Of course, it had to be Wolves.
Town’s head to head record against all manner and shape of teams from the Black Country, in whatever form they are in, however much they have or haven’t spent and under managers as disparate as McCarthy and Nuno is quite remarkable, stretching back over 20 years.
The current Old Gold iteration is one brimming with talent as evidenced by an excellent first season back in the top flight, yet Siewert’s much changed team nullified their naturally expansive play with a combination of tenacity and discipline so sorely missing at St James’ Park.
Saturday’s performance, even given the early reduction to ten men, clearly rattled the new manager desperate for a first win or point. Eight of the starting eleven found themselves ousted with a couple excluded entirely as, notably, Grant was given a first start, Stanković handed the opportunity to finally show what a good player he can be and, in the most left field change, Duhaney was included from, well, nowhere, really.
Pritchard was drafted in after a long absence out of favour and the team selection appeared very bold, brave and potentially disastrous with Mooy – whose performance at the weekend was way below his high standards – relegated to the bench.
After a promising opening 15 minutes when Town dominated possession and territory but without causing much consternation for the visitors, other than a wickedly deflected Hogg effort which rather fortuitously flew narrowly wide, the first half descended in to something of a bore. Wolves’ superior technical ability eventually stemmed the early enthusiasm but without creating any significant danger for the hosts.
The one area of concern for Town in the first half was the inexperienced Duhaney being rather exposed defensively – his work on the ball was more than competent – and Siewert sensibly replaced him at half time with Bacuna. It was to prove to be an excellent substitution.
If the first half was a rather damp squib, the second came to life immediately with a goal bound Mounié effort deflecting off a defender and wide. From the corner, the hugely impressive Stanković could only head weakly despite little attention from the Wolves defence. Unfortunately, it was also slightly too firmly headed for the equally impressive Grant to apply a finishing touch near the line.
Grant’s willing running up front gave Town a new dimension up front (or, to put it a little more cruelly, an actual dimension) and Siewert’s stated aim of creating more chances, which looked very hollow at Newcastle, is taking shape. The problems are far from resolved, but the youngster’s movement is surely the way forward to improve the pitiful goals output.
Despite being on the front foot from the start, quelling the free flowing style of the Black Country men remained essential and, with some straining and occasional discomfort, the defence coped admirably.
Central to the effort was Stanković’s cool presence, excellent timing and composed distribution. Kongolo and Schindler produced much improved performances than of late while Bacuna, playing an unfamiliar role, added aggression and pump fisting determination even if there were one or two flaws. In contrast to the youngster he replaced, he was able to recover and rectify his errors.
Bacuna’s influence down the right grew with the half and an excellent diagonal ball evaded Kongolo’s long legs (he had remained forward following a failed set piece) and bounced up invitingly for Mouniè. As has too often happened this season, his finishing instinct deserted him and he hit the side netting when he really should’ve scored.
The only real moment of genuine concern for the home side was when an unmarked Boly headed over from a corner, and it was the only moment where the back line could be criticised. Thankfully, and just for a change, the opponent wasn’t able to capitalise.
From then on, however, Town began to dominate and push forward with the greater conviction. Desperate to produce a win to reward the enduring patience of their disappointed but fundamentally realistic supporters, there was a palpable determination to their challenges on the ground and in the air, a noticeable fitness superiority and willingness to get men forward.
A great tackle by Hogg in midfield set Pritchard in motion. He found the ever willing Grant who, despite being pushed wide, found Hogg’s head at the near post but his instinctive flick went over.
The busy and creative Pritchard came off for Mooy shortly afterwards and Siewert’s second substitution was as effective and influential as his first with the Aussie adding his familiar calm to an intensifying home effort. It wasn’t long before he had a shot, either, fed by Mouniè and just wide.
By this point, the crowd sensed, rather in fervent hope than expectation born of experience, something may be on the cards. An excellent Mouniè strike curled just wide with the keeper beaten. Kachunga, lively as the third substitute, created the opportunity.
It was Mooy who finally opened up Wolves, capitalising on tired legs by bursting down the right and firing over a cross which reached Grant whose effort deflected off a defender, past the keeper and towards the prone Mouniè who poked in the winner.
The release of tension on the pitch, on the touchline and in the stands was as if the Terriers had won a trophy rather than their first 3 points since November, but who could blame us?
In stark contrast to Saturday’s dismal efforts, the second half performance in particular was brimming with spirit, energy and determination; which is all the fair minded, realistic supporter asks of the team.
Siewert’s bold decision making before and during the game delivered and, hopefully, both he and the players can gain much needed confidence to finish the season with a flourish to provide a springboard for the Championship campaign to come.
While Jon Gorenc Stanković will rightly take the plaudits for his flawless performance, Grant’s constant hard work caught the eye – he provided essential motion, something we have desperately needed all season. Bacuna’s promise was again on show.
A rare moment of joy in a quite horrible season was reward for a phlegmatic, largely good humoured and remarkably understanding support – a few more encouraging displays and results to create some momentum could prove crucial for the next campaign, even if dreams of a miracle escape are pure fantasy.