they did – you can still donate, just search for Wilson Walk.
The Lancastrians had revived poor early season form, likely induced by a European adventure which failed to deliver much glamour, with consecutive wins over Bournemouth and Cardiff while the visitors continue to strive for a first win despite perceptible improvements in performance.
A cagey opening saw Town with better possession but their hosts sent an early warning when Vokes headed a Westwood cross straight at Lössl, easily beating Town’s central defenders in the air. It was a lesson they weren’t to heed.
Slowly but surely, the visitors took hold of the game and early scruffiness with passing – Zanka being a big culprit which he later improved – was corrected as they took the game to the Clarets.
With Billing and Mooy pulling the strings, Town created chances and, for once, players were keen to shoot. Just the accuracy bit to be sorted out now then.
The Terriers’ neat and tidy play was rudely interrupted on 20 minutes, however, when Gudmundsson was given far too much time on the right to swing over an excellent, deep cross on to the unforgiving nut of Vokes, who wasn’t going to pass up a second chance to head the hosts in to a barely deserved lead.
To their credit, Town didn’t, as they have before, implode or let the setback deflate their intensity. Dominating the rest of the half against an uncharacteristically supine Burnley, they should have gone in level as Depoitre wasted a glorious opportunity before the opener following good pressure high up the pitch and a set up from Mooy – credit to Tarkowski for an excellent block, but the Belgian needs to be putting such chances away and his afternoon wasn’t going to get any better.
Prior to another late chance for Depoitre, Billing, Durm and Van La Parra had two attempts a piece on goal only for them to be blocked or wayward. Frustrating as it is that off target shots were piling up in the statistics, at least the opportunities are now being forged to be spurned.
An encouraging first half display was followed by a dominant and deservedly productive second; it warranted maximum points.
Easily surviving an early flourish from the home side, Town regained control of possession, forced a series of corners and worked their way up the pitch regularly and with some style at times, though clear cut chances didn’t materialise against a typically solid Burnley central defence.
Mooy then drove an excellent shot which was very well saved by Hart but both were immediately forgotten as Depoitre, anticipating a Tarkowski challenge which didn’t come, fell to the ground as if to set up Sean Dyche for his post match interview like a music hall straight man feeding his partner. Comical, unconvincing diving really isn’t a Huddersfield Town trademark, though the denizens of Turf Moor, and their gravel voiced leader, may find that hard to believe following the second consecutive incident at their home.
The miscreant was replaced quickly afterwards by Mounié and Mbenza came on for Van La Parra, and within minutes Town were deservedly level.
A Billing long throw was cleared but the loading of the box created acres of space for Löwe on the left and his excellent cross was steered in to the far corner by Schindler and parity was achieved, at long last.
The equaliser prompted a brief rally from the home team, notable mainly for a bad injury to Schindler from an errant elbow – it looked accidental from Vokes – compounded by the brave German being hit flush in the face from short range as he blocked Cork’s drive. He lay on the turf for some time as Town attacked, not without menace with a Mbenza shot being blocked, and needed over 5 minutes treatment to stem the blood and bring him round. It was something of a surprise that he was able to continue, further enhancing his warrior credentials.
The rest of the game saw Town largely on the front foot, though they were grateful to Hadergjonaj expertly shepherding a dangerous counter attack while team mates recovered, but the pressure exerted down both flanks with quick passing and incisive interchanges didn’t translate in to gilt edged chances, just half opportunities which didn’t really break kindly in the box.
It remains a mystery why Pritchard has been overlooked so often. His energy and creativity dovetailed with Mooy and Billing’s constant probing and eventually, given a decent run in the side, this will pay off.
Yet another encouraging display, yielding fewer points than deserved, suggests that the battle against relegation can be won but the solution to the goal scoring problem still feels distant – Mounié and Depoitre have been supplied with chances this season after feeding on scraps last. They have to step up.
If we do go down, however, these types of performance will ease the blow (assuming you accept it would be a blow; yesterday felt like a far more genuine, authentic experience than many in this over hyped division). The away support never gave up on the team, and never will when they see the effort going in.
Hope flickers.