Town kop another beating

In the run up to this ridiculously mismatched contest, the media applied the epithet “already relegated” to Huddersfield Town. While it made a change from Huddersfield Town nil, it was also a message to Liverpool – drop points here and bottling would be redefined.

Conceding within 15 seconds, with Stankovíc trying to play out from the back as two rather decent footballers breathed down his neck, that notion was instantly buried.

Kieta robbed the over casual Slovenian, received a pass from Salah and beat Lössl with some comfort to record Liverpool’s fastest ever Premier League goal. The visitors had managed to turn kick off in to a golden opportunity for opponents hardly reliant on such a gift.

If there had been even a glimmer of hope for Town, and this is a stretch demanding a lot of imagination, it was to frustrate the Reds and jangle their nerves as they strived to put pressure on the other outstanding team in the division vying for a title both deserve to win.

Ironically, rather than being a prelude to Liverpool asserting their overwhelming quality, Town produced 15 minutes of decent football which almost lead to an immediate shock equaliser as Stankovíc found himself in space and side footed an attempt goal wards which deflected wide off Lovren for a poorly delivered corner.

Mbenza had an effort blocked and also delivered a dangerous cross which Mouníe failed to convert, and the striker nearly connected with another corner as the visitors took the game to their hosts.

As ever, the bright spell faded away quickly but it should be noted that there was more adventure in that brief period than in the whole of the last visit to Anfield.

With a palpable yawn, Liverpool woke up to the fact that they needed to put away this upstart and, lead by the imperious Van Dijk who, striding forward in to a space he created for himself by disdainfully swatting off any attempt to intrude upon his elegance set up Robinson to swing in a perfect cross for Mané to bury.

Any pretence of competition disappeared with the doubling of the lead and the home side set their eyes on the one area where they are well behind City; goal difference. The Terriers had contributed to the discrepancy in their 6-1 capitulation with a scratch Wagner side in the second game of the season, so this was the Merseysiders’ lamb slaughtering catch up opportunity.

As the injury time board was held up showing just 1 minute to be added, Alexander-Arnold played a sumptuous ball through to Salah who expertly lobbed Lössl to salt the visitors’ gaping wounds.

Anfield, a little more atmospheric than last season, applauded off their team who had barely broken sweat for their 3-0 lead and could even afford 15 minutes of complacency  against a team consistently exposed as massively out of their depth. 

Only the dynamic Bacuna – who was taken out 3 times by Kieta without a word to the Guinean from a typically indulgent referee – provided comfort to the visiting supporters though Grant’s fearless if not flawless work out of position on the left promises good things as well.

Liverpool could, and probably should, have closed the goals gap on City to the point of parity in a second half played in an increasingly swirling, cold wind. As it was, Mané planted a fine header past Lössl following an excellent Henderson cross and Salah steered home a low cross from the excellent Robinson after a defence splitting Shaqiri pass had played in the Scotsman on the left and the hosts went nap.

Shaqiri had been brought on as a substitute. Oxlade-Chamberlain was brought on as a substitute on his return from horrific injury at the back end of last season. We brought on Löwe, a left back, to replace alleged striker Mounié.

With Mané hitting the post, Lössl saving well from Oxlade-Chamberlain and the hosts rather over elaborating at times, the score was a little way off humiliation but still humbling.

Town had actually been the first to get the ball in the net in the second half but the excellent Bacuna was deprived by a correct offside call – Sturridge was similarly denied minutes later.

Before those judgements, however, Mounié managed to encapsulate everything which has been wrong with the Terriers all season. After exposing Lovren with a decent attack featuring Grant, a loose clearance allowed the Beninese a clear run on goal with both Grant and Bacuna free to his right. Mounié took so long to weigh up his options you could almost visualise the confused thought bubbles. Mané – a guy who plays up front for the equal best team in the country, vying to be the best in Europe – got back to dispossess him.

There have been many situations which could have been the final straw for the immobile, indecisive non scoring striker – his failure to play in Matt Daly last week, for instance; surely and finally this piece of ineptitude will be it?

For supporters, the yearning for an end to the relentless punishment endures. There is a certain joy in the gallows humour which masks the humiliation of being one of the most inept teams in the top flight (going back way beyond 1992), but neither is there any comfort in looking to the future at a level at which we should be able to compete, there being little evidence – Bacuna and Grant aside – that the decline can be halted.

Two theories about Siewert compete amongst the fans; he is either hidebound by the circumstances in to which he was plunged and worthy of a transfer window to transform our fortunes or an entirely unproven naïf who has shown little discernible aptitude for the job.

Successful succession planning rather assumes a smooth transition in calm circumstances, not parachuting in an inexperienced (in fact, non experienced in terms of first team football) coach to take over from an emotionally drained miracle worker. Town have done themselves nor Siewert any favours at all when Hudson could have guided the club down without the apparent friction created by a man, understandably, trying to make his mark.

A heavy defeat to an elite club and team has to be viewed in context, but as another chapter in an appalling, exhausting season of hopelessness, Town’s incessant failure cannot simply be ignored.

Perhaps the future ownership will be clearer by the end of this week, if rumours are to be believed, which may, finally, lead to some evidence of planning for the rigours of the relentless Championship season ahead. 

The club, which barely deserves the number of season tickets sold, must start communicating messages beyond the banalities emanating from them at the moment (like a picture of the away dressing room before the game last night). Even a little reassurance would be welcome, if not universally believed.

Still, it’s nearly over, thank God.

Quality gap exposed again

That a youngster from League One has become Huddersfield Town’s top scorer in just a few short months as he adapts to life at the top level tells you all you need to know about a squad which continues to fail to deliver even scraps of hope to a remarkably supportive fan base.

As has been the case for nearly a season and a half, Town faced opponents with much greater quality, application and coherence playing within themselves for much of the game and finding thwarting the sporadic threat the home team could muster all too easy.

An early goal for the FA Cup finalists – it would be due reward for a great season if the Hornets overcome the City juggernaut – augured badly for the Terriers who, in time honoured style, rather gifted the opportunity to the talented Deulofeu when a ball from Lössl to Hogg put the ex-Watford man in some trouble. 

His attempt to extricate himself saw him robbed and left defenders in big trouble behind him. Kongolo made a great block from Doucouré only for the ball to rebound to Deulofeu. The Spaniard bamboozled the recovering Kongolo and planted the ball in off the post with a marvellous piece of skill.

A pretty dreary first half followed with a Mooy free kick and a decent effort by Mbenza which was too close to Foster to cause much concern briefly enlivening proceedings. The shape and composition of the team was much better than last week’s horrendous mistake and there were one or two encouraging releases of Smith down the right and Durm down the left by the lively Bacuna but gloom largely pervaded.

Hogg, on a booking and near the edge of a red was withdrawn for debutant Daly and the youngster acquitted himself pretty well – had Mounié played him in during a bright period in the second half, he could well have capped his debut with an equaliser.

After the interval, Town were a little brighter and a little more competitive but rarely troubled Foster in the Watford goal as the final third failings which has engulfed all the other efforts throughout the season were exposed once more.

Grant, on whose shoulders next season appear to be weighing, replaced the disappointing and fundamentally immobile Mounié just after the hour. Other than his failure to release Daly in a momentarily dangerous looking counter attack, the Beninese had overhead kicked a loose ball over the bar and failed to connect with a decent Mbenza cross. His overall contribution was marginal, however.

Another feature of many games this season has been the obligatory 10-15 minutes of decent play. It rarely leads to a goal, never changes the course of events and cruelly tantalises supporters who wonder why these brief sparks of competence cannot be sustained and never deliver anyway. 

As hope is crushed on impact with the final third of the pitch, it is only a matter of time for the invariably superior opposition to counter and when Watford broke up Town possession halfway in the home half, alarm bells started ringing. Sema made a strong run past Durm before his dangerous low cross was deflected to Doucouré who brought out a good save from Lössl only for the ball to fall to Deulofeu to place a killer second past despairing home defenders.

A late consolation by Grant, who seems to have significantly more instinct in the box than the rest of Town’s failing strikers put together, put a little gloss on the predictably dispiriting affair – the goal means we have equalled the record low scoring season in the Premier League, held by Derby County. One more and the tiniest scrap of comfort can be drawn.

With ownership uncertainty, doubts over the new manager and one or two players going through the motions before inevitable departure, it remains incredible that the club receives the vocal support heard in the second half – some time soon, they need to see a plan to halt a debilitating decline which seems inevitable as things stand.

On the positive side, Bacuna and Kongolo performed excellently for the whole game, Grant looks like the type of poacher who could thrive in the Championship and Lössl reminded us what a good goalkeeper looks like.

It is anybody’s guess what sort of team Siewert will put out at Anfield but the challenge looks monumentally beyond any combination. 

Dazzled and befuddled

Town’s latest gig on the tour of forlorn futility rolled up to Tottenham Hotspur’s gleaming new citadel in North London to provide the Lilywhites with some light relief between their Champions League quarter final match up with Manchester City.

Feasting on the doomed Terriers in a ludicrously one sided first half, Spurs dictated the tempo of the game with measured ease. Pochettino had the luxury of resting his major players knowing that he could have picked a team out of a hat to secure 3 points. His counterpart Siewert appears to have actually followed that plan with another failed experiment which managed to add a new level of frailty to his so far entirely uninspiring tenure.

The timorous visitors approached the game with a debilitating level of fear and should have been buried well before a quick double between the 24th and 27th minute gave the score line a semblance of reality. For the first, Stanković was embarrassed by Llorente on the edge of the area before the Spaniard fed Wanyama to waltz through the little resistance there was in front of him. Minutes later, Durm lost the ball on the halfway line allowing a lightning fast counter which ended with Lucas Moura firing under the hapless Hamer.

Revelling in their sumptuous new surroundings, Tottenham strolled their way through a first half without, remarkably, adding to their lead leaving the away support with no choice but to stick around in the unlikely event that the old adage of 2-0 being a dangerous lead came true.

In fairness, Town showed more fight in the second half and had an excellent cross by Hogg been guided in by Mounié on the three quarter mark rather than creeping agonisingly wide, the game may have become interesting. By that point, the home side had contrived to miss a plethora of chances and their profligacy may have come back to haunt them. 

Prior to the miss, Bacuna had released Grant with an excellent ball only for the youngster to run out of steam at the vital moment. These two combined again later to no avail but they represent just about the only hope that the club can be revitalised next season.

For the time being, we look hopelessly out of our depth even against lesser lights than a scratch Spurs team who scored two late goals through Mauro, allowing the Brazilian a first Premier League hat trick. The record books won’t have an asterisk denoting the appalling opposition he faced to achieve the feat.

A raucous celebration of our lamentable team at half time in the concourse provided just about the only entertainment for the visiting support – once it was broken up by stadium staff the beleaguered travellers had to go back out to endure yet another humiliation in a season of desperate, dreary tedium.

Growing and serious question marks now surround Siewert. Not because he has picked up just one, streaky, win since his appointment or because he has been unable to produce miracles with a squad destined for relegation long before he arrived or that he lost to a team on a completely different financial plane, but because there has been no discernible improvement in tactics or performance; pretty much the opposite, in fact.

Our identity was lost before he took over, but the path from dogged, aggressive Terriers to supine poodles has been accelerated rather than reversed. The pride we had in a team battling overwhelming odds has been replaced by the shame of humiliation, disguised with scathing self mockery.

The club is in a dangerous place and the decline is becoming malignant.

‘72 Revisited

Huddersfield Town were predictably dismantled by a Leicester side brimming with talent and confidence and they added a twist of cruelty by not emphasising their massive superiority in the first half with more than a slender 1-0 lead.

A bright start in the second half saw the home team achieve a semblance of threat before Vardy made it 2-0 following the Foxes’ first serious foray.

Reflecting the horrors of a season which has trashed the legacy built by Wagner and Hoyle, home supporters were given a glimmer of hope when the first penalty of the season was converted by Mooy only for the visitors’ overwhelming superiority to be reasserted as Town’s forlorn search for an equaliser was foiled.

Hogg, who picked up a cheap booking pulling back the excellent Maddison, tried to be calm on the edge of the area when a clearance was demanded and fouled Vardy as the ex-England striker nipped in to dispossess him. Maddison curled the free kick past a poorly constructed wall and the worryingly execrated Hamer to seal the points.

Vardy’s late penalty gave the score line a more realistic representation of the yawning gap of quality, organisation and resilience between the mismatched teams. By that point, many had left the stadium for pursuits elsewhere wracked with fear and doubt over the future of their club. 

Financial stability is the consolation but the stench of failure is beginning to hang heavy around a club which still does a hell of a lot right off the pitch – the invite to the girl from Texas inspired by Mooy was typical of that – but for how long will they be able to roll this turd in golden glitter?

Parallels with 1972 and probably the darkest period in Town’s history become stronger and stronger. Experienced, well remunerated players sidelined after making their departures public, disintegration on the pitch as dismal failure permeates and destroys confidence and the ownership, through no fault of his own this time, appearing to be ready to go. Gallows humour is just about the only thing left for a brutalised support.

Jan Siewert’s tenure has not gone well. One win over Wolves, a club seemingly and bizarrely hexed by the Terriers, doesn’t begin to mask his unremitting failure to offer any signs of hope despite some pretty brave decisions which are unmistakably experimental. Brief glimmers of excitement are all too easily buried by the cruel realities of a division far beyond the capabilities of many in the squad and the ease and propensity of collapse during games reflects a potentially engulfing chaos.

The appointment of Siewert is looking increasingly like an attempt to reheat a soufflé. There was undoubted logic in formulating a Wagner succession plan, but that surely presupposed a smooth transition rather than the quite horrible circumstances pertaining in January and since.

Where once the underdog Terrier identity was defining and useful, dropping down to the Championship with riches beyond the imagination as recently as 3 years ago has to mean change. We cannot pretend to be the paupers we once were – while geography and image still mitigates against established, quality players choosing the club, money does talk. That reality must be grasped and turned to advantage rather than ignored as being too vulgar.

Town’s situation surely demands an experienced manager to oversee a well recruited squad through the rigours of the Championship, but the reality is that the Siewert gamble will be played out to its conclusion. There is little evidence that the conclusion will be joyous, but maybe the planets will align as perfectly as they did once Wagner got the squad he wanted?

For many, the drop down barely registers as a disaster, and there are many aspects of the Premier League which won’t be missed – not least the Sisyphean futility of staying up – but this acceptance could easily translate in to a further relegation. It has happened to bigger clubs than us.

The unlamented Rebbe has yet to be replaced at a time which could be being used productively to source the players to make us competitive, which is an added worry to a pile of concerns over the short term future.

Back to the game itself; woeful passing, wasteful free kicks and corners and an all pervading lack of cohesion doomed Town from the start and a 3rd home win never looked like happening. To his credit, the much maligned Hamer kept the first half score down with some decent goalkeeping to deny the ever dangerous Gray but it was only postponing the inevitable.

Improved after the break, Town finally perturbed Leicester’s back four but ……. ah, who cares.

On to Spurs to look around their new home ahead of another thraping.