Life on Mars

As those of us who lived through the 1970s can attest, a precipitous plunge from a dizzying height is unpleasant and corrosive.

It is difficult to clear the stench of failure as confidence disappears and efforts to turn fortunes around become increasingly difficult and, eventually, all but impossible. Gloom overwhelms supporters, envelops the people running the club and actively dissuades players from joining an atrophying enterprise.

While Town’s survival against the odds in the top flight was always likely to end, the nature of the drop is beginning to look ominously similar to that sepia tinged nightmare which sucked all the life out of the club for 8 years until Buxton; 1 point from 11 games, a numbing scarcity of goals and the absence of anything resembling normal fortune weighs very heavily on the shoulders of a squad short of the necessary quality to stage even a token revival.

In truth, the decline has been evident since Leicester away in the new year of 2018 – points against Stoke, and the epic performances at Manchester City and Chelsea saved us, but only because our momentum had provided a cushion in 2017. Over one year on, the decline shows no sign of being reversed and there is a real possibility that we are already too far gone to prevent a spiral of doom.

With the exhausted and disillusioned Wagner gone, another German has stepped in to the fray facing huge challenges. 

Jan Siewert’s first game proved to be a pretty seamless transition. The announcement of the team highlighted the shallow pool of quality available, the almost certain dearth of goals in it and, without Mooy and Billing, a shortfall in creativity and nous.

Within 3 minutes, Everton took the lead when Davies was allowed to wander in to the box, untroubled by marking as Hogg stood by, square to Richarlison whose first shot was parried back to him to score.

The concession was not enough to stir the home side who played like strangers for 20 minutes and the Toffees looked capable of dismantling them at will. But for poor decision making in the final third – the scousers had confidence issues themselves – Town would have been buried long before half time.

Struggling to make any impression on a game slowly deteriorating, the hosts couldn’t even rely on stalwarts such as Schindler, who nearly gifted Everton a second with a terrible attempt at what was a straightforward pass intended for Zanka, or Hogg who was given a torrid time by Sigurdsson and the first attempt of any significance came just before half time when Mounié shanked a weak effort well wide.

Failing to land a punch on an Everton side which ran out of ideas about halfway through the half and the debilitating lack of innovation and thrust was all too familiar and the visitors adopted a comfortable cruise control perhaps induced by the stern refusal of their opponents to provide the home support with anything resembling hope.

The sum of the home team’s parts were decidedly less than the whole, not helped by the inclusion of the inexperienced Bacuna, who does display some encouraging attributes at times and Diakhaby, who remains, despite becoming a central figure in the events of the second half, horribly raw. The totem of the now widely disparaged, to put it mildly, summer transfer activity looks severely out of his depth and cruelly exposed. The new manager’s options were limited, however, with Mbenza ruled out of contention with injury.

The second half was following a similar pattern – sustained mediocrity from Town and unconvincing, if competent, dirge from the visitors – and it was easy to predict a now routine, deceptively narrow, home defeat until a very good through ball from Bacuna found Diakhaby alone and free to run at goal. Wether the young man would have scored a potentially confidence boosting goal became moot as Digné brought him down leaving the referee no option but to reach for his red card.

Mooy, on as a substitute and already making a positive difference despite inevitable rustiness, got the free kick on target with a decent effort but Pickford was equal to it, pulling off a spectacular looking routine save.
The Australian influence lifted the Terriers a little and with Everton’s deeply comfortable control disrupted with the loss of two left backs in quick succession – Digné had replaced Baines – hope reared its ugly head.

Town’s best chance fell to Kachunga. A poorly executed simple pass by Diakhaby to Mooy somehow rebounded back to the youngster who then produced a great piece of skill to get past a defender and deliver a perfect cross – the very definition of enigmatic over the course of a few seconds. There was little wrong with Kachunga’s header but Pickford pulled off a genuinely remarkable save to thwart him. 

Admiration of the England keeper’s quality was tinged with the realisation that the save was just a further illustration of how immensely difficult it is to compete. For all their troubles – which appear pretty laughable from our perspective but, you know, relativity – Everton have been in the top flight since the 50s and can recruit at a high, if not the highest, level. 

A point would have been earned, however, had the referee spotted a blatant pull on Kongolo’s shirt in the box in injury time. That he gave a free kick to Everton simply added insult. Again. There has been only limited outrage at another egregious decision going against us; it has now become normalised.

The painful process of reverting to the mean is now entrenched. The optimist can hope that the return of Mooy and Billing to midfield could spark some sort of inspiration which will help us achieve our last remaining goals; beating Derby’s record low points total, restoring a vestige of pride and building the foundations for a decent season in the Championship. They are hopes difficult to envision in the current fog of malaise.

Post Wagner, ergo propter hoc

An under par, often bored looking Manchester City predictably strolled past an experimental Huddersfield Town side put together by stand-in Mark Hudson in front of a crowd collectively coming to terms with the fact that a remarkable era in their football club’s history was over.

Shorn of Billing, Mooy and Williams, the rookie manager picked a brave, imaginative but ultimately futile formation and started three of the much maligned summer recruits together for the first time. It was worth a go but, given the absentees, the chances of upsetting Guardiola’s roster of superstars went from slim to near zero.

The plan was relatively simple. Defend deep and with discipline and try to expose City on the break with Diakhaby’s pace and it should be said that the strategy sometimes felt like it may work. The young Frenchman could conceivably have put Town in front before 10 minutes was on the clock but he appeared to shoulder a Kachunga cross wide when well positioned. It was frustrating that the plan precluded the inclusion of Mounié to meet the chance though, as events were to transpire, the result would probably not have been different.

In a game where it was likely to make no difference whatsoever, Town finally found themselves on the right side of a poor penalty decision. How Marriner ruled a Kongolo challenge on Sterling as legal is anyone’s guess but, hey, thanks for the gesture Andre.

Wether Town’s tactics were working as they should or City were simply stuttering, the high quality you expect to come with an Emirate’s largesse was absent. Their possession was overwhelming but largely mundane and the breathtaking imagination they often display was replaced by ponderous build up, misplaced passing and underwhelming movement.

It was fitting that their opening goal was accompanied by a huge slice of fortune. Walker’s pass to Danilo appeared as innocuous as much of City’s play up to that point but he wasn’t closed down and decided to have a go. A not especially dangerous shot was turned in to a lethal one as it cannoned off Schindler’s head beyond Lössl and the game, to all intents and purposes, was over.

To their credit, Town kept battling away while the goal didn’t have any noticeable effect on City’s torpor. For 5 or 10 minutes before the half hour, the Terriers put some pressure on City and made them vaguely uncomfortable. Diakhaby robbed Fernandinho on the left and nearly found Bacuna at the near post only for Laporte to get there first. Bacuna was harshly booked for trying to meet the pass.

Shortly beforehand, Kongolo had a nicely struck shot easily saved while Walker may have been slightly fortunate only to see yellow for a lunging, dangerous challenge on Löwe.

The short lived dominance was encouraging and visibly unnerved the visitors but they regained control to see out a half where they were a little fortunate to be in front despite the obvious gulf in quality.

Presumably motivated by some Spanish invective in the dressing room, City put the game to bed before the hour. Upping the gears, the reigning champions were given the benefit of offside doubt twice as Sané and Sterling combined to devastating effect with a passing interchange which ended with the diminutive Englishman dive heading past a helpless Lössl.

Two minutes later, Sané scored a third as City capitalised on a misplaced pass by Puncheon. The home debutant had managed to escape a multi press inside his own half very well, only to shank his intended pass out wide to Danilo who played in Sané with an excellent ball matched by a composed, quality finish.

The fear was that the bottom club, desperately short of experience, would be obliterated but, in fact, City largely reverted back to comfortable complacency which may have been unconscious sympathy at the hopelessness of their opponents’ situation and circumstances.

Mounié replaced the raw Diakhaby whose main attribute, pace, needs to be supplemented with experience which may make him a player in time, and the Benin international had quite the 30 minutes. He curled an excellent shot just past the post, had a decent header routinely saved and won a lot of aerial duels. Unfortunately, his half hour will mainly be remembered for a horrendous miss with the last kick of the game when he fired wide from 3 yards out.

The consolation would have been a small and probably deserved boost for the beleaguered Terriers. Nobody could complain about their effort, there were little spells of decent play and considering the opponents, there was a desire not to be humiliated after a horrible start to the second half. 
City should have scored a fourth towards the end of the 90 minutes when the Silvas combined to put Bernardo through. Lössl, whose poor distribution caused the problem in the first place, made a good block to make up for it.

A strange afternoon, where emotions off the pitch were probably more relevant than the action upon it, was lightened considerably by cries of “ole” for a sequence of passing which put the league champions to shame. Their international superstars could only watch in amazement as a surge of confidence injected the home side’s play. Like an indulgent Labrador staring at a kitten discovering its surroundings, as seen on several thousand YouTube videos.

With Wagner gone, leaving a moving, genuine goodbye on the big screen at half time, the future of the club is now uncertain. Not the uncertainty which precedes collection buckets, the only thing which should ever be demanded of Dean Hoyle and barely worth mentioning because of its innate ludicrousness, but the rebuilding of the club after nigh on inevitable relegation.

Understandably, most if not all of the paeans to David Wagner concentrated on the timeframe from his arrival to Stamford Bridge. In totality, January 2018 to his departure have been disastrously poor, saved only by the colossal inheritance Premier League survival has bestowed.

An inability to score enough goals, to put it mildly, and the failure to improve that all important statistic threatens to create a death spiral even while financially advantaged in the league below. The new manager will have to rectify this by any means possible.

Even in the context of the Premier League, the goals for have been disastrously low and it has consistently undermined the evident progress elsewhere on the pitch; there have been long patches when our competence up to the final third has been more than adequate to keep our heads above water.

If the promotion and survival seasons had large dollops of good fortune, it’s complete absence since August has been painful. However, when things were going well, it could be easily argued that the luck which came our way was well earned through a collective spirit which shone brightly in everything the club did on and off the pitch. Setbacks, and there were a few, were easily left in the past while now they linger in a fog of uncertainty and indecision.

Underlying the change in fortune, the absence of the leader at the club, for reasons both beyond anyone’s control and infinitely more important than football, cannot have been anything but paralysing to an adventure built upon a deep, symbiotic relationship between two remarkable individuals. 
The new manager, hopefully to be installed early this week, has an enormous, multi layered, challenge in front of him. 

Realistically, preparation for the Championship has to be paramount, while at the same time delivering some joy and fight on the pitch in pursuit of a third consecutive miracle and restoring pride in the more likely event of demotion.

It seems inconceivable that Mooy, Billing and Kongolo will not be snapped up by non top 6 clubs in the summer or even before the month’s end and stripping out proven talent from a squad heavily weighted towards potential is fraught with danger. Schindler, Löwe and Kachunga’s close ties with Wagner must also put a question mark over their futures, while Zanka, Mounié and Lössl have international careers to protect.

It is a considerable stretch to compare Town’s current travails with replacing a Busby or Ferguson, but the dangers of massive change loom and the complexities of managing them cannot be underestimated.
On the plus side, the loyalty of the supporters and the wider community to a club experiencing severe difficulties has been exemplary, the new manager inherits a strong, committed team behind the scenes and a substantially improved infrastructure. The foundations for future success are in place.

So, goodbye Dave. Who could have foreseen the momentous achievements and who would swap the experiences even if, deep down, we knew it was too far, too fast?

Tribute to Wagner from members of the HTFC mailing list

The Huddersfield Town mailing list has been around since the very early days of the Internet and we continue our archaic ways with polite discussion on all things Town from around the country.

We have never felt moved to make any sort of statement to the wider world; until now.

This week has seen the departure of the remarkable David Wagner. A man of inspiration, innovation and transparent humanity who has led our club to heights none of us could ever expect.

The thrilling, unlikely ascent to the top league was packed with moments which will live long in the memories of all Town fans and the determination to overcome huge odds and massive disadvantage brought colossal pride to a town too often overlooked for far too long.

But David, his staff and his family and the impact they had on our community transcended football. He genuinely and immediately understood the town and the character of it’s populace which he cleverly, and without pretence, harnessed to the fortunes of its football club.

In a close and deep partnership with our equally visionary chairman, Dean Hoyle, players of character, potential and determination were moulded in to a squad who took on the richer Championship and Premier League clubs and achieved feats beyond our imaginations. With a no limits philosophy, an incredible work ethic on and off the field and unadulterated honesty, setbacks were quickly forgotten as the club amazed and thrilled us up and down the country. 

Huddersfield people, supporters from the wider West Yorkshire area and those in further flung parts recognised the difference David could bring almost immediately – after just two weeks, an under performing team (only a few of which would continue the journey) began to play with intensity and aggression and the first 2 defeats were greeted with appreciation and a sense of anticipation.

The transformation was amazing. Inspired, the fans came back, organised to create an incredible atmosphere at the ground and instinctively embraced the change David and his colleagues had brought. We don’t suffer fools, but, boy, we recognise a smart worker when we see one.

From the infamous Swedish island to the sheer ecstasy of Stamford Bridge, the story brimmed with memories and deserved, wonderful achievement. Hefele at Villa, Payne at St James Park, Mooy at Elland Road, single goal, supremely managed wins such as the one at Rotherham, the flawless win over Brighton, Collin’s intervention at Hillsborough and Ward’s heroics. Wembley and the fitting finale of Schindler’s penalty. The party in St George’s square with all of the personalities on unabashed display. 

Palace and a dream start to Premier League life, the downing of Mourinho’s United, the noisy backing of the team even in defeat, a Christmas video which delighted, Ince’s late, late winner, blanking an incredible Manchester City team on their own patch and Laurent’s goal at Chelsea, with survival – unlikely, brilliant survival – secured.

Wagner swept us all along. When doubts crept in, he calmly reassured, victories were joyously celebrated in the Germanic style and everything in the world was right. He brought us all together, including people not necessarily interested in football, charmed us and a lot of the outside world, with his unique German humour and he put Huddersfield back in the map.
Above all, he gave us pride. Pride in him, his team and our town. 

It was all far too short, but in those 3 years he wrote his name alongside Chapman, Buxton and Greaves.

He brought joy, togetherness and a spirit of adventure we hope can last long in to the future. On news of his departure, the gratitude of the supporters, players and all who came in to contact with him was immediate, sincere and brimming with emotion. This is ours.

Goodbye David and all the very best to you and your family in the future, we will never forget and would welcome you back any time.

Members of The Huddersfield Town mailing list including:

Paul Stephenson   Chris Sykes                  Bob Knowles              Chris Eastwood     Ed Bradley  

Richard Scowron    Richard Holt               James Bartaby         Kev Salmon            Neil Horley

Anthony Rigg         Nigel Woodcock       Gerry Wilde                Simon Evans           Will Shaw    

David Hobson       Peter Watson             Robert Pepper           Mark Abbott            Paul MacDonald

John Thornton       David Ling                   Christopher Beever   Doug Walker          Dan Exley

Nigel Dearnley       Gareth Hardcastle    John Thornton             Nick Thorpe             Marcus Garside

Chris Newton John Hirst

Pointless point in Principality

Perhaps the linesman who overruled Lee Mason’s decision to award a penalty to the visitors decided that this artless, clunking encounter didn’t deserve the gloss of a winning goal, and he would have had a point. 

Neither side really troubled either keeper in 90 minutes of grunting, soul sapping dirge – even when Lössl was called in to action, an offside flag made it redundant – and the lack of quality on show was stark.

As ever, Town were competent until in sight of goal but woefully inadequate thereafter. Largely nullifying Cardiff’s more direct style for much of the game, though Hadergjonaj had to make a last gasp challenge in the first half to prevent Morrison’s head down being converted by Hoilett, the visitors dominated possession but simply could not find the right pass, that elusive moment of quality or applied ruthlessness to capitalise.

Up top, Mounié performed manfully but his efforts were not reciprocated by team mates who failed to provide him with a single good opportunity despite working decent positions out wide in both halves. When three consecutive corners pick out the same first defender, sympathy for the Terriers’ miserable scoring record disappears.

The closest Town came to a goal was when Puncheon – who had a decent league debut – fed Kachunga in the area, only for the German to be closed down as he shot. Puncheon himself had an early shot which flew narrowly wide but these were rare moments in a game which barely elevated above dismal.

While the first half managed to hold some interest for both sets of fans, the second descended in to largely unwatchable attrition. Town were slightly the better of the two teams on the ball but decent periods of pressure simply failed to produce any opportunities. 

With 15 minutes to go in a game Town simply had to win to reduce the chasm which eight successive league defeats has opened, a raking pass by Billing found Hadergjonaj raiding down the right. Tussling with Bennett, the Swiss was brought down and after a moment of consideration, Lee Mason pointed to the spot for Town’s first penalty of the season.

Encouraged by several Cardiff players to seek a second opinion from his linesman, the decision was overturned for reasons unknown. At least we were spared the ignominy of someone missing it.

A win would have been undeserved and, in any case, would have made little difference to the inevitability of relegation but the complete absence of good fortune continues to plague the season, piling on the agony and deflating what vestiges of confidence remain.

A point at Cardiff on the back of a good December would have been more than acceptable, but that disastrous month sealed our demise. With no solutions to our desperate scoring record anywhere in sight, the next few months promise to be bleak to say the least.

The Hateful Eight

When Mounié met Mbenza’s perfect cross to put Huddersfield Town in to the lead in a game they surely had to win to cling on to any hope of survival, they were rewarded for a competent, if not exactly spectacular, opening half hour and the success starved home support revelled in the highlight of the night, possibly the year.

In truth and by the time the lead was established, Burnley were already the more likely team to triumph. Town’s play was scrappy and unfocused and the excellent Mbenza cross was an outlier though the relief for Mounié scoring his first, very well taken, goal of the season was tangible.

It all fell apart rapidly as the visitors deservedly levelled within 5 minutes. The excellent young prospect Dwight McNeil, starting only his second Premier League game, tormented the fragile Hadergjonaj, and not for the first time, on the left and swept in a low cross for Wood to equalise from close range. Given Hadergjonaj’s quite awful form, it was a major surprise for him to be selected over Durm though the German’s vulnerability to injury and unsuitability to playing two full games in a week may have forced Wagner’s hand.

Just one minute later, Schindler, apparently blissfully unaware that he had been booked, illegally halted a dangerous Burnley attack – which was initiated by a woeful restart by Town (the increasingly irritating ball back for Zanka to stop and Schindler to launch) – and the bemused German was sent off. 

Though there could be some sympathy for Schindler falling foul of Mike Dean’s idiosyncratic yellow card brandishing, the sheer folly of the situation highlighted the desperately muddled state of the club right now. Alternatively, it is also difficult to summon sympathy when a cynical play (the chances of Burnley scoring were high) results in the ultimate punishment. 

Down to ten – an equation we struggle with both when depleted or facing the depleted – Town’s paddle could be seen floating down the shitty creek. The Clarets had already shown they were a more efficient outfit who passed more crisply, moved more effectively and played with sheds more confidence and it was difficult to imagine anything other than another gloomy outcome.

So it proved. Pritchard’s creativity was replaced by Durm’s versatility when any reshuffle should have seen Hadergjonaj relieved of his misery instead. Mechanical, obvious thinking won the day as it almost always does – Mounié tried, unsuccessfully, to play in the spaces left by his diminutive colleague and was peripheral at best for the rest of the game.

The effort of most in the second half couldn’t be faulted, but Burnley’s control of the ball was exhaustingly effective and it was only a matter of time before they took a likely unassailable lead. 

The goal owed much to excellent centre forward play by Wood who, despite missing a very good headed chance at the back post, had an excellent game – one which could be instructive to both Mounié and Depoitre. Taking a ball with his back to goal, he laid it back first time with his head, moved in to space and received the ball back before moving it on. Burnley had, by the time Wood had done his work, overloaded Town’s back four and Barnes was played in to slot past Lössl.

Town’s attempts to get an equaliser in an increasingly frantic finale were far from convincing and the appearance of Depoitre (for the injured Durm) with 5 minutes to play didn’t augur well – Town have yet to score a goal when both he and Mounié are on the pitch but as the injury time board was held up, a good run from Mbenza was ended by a dangerous challenge by Brady which brought a well deserved red.

Billing lined up a shot from the free kick which was a decent effort but cleared the bar with Heaton scrambling and the 8th consecutive defeat was confirmed.

While there is no way of knowing if the result would have been different without the sending off, deep down those of a blue and white persuasion must concede that Dyce’s men looked more accomplished for most of the game and misses the crucial point anyway – for two seasons we have operated on the edge. One goal wins with good game management in the Championship and just enough paper thin wins and draws in the Premier League have provided two memorable campaigns but, eventually, when you are on that edge, you are going to fall off.

Criticism of the summer recruitment is valid but often ignores the reality of attracting players to a club certain to be fighting against expected relegation and the long term financial consequences of not planning for life in the league below. Mbenza is a case in point – loaned in for his potential, the early signs were not at all good but his displays at Old Trafford and against Burnley suggest that there is a player to emerge. He should have played at Fulham.

Barring a miraculous recovery, Town are down and need to prepare to take advantage of their financial strength next season – an advantage which will change the narrative we have been used to and which will present its own challenges.

The club owes the supporters a cup run now. A shadow team at Bristol on Saturday is not acceptable – they MUST take it seriously.