1973 and all that

Glum faces all round

Jan Siewert’s painfully inept, if somewhat unfortunate, tenure as manager of Huddersfield Town came to a predictable end with a defeat against a Fulham side who finally woke from a first half torpor to dominate a horrible second half for the team and their walking the plank boss.

With the club suffering from seemingly intractable problems which had built inexorably since around January 2018 under Wagner who, despite the miracle of survival which had largely been secured in the first 3 months of the season, was unable to replicate his remarkable achievements in the rarefied air of the Premier League, Jan’s job was as unenviable a task as the trials of Hercules.

Unfortunately, and from his first days to his last, he was unable to move the dial and rarely looked capable of doing so. 

The automatic goodwill and sympathy afforded to a coach taking over control of a vessel battered by the storms of debilitating stretches of defeat, the loss of leadership caused by Dean Hoyle’s traumatic illness and the sheer impossibility of a league where weakness is ruthlessly and incessantly punished was rather wasted by attacking his vulnerable players after defeats and never really connecting with a support which had demonstrated endless patience.

With no bounce, not even of the dead cat variety, there was little for supporters to become excited about. Perhaps unfairly, Siewert’s personality contrasted rather poorly with the man he replaced; when compared with many of his predecessors this would not have been an issue but Wagner, for all his failings towards the end, will cast a long shadow. He needed a signature victory but the only one he got was a fairly streaky three points against an opponent seemingly mesmerised by the words Huddersfield and Town.

Having accepted that there was little the man could do with a team largely incapable of competing in the top league, most were able to muster patience largely based on the belief that the step down would be an opportunity for him to shape his squad, get rid of the alleged bad apples and impose his own style for a difficult but more egalitarian league. 

That patience, however, was not underpinned with a great deal of belief as Siewert hadn’t demonstrated much in the way of innovation and even a successful, if relatively soft, pre season only served to slightly increase expectation that the team could quickly find their feet; not necessarily with a barnstorming march to the top of the early table but with a clear style and decent performances. Neither happened. Glimpses of decent play in isolated spells in the first two league games simply didn’t convince.

A relatively difficult start didn’t help him, but it was his job to overcome the challenges in front of him and he has pretty consistently failed to rise to them. There were some moments of ill fortune, but even a peremptory examination of them reveals individual failings; Elphick’s horrible debut including a ludicrous error, Kachunga’s blazing of an equaliser opportunity over the bar, Quaner ducking under across at QPR. The latter, however, was not just the error of the player – he shouldn’t have been on the pitch and epitomised Jan’s persistently bad substitution decisions.

The circumstances surrounding the home defeat by League 1 Lincoln were also ill starred but in a tough world, they were of the type you have to overcome. He didn’t. Again.

Overall, Siewert had little good fortune throughout his occupancy of the hot seat but neither did he ever give the impression he would create strategies to overcome them. It wasn’t just bad luck and circumstances which caused his downfall, it was his lack of discernible reaction to them.

In his final game, Siewert faced one of the favourites for promotion (serendipity seems to entirely evade the German) and chose a team which entirely ignored Van La Parra’s angry, message sending, cameo against Lincoln and Bacuna’s poor performance in the same game.

Predictable, lacking innovation or bravery even when you know the sack is just 90 minutes away is either remarkable chutzpah or unwisely and doggedly clinging to failed beliefs to the very end.
It didn’t turn out well and an uneventful, dull first half with neither side convincing or forcing either keeper in to meaningful action, though Grabara was the busier of the two, failed to offer much solace. A decent first 15 minutes for the home side faded away and were never to return and created little of note in any case.

Despite what looks like a very strong Championship squad, including the little nark, Arter, Fulham had a first half to forget and both sides produced distinctly average displays, littered with errors. For Town, Bacuna’s woeful start to the season persisted and was about to get immeasurably worse.

There was a significant case to be made for Siewert to replace the Dutch youngster at half time but, indecisively and predictably, he didn’t; a decision he would rue just 5 minutes in to a second half which had already seen Fulham improve considerably with purposeful possession.

A fairly benign attack down the right was transformed in to a dangerous one as Bacuna’s attempted clearance sliced high in to his own penalty area and perfectly placed for Mitrović to head home from close range. Elphick could possibly have done better too but the situation was completely unpredictable and a gift for the Fulham centre forward.

To their credit, and to the general surprise of a home crowd now fully expecting defeat, Town equalised when Hadgerjonaj finally delivered a decent cross which found Grant unmarked. Town’s single bright spot and cause for hope headed powerfully to the keeper’s left whose attempt to claw the ball out was marginally too late and goal line technology showed it crossed the line for Grant’s third goal in 3 games.

This should have signalled an assault on the visitors and the introduction of an attacking alternative to pile on the pressure. It didn’t, of course, and Fulham shrugged off the disappointment and simply picked up where they left off, dominating possession, moving easily and looking very comfortable.

Grabara, who had made several good stops before the equaliser became increasingly busy as Fulham resumed their superiority but had no chance whatsoever when Cavaleiro curled an excellent winner past the Pole after creating space in the area with the help of a dummy run to his left by Bryan.

With that, the final nail for the manager had been driven home and Town never looked like recovering. Van La Parra appeared with 5 minutes to go as Siewert’s Achilles heel was demonstrated for the final time and boos cascaded down the stands at yet another defeat.

Hudson, who, along with Whitehead, should have been given the job to guide Town out of the Premier League, will take charge at Cardiff and maybe until the international break if the club are wise and consider the options very carefully.

Whoever takes over will have the very difficult job of ensuring the great drop of the 1970s is avoided. There is organisable talent in this squad, but the relentless defeats have left an atrophied club spiralling in a descent reminiscent of those exceptionally dark days.

Good luck in the future, Jan, it just wasn’t to be.

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