Redemption song

An indifferent Boxing Day performance at Middlesbrough, according to witnesses, would have been as bearable as similar efforts at Stoke, Charlton and Wigan (which garnered 7 points) had 2 easy chances been converted.

A few days later, the miscreants of the Riverside both scored to beat a decent and in form Blackburn Rovers side and end a traumatic 2019 with a hugely important victory which provides significant hope for the new year and beyond.

Coming from behind to win for the first time in over 2 and a half years after a dozy, incompetent start to the game emphasised the Cowley effect on a squad of players with inherent flaws but a growing spirit and immensely improved resilience. Culled of disruptive or disinterested members, a club immersed in a losing mentality and headed for certain relegation is being transformed before our eyes with an intriguing January window about to open.

After an error strewn and shapeless opening 15 minutes which handed the visitors a lead which felt ominous, Town changed shape to bring Mounié in to the game; if flowing football was beyond a team desperately missing the disruptive force of the injured Hogg, knocking it longer provided some desperately needed impetus.

With all the confidence of a team enjoying a good run of form under an astute manager, Rovers strolled past their opponents’ lethargy with some ease and an uncontested cross from deep found an uncontested Danny Graham who headed home past a static Grabara from 10 yards after just 7 minutes.

It was a deeply disappointing concession but a direct result of a passive opening which thoroughly invited disaster.

Inured to the fact that their team simply isn’t capable of reversing setbacks, assuming damaging defeat or, at best, a fairly useless draw was the natural conclusion amongst supporters numbed, if not defeated, by the events of the past 2 years.

With Gallagher causing multiple problems up front and Rovers shrugging off the unfortunate serious injury to Dack, along with Holtby’s absence, a bleak afternoon (even one blessed with a spectacular sunset) seemed inevitable.

Town finally emerged from their languor as the quarter hour approached with Grant forcing a good save after being fed by O’Brien. The leading scorer’s control appeared to involve his arm before the strike, but the effort stirred the crowd and the team finally responded.
A mishit cross by Grant hit the bar and while it was far from one way traffic with Blackburn still capable of causing consternation at times, it had become a contest.

It was Grant, yet again, who should have earned himself a penalty to equalise but a largely out of his depth referee waved away what should have been a straightforward appeal.

Fortunately, the incompetence was rendered irrelevant just a few minutes later. Bacuna, effervescent after the horrendous start, was brought down on the left and got to his feet to deliver a superb free kick in to the corridor of uncertainty for defenders and the keeper alike. Piling in to the area with exquisite timing, Stanković headed past Walton to atone for his Boxing Day miss.

The rest of the half largely belonged to the home side and a little more composure in good situations may have established an interval lead; momentum had swung to the home side though this was occasionally threatened by a Rovers side who still looked dangerous when given the chance.

A good effort by Grant which narrowly missed the far post brought the meaningful action to an end and parity was just about fair in a reasonably entertaining contest. At the back, Schindler and the excellent Stanković had finally got to grips with Gallagher’s aerial threat, O’Brien had begun to fizz in the middle, Grant was threatening, and while far from perfect, the team as a whole had recovered from the worryingly poor start.

Perhaps half time came at a bad time but Town started the 2nd half poorly though some credit should be given to the visitors who took the initiative and one excellent move was only ruined by Buckley firing high and wide.

However, Town were individually and collectively switched on in the face of Blackburn’s improvement and they didn’t allow the visitors to translate their confidence in to another lead.

Scrappy at times, the game lulled until the hour mark when a great ball in to the area by Bacuna was met by an equally good run by Grant. The leading scorer’s attempt flicked off a defender for a corner which was wasted as a practised routine broke down with Brown on the edge of the box unable to get a first time shot away and too engulfed to get the ball back in to the danger area.

Give me lucky generals, as Napoleon never said, and the Cowleys had an enormous slice of luck when an injury to Kachunga forced them to change their plan to replace Mounié with Campbell. Almost immediately, a press by the ever alert O’Brien pinched possession and fell for Town’s ill starred striker who took a couple of strides forward before unleashing a curling masterpiece in to the top corner from distance.

Mounié was the second Town player to atone for his Middlesbrough sin and with a memorable, possibly parting, shot. 

The Beninese is regularly lauded in song by the Town faithful despite his many ineffective displays; there is a residual affection for a lad who is clearly a well liked character in the squad (evidenced by the Cowleys including him while others have been unceremoniously and rightly jettisoned) and there is an argument to keep him as an option. That argument may not be the strongest ever mounted and certainly not universally accepted, but the Cowleys have earned the right to make the decision and this should be respected, either way.

Meanwhile, Campbell introduced himself to proceedings with two fouls in quick succession including a late tackle which earned a merited booking. It is not the first time he has rampaged about opposing defenders like a latter day James Vaughan and he needs to calm down.

Rovers’ final chance to grab a point arrived with minutes of normal time remaining. A corner swung in by Downing was met well by Adarabioyo but Grabara was equal to it and made an excellent save to preserve Town’s lead.

A mesmerising run by Grant nearly put the game to bed, and he possibly should have passed to better placed colleagues rather than trying to squeeze the ball in at the near post but, with his record, his selfishness is entirely forgivable.

Less forgivable was the addition of 9 minutes injury time with the suggestion that the 4th official held up the board upside down and really meant 6.

As it happened, Rovers struggled to trouble a deep set home defence and another step towards safety was achieved. 

While Town missed Hogg and the midfield looks weaker without him, O’Brien had a very good return and Bacuna’s contributions were often telling. Chalobah however remains promising on the front foot at times but fundamentally naive. His decision making baffles on too many occasions and his development needs to show a breakthrough soon.

All problems aside, and many challenges remain, the Cowleys have been remarkably successful with a broken club on a downward spiral reaching peak velocity. The future looks very promising.

Happy New Year to all.

Frenzied Forest felled

When the first word which comes to mind to describe the events of a game is “feisty”, it is a reflection of an afternoon of excellent entertainment, not all of which was wholesome but which was thoroughly engaging.

This only really applies when your side wins, but a pulsating encounter brimming with tension, perceived injustice and simmering violence excites the emotions in a way that our many  bloodless Premier League experiences could not.

Forest, a good side still reeling from last weekend’s humiliation by Wednesday, clearly believed that redemption was not only possible facing lowly opposition but inevitable. This rather ignored the quite remarkable impact on a severely damaged club of a management team who have resonated deeply with supporters who instinctively know a perfect fit when they see one.

Brushing aside a long and pervasive injury list, which seems, thankfully, to be easing, the Cowleys’ values of hard work, organisation and preparation permeate and bring long lost hope back to a battered and bruised, yet ever supportive, fan base.

Instinctively understanding the brutal demands of a division which offers precious few opportunities to breathe in a relentless schedule, is stuffed with clubs with entitlement bursting from every seam and those who invariably throw huge amounts of cash at their forlorn ambition, they will sweep the ludicrously out of character and wasteful spending from a club which succumbed to the tawdry excesses of the top flight not only to no avail but to near disaster.

A relatively benign first half hour saw the visitors dominate proceedings and the hosts struggle to gain a foothold. Forest had several threatening incursions, usually involving the returning Joe Lolley, perhaps the epitome of Town’s foolishness when the quality of his successors is considered. Ultimately, the ex-Kidderminster man suffered a frustrating afternoon but his fundamentally honest and potentially damaging performance served as a useful cautionary tale for the higher ups at Huddersfield Town. There were reasons he was popular despite the infuriating interruptions to his career in West Yorkshire.

Despite Forest’s bright opening half hour, which was actually preceded by a far post chance for Mounié latching on to an excellent Bacuna free kick, Grabara remained untroubled through it; not that the lack of accuracy from their dangerous raiding was any comfort to the home support as their team struggled to get in to the game, despite some decent forays down the left by Bacuna.

When Town finally began to threaten the opening goal arrived remarkably quickly and undoubtedly against the run of play. A brief period of pressure brought a corner which was swung in high and towards the far post out of reach of Samba (who had previously picked out a cross, entertainingly, with one hand) to the towering leap of Mounié. The ensuing melee involving Chalobah fell perfectly for Schindler whose unerring strike found the top corner.

Forest, possibly enraged with the injustice of it all, responded with a beautiful effort by Ameobi which curled just outside Grabara’s far post and tensions started to boil over thereafter. Two animated benches, with Nicky Cowley and Forest’s coaching staff contributing to a mounting atmosphere of invective and vituperation, culminated in one of football’s glorious traditions; a tunnel punch up. Though Danny Cowley had words with his counterpart, the main protagonists were Mark Hudson and Dawson of Forest. Brooky the kit man was never far from the action either, taking well earned respite from having training tops chucked at him.

The fracas played nicely in to the hosts’ hands. Still short of a left back and midfield options, relying on the heavily built Mounié to press up top and round pegs in square holes, their often blatant disruptions to play designed to interrupt Forest’s flow were in danger of being overruled by a previously indulgent referee. Better by far to allow their opponents to self combust with seething anger.

Some of Forest’s challenges throughout the game were, to put it mildly, robust. Saw hacked at Bacuna for a deserved booking, the same Town player was assaulted but the advantage played by the referee lead to him forgetting the identity of the perpetrator and how Watson was only booked for a late, high two footed lunge on Hogg is anyone’s guess.

Town were hardly innocent in a rambunctious, febrile second half but their sins of time wasting and bookable but hardly dangerous challenges paled in comparison to Forest’s enraged reactions to perceived injustices.

Forest’s frustrations, on and off the field, lead to their downfall. The home side’s best period of the game came after the break and an early goal, which should have been followed by a crushing third, ultimately settled the encounter.

Playing past and through their frothing visitors, Town finally imposed themselves and a blocked Mounié effort lead to a corner. Having already lost their set piece goal cherry on the half hour, it still came as a shock to see Town convert directly from a corner. Mounié, harbouring a dry spell of Western Australian proportions, peeled away from his marker to the back post and met Grant’s excellent delivery to double the lead.

The goal did nothing for Forest’s collective fragile temperament and, soon after, Hogg was unceremoniously dumped into the advertising hoardings by Silva. Unperturbed, the veteran midfielder, who was excellent in a game pretty much made for him, was quickly extricated and offering his hand to his counterpart in acknowledgment of the well executed assault. The same could not be said of the ball girl who felt the brunt of the incident and was lead off for treatment (she was OK, thankfully, and was later compensated with a dressing room visit and signed shirt). 

It may have been in the spirit of solidarity that the other ball personnel proceeded to infuriate Forest players by delaying returns and, in one comically marvellous moment, one of their number bamboozled an enraged Semedo. Delicious.

Town really should have put the game to bed in the 15 minutes after doubling their advantage. Bacuna came in to his own with some dazzling footwork in this period; his talent is raw and occasionally misdirected but with guidance he has a great future. An interaction with Grant nearly brought a goal of stunning elegance, exchanging passes in the area the leading scorer was thwarted by a good save when freed by Bacuna’s intelligent ball.

Grant also had a seering effort just beyond the far post which matched Ameobi’s first half attempt.

Bacuna himself weaved in to the area with a scintillating run only to run out of space and attempt a Rabona which fell straight to the keeper. Ineffective but audacious, the attempt showed the promise of Bacuna which is intriguing and exciting.

Grant was felled by yet another heavy challenge and Kachunga, unspectacular but very effective with Simpson defensively, finally succumbed to injury at the third attempt by a very physical Forest side who were lucky to finish with a full complement.

By the time Kachunga limped away, Forest had capitalised on their fading opponents but the nature of the goal was infuriating. A corner was conceded and Town simply failed to organise quickly enough to deal with the hurriedly and very effectively taken kick; Worrall ghosted in to an area normally defended by Mounié but the striker had barely arrived to get in to position.

Encouraged, the visitors proceeded to take over and with Lolley prominent, Town were indebted to two excellent saves by Grabara to preserve the three points.

In an attempt to quell Lolley’s growing threat (he forced one of Grabara’s saves with a good effort from just outside the box), Bacuna, who had rather abandoned his defensive duties leaving the excellent Hadergjonaj exposed, was sacrificed for the return of Jaden Brown with Flo moving up but it was perhaps a mistake to throw him in to the prevailing situation and Lolley rather tormented him.

Grabara’s blatant time wasting was inevitably punished and the home side teetered on the edge for much of the last 15 minutes but they came through the period despite Forest’s return to playing football instead of frantically trying to exact revenge.

While the left side of the defence crumbled, Schindler and Stankovic were superb, as they had been throughout, while man of the match Hogg and Chalobah offered supporting resilience to claim 3 hugely welcome points.

It could be said that Forest’s superiority in the closing quarter of an hour deserved a point but this rather ignores their abysmal and persistent fouling; defeat may teach them a few lessons.

A scintillating game with incident galore ended in Town’s favour and with 7 points from 3 games in trying circumstances for the Cowleys, the resurrection is truly underway.

Grant pierces the gloom

A chilly wind, a cavernous stadium with swathes of empty seats and 2 struggling teams playing their 3rd game in 7 days signalled another largely tedious affair lit up by a very special goal, but with Town’s continuing injury problems, adding a point to the tally to the 3 picked up at Charlton represented a good week for the club.

But for a single aberration and Wigan’s sometimes pretty but overwhelmingly ineffective attacking, the game would have been won by a Grant strike every bit as remarkable as the goals often seen flowing from the boot of Mo Salah.

A promising opening ten minutes saw Town on the front foot and playing with some assurance but this faded quickly and the home side eventually established territorial superiority without ever looking particularly dangerous. 

Ex-Town junior Windass caused some mild difficulties with his movement and there were a couple of situations not fully exploited by the hosts but a half which held little of interest to a shivering audience appeared to be fizzling out in well deserved stalemate was presented with its single talking point by Town keeper Grabara.

Up to this point, Wigan’s press against Town’s attempts to play out from the back had been swatted aside, though the easy escapes never lead to attacking threat. Stankovic, in particular, had strolled through the half and as he nonchalantly rolled the ball back to his colleague in the sticks with no path forward he must have thought that the eminently simple task he had passed on would be executed.

Grabara, untroubled up to this point, made the rather odd decision to try to hit a first time pass to Hogg which would have been reckless enough in normal circumstances (the attempt to play out had broken down; get rid) but with 2 opposition players in close attendance it became suicidal. 

The on loan youngster was to save Town going further behind just after half time when a Simpson back pass fell short, but his error allowed Windass to score what must have been a satisfying goal against the club who had released him.

From a position of relative comfort, Town were behind and heading to a dressing room where plans to build on the achievement of thoroughly containing rather toothless opposition had to be torn up and replaced.

It was a game which had not merited a goal and the visitors had fully contributed to the drab spectacle having one, weak, shot on target, which was one more than Wigan until the 43rd minute gift.

Town had welcomed back Simpson who, a couple of aberrations apart, including the near fatal back pass which would have consigned Town to defeat, offered welcome experience and stability at right back and Chalobah who was largely ineffective on his return from suspension.

Bacuna occasionally sprang to life and was Town’s brightest hope in a first half possessing little. It was he who had fed Grant for the visitors’ highlight (the shot on target) and his extrications when surrounded by opposing players offered a little cheer to the frozen souls behind the goal. Little else warmed the cockles.

Once the early scare perpetrated by Simpson and relieved by Grabara had passed, the second half was a little better for Town without ever hitting any real heights.

On the hour, the hard working but largely ineffective Koroma was replaced by Mounié with Grant moving left. It was a substitution which would rescue a point. For all his faults, Mounié is a bigger presence leading the line and Grant’s principal and priceless quality is enhanced as a second striker coming in from the left. 

The change made Town more progressive and the balance of power in the game shifted perceptibly.

On the front foot at last, the equaliser was just ten minutes away and when it came it was worth enduring much of the rest of the 90 minutes. Hogg advanced through the middle as Wigan back pedalled and found Grant on the left. With Hadergjonaj (who had another good outing) making a run down his side, Town’s leading scorer switched the ball to his right foot, created the tiniest bit of space and whipped an unstoppable shot in to the top corner. 

It was an instinctive and thrilling strike worthy of gracing the best of games; that it lit up such a mundane encounter does not diminish it in any way.

The visitors now looked the more likely winners and it was impossible not to feel sympathy for Mounié whose goal bound header from a Grant corner was cleared off the line. It seems unlikely he will ever score for Town again with a departure in January surely on the cards.

A loud penalty shout for handball was ignored rather too readily by the referee when it looked pretty clear cut but Town also had Stankovic to thank for nicking the ball away from Windass’ path at the death which could have turned a useful point in to none.

A forgettable game will be remembered for Grant’s genius equaliser but as Town yearn for the return of the injured and the possibility of new recruits and unlamented departures in January, picking up away points is keeping their heads just above the relegation places with the hope that they can stretch away as the Cowleys build their own vision.

Lipstick applied to pig

There is something deeply satisfying when, after suffering a full 90 minutes of turgid ineptitude by two teams who, if any justice was in this world, would be sharing zero points, your team fashions an entirely unlikely winner at the merciful death.

In mitigation, both clubs are suffering injury crises; of epic proportions in Charlton’s case, and one which is a crippling burden on top of their own self inflicted problems for Town.

Add in some terrible weather in south east London and the prospects for anything approaching a spectacle were vanishingly low. Even those expectations weren’t reached.

Where a semblance of cohesion emerged it came from Town, with Hogg and Bacuna encouraging periods of competent yet impotent possession. 

Charlton were, frankly, almost entirely devoid of intent or ideas other than during a brief period following the entry of Kyle Taylor to proceedings which lifted the home side as they welcomed back a key player; on this showing, at least another 8 will be needed if their season, which started very brightly with a full contingent, is not to collapse before they can rid themselves of their despised owner.

In a first half largely devoid of incident, entirely lacking in quality and actually quite irritating, Town could at least feel pleased with the performances of Edmonds-Green, a late replacement for illness stricken Duhaney, and Koroma who offered sporadic threat and hard working cover.

A Mounié effort easily dealt with by Charlton’s keeper which followed a good move started by some typical Hogg tenacity in the middle briefly raised levels of interest, but attacking flair was rare to say the least. Town weren’t helped by a subdued performance by Grant who’s every touch was greeted with boos by the sparse Valley crowd, though he did force a decent save in the second half.

After the break, the visitors were comfortably the better side in a contest which elevated itself marginally above dreadful. Koroma had an effort pushed around the post as Town looked to capitalise on a very shaky home defence which found it difficult to clear their lines for most of the second half.

At the three quarter mark, the cumbersome presence of Mounié, who simply doesn’t look like fitting in to the Cowleys’ plan, was withdrawn and replaced by Daly and a forgettable evening appeared to be fizzling out to an unsatisfying goalless draw neither side would look back upon with any affection.

With injury time commenced, most thoughts had already turned to transport home and grudging acceptance of an away point earned in difficult circumstances; Addicks supporters could comfort themselves with thoughts of new ownership and brighter days.

All reckoned without one final aberration by the Charlton defence. A poor clearance fell to Hadergjonaj, who performed impressively, and his cutback to Matt Daly was perfect for the youngster to bury a winner which was as welcome as it was unlikely.

The massive positive was collecting 3 points in circumstances which are far from ideal and in advance of hoped for solutions in the New Year. While the achievement was tempered by the nature of the opposition with all of their difficulties, it remains gratifying that points can be accrued when a slump would seem more likely.

In and amongst the gloom which was entirely alleviated by a hugely satisfying late winner, certain individuals stood out; not least the elegant Stankovic whose timely interceptions and calm distribution marked a further step towards becoming the player Wagner always insisted he could become. Hogg and Bacuna held things together in the middle and always kept Town ahead of the admittedly poor game while Hadergjonaj may even be enjoying something of a renaissance. Simpson’s late appearance also augurs well.

Not a night to celebrate a great performance but the 3 points were most welcome to bring a winless run to an end and instil some confidence before another clash of strugglers on Saturday.

An inconsequential Derby

Lacking the injured, the suspended and the indolent, Town’s task against one of the best 3 sides in the division looked entirely forlorn before kick off with just 9 of the starting eleven reasonably considered to be first team squad members and a bench resembling the front row of a school photo.

The visitors were also disrupted by injury with their driving force, Phillips, unavailable and the late withdrawal of Cooper foiling Bielsa’s original plan to play White in central midfield but their problems were comparatively mundane and eminently manageable as battle hardened Championship players came in to a team brimming with confidence and proven quality.

Having revived the club following a disastrous start to the season with a string of results which dragged the Terriers above the drop zone, a combination of unfortunate circumstances and the reemergence of the toxicity which seems to be the only legacy of 2 top flight seasons has brought a halt to the encouraging momentum the Cowleys developed.

Against this background, the disappointment of a derby defeat was massively tempered by a performance of no little credibility against opponents who seem unlikely to make the same mistakes as last season, though the hope is always there.

A typically feisty first half was hugely encouraging for the home side whose tenacity and aggression largely thwarted Leeds’ flow and the territorial advantage achieved was testament to the Cowleys’ ability to meet big challenges in very difficult circumstances. They know what they want and need to reinvigorate a club with deeply embedded and barely concealed problems which will continue to fester until they are in a position to make the changes in January and the summer.

There will come a time when the opposition worries about us rather than having to adopt containment strategies as the first and only option.

With an unfamiliar starting eleven against an established and confident side, Town rarely allowed Leeds to emphasise their technical superiority and disrupted their normal flow and comfort in possession with an energy and commitment entirely absent in a dreadful, yet revealing, first half at Ashton Gate.

Lead by Hogg, who was actually as culpable as many in that Bristol debacle, the hosts harried Leeds in to errors and disabused them of the perfectly understandable notion that they were in for an easy afternoon. 

However, the first opportunity fell to the visitors and a clever corner by Hernandez found an unmarked Klich whose first time effort struck the outside of the post. There were other openings for them in the area which were wasted by rushed shots but the alarms were generally low key.

Establishing superiority in the middle of the park turned the contest more in the home side’s favour as the half progressed with a Bacuna and Hogg dominating the weakest area of their White Rose rivals.

Mounié, making a rare start in an attempt by the Cowleys to play longer and over the passing ability of the opposition had a good first half slightly tainted by too many examples of his weakness on the ground and he met an excellent Bacuna free kick only to be thwarted by alleged racist Casilla who tipped over.

A brave challenge with Casilla from a long clearance by Grabara saw Mounié’s challenge only partially cleared to Grant who was only foiled by an excellent header preventing the ball reaching the top corner. 
Mounié also met a Grant corner (simultaneously with the back of a colleague’s head) which didn’t really trouble the keeper but illustrated a little improvement in the quality of corners which have thus far been woeful.

If Leeds’ counters were rare in number, they did seem to carry more incisive threat than Town’s less sophisticated approach and in Hernandez, our neighbours possess that extra quality and guile which makes all the difference in a league with few stand out teams. Even though the Spaniard was largely contained, he still managed to pull a few strings and one first time ball to Klich in the first half who was first thwarted by Grabara and then an offside flag highlighted how he only needed to escape the shackles once to orchestrate threat.

For Town, Bacuna continues to show great promise on the ball and one shimmering run caused panic in the Leeds’ defence though their resilience swamped the attempt. Unfortunately, at the other end, the Dutchman’s over abundance of confidence can lead to trouble and he jeopardised Town’s promising first half when an attempt to wriggle out of a bad position ended with a chance, blazed over by the rather disappointing Costa.

For all the positives of a good first half, which could easily be upgraded to excellent given the debilitating circumstances, containing the natural ability of this annoyingly well coached Leeds team (by a remarkably admirable manager who has broken the mould of a string of laughable idiots usually employed at Elland Road) for a full 90 minutes was always a massive ask for a cobbled together team with a bench which Danny Cowley was unlikely to describe as sexy again.

Minutes in to the second half, Town’s plans were upended by a goal of undeniable quality. Mounié cleared a relatively poor Hernandez corner at the near post only for Alioski to volley home first time with an unstoppable strike.

The dynamic of the game changed at that moment. Town had to push further forward and with more risk of play being opened up to try to earn an equaliser against a stingy defence with a goals against record which should secure automatic promotion at the second time of asking if they can avoid Bielsa’s unusual curse of blowing up at the business end of the season.

For a good 15 minutes, Leeds dominated possession and but for good saves by Grabara, slightly off radar passing in the final third and some desperate defending they could have put the game well out of reach before the hour mark.

Then came Town’s big chance. Komora, who played well down the left before giving way towards the end, floated an excellent cross on to the head of Kachunga in the six yard box only for Casilla – who will be a big miss for Leeds if found guilty of the alleged offence – to make a remarkable save at close range to, yet again, leave the hard working Town man to rue his failure to convert.

With just over 10 minutes to go, Leeds sealed the points they deserved with a much improved second half performance built on that early strike as they stretched Town once again with a swift break down the left. This time, the ball in by Harrison was undefendable and Hernandez arrived at the back post to finish.

To their credit, Town made the final stages competitive despite facing pretty inevitable defeat and Grant should have reduced the arrears from yet another promisingly good set piece, heading wide when he should’ve hit the target. A through ball to Mounié could also have delivered a deserved consolation but the big man’s monumental goal drought persisted as his stretch made poor contact.

Most home supporters were philosophical about a defeat which didn’t carry the pain normally associated with this fixture; Leeds are clearly miles ahead of a team still carrying out surgery in the aftermath of significant, if self inflicted, problems of the past two years and despite having to field a substantially disrupted and unfamiliar line up, managed to compete for long stretches of a hugely challenging encounter.

Leeds will be pleased to maintain their form despite only sporadically reaching the standards Bielsa has instilled. In fact, the only residual unpalatable traits of a team which used to have a plethora of them were the antics of the hugely annoying Bamford who was, incredibly, spared a booking despite continually offending by an indulgent referee. That he then contributed to yet another Hogg booking with his prone histrionics simply increased the vilification he rightly received.

Alioski’s assault on Schindler shouldn’t be ignored either but, overall, there is a lot to grudgingly admire in our rivals which will hopefully be assuaged by the schadenfreude accompanying a late season collapse. But it won’t happen this time.

In the bigger scheme of things, Town now go on the road to two struggling teams. Charlton’s injury problems resemble our own and Wigan’s form is woeful. The opportunity for revival before the possibility of a transformative January lay directly ahead. 

Swamped and humiliated

It would be remiss to excoriate a Huddersfield Town team which capitulated so thoroughly in a first half when all the issues which have infested the club since the summer of 2018 came back with a vengeance, without first acknowledging the excellent performance of Bristol City who comprehensively dismantled an admittedly supine opposition.

Attacking with verve, aggression and precision it was only a question of how many they would rack up against feeble resistance who abandoned the midfield battle, left huge spaces for the Robins to ruthlessly exploit and singularly failed to adhere to any semblance of discipline or unity.

On home soil, the mounting problems of injury to three quarters of the defence can be papered over to an extent as away teams are less inclined to exploit obvious weaknesses. The worry was always the impact on the road and the answer was almost immediately provided.

Starting with Hadergjonaj and releasing Bacuna in to the middle to replace the unfit Pritchard, pairing Kongolo with Schindler so that Stankovic provided the defensive cover vacated by the suspended Chalobah seemed rational in the circumstances but the plan was immediately upended when Campbell was injured fouling a Bristol defender in the first minute. 

This brought Diakhaby on to the pitch and the whole left flank was horribly exposed to Bristol raiding. Danny Cowley’s barely contained post match anger was entirely justified but that exposure was not difficult to predict; Diakhaby cannot provide defensive cover and the problem is compounded a few times over when the full back exposed is desperately inexperienced or, in the case of Kongolo, unsuited.

Reshaping an already depleted, unbalanced team after one minute was bound to be a prelude for difficulties, and they came thick and fast in an opening half which saw 5 goals and chances for more.
Despite the disasters unfolding, and this was true of the whole game after the first quarter, Town were actually reasonably good when they had the ball but largely inept without it.

However, Bacuna and Hogg lost possession and position at least five times in a torrid opening twenty minutes, our old friend Jack Hunt was rampaging down the right and exposing O’Brien and the central defensive partnership of Kongolo and Schindler (who had a very poor afternoon) looked hopelessly vulnerable.

There was an element of good fortune about some of the Bristol goals – a wicked deflection off Brownhill for the first, for example – but when you force the pace as impressively and consistently as the home side did, the breaks are going to go your way.

Orchestrated by the excellent Massengo, City were irresistible going forward and had a second ruled out for offside, for which Grabara should be extremely grateful, though he did make a very good save later in the half as a cricket score threatened.

The inevitable doubling of the lead arrived when Eliasson received the ball from a corner on the edge of the area, skipped round Grant and floated a cross to the far post which Kongolo bundled in to his own net under pressure.

Such was Bristol’s potency, the only surprise was that they had taken so long to punish the bedraggled visitors and their failure to do so could have been costly. Grant missed a very presentable headed chance provided by Hadergjonaj and had an excellent effort on the turn from distance very well saved and despite the omnishambles at the back, there was some flickering hope at times.

That hope burned a little more brightly when an excellent Bacuna through ball found Grant in the area. The leading scorer turned Ashley Williams with some ease before finding the far corner with a slightly deflected shot.

With just ten minutes to go before half time, this was the visitors’ chance to consolidate, apply some pressure on a clearly superior home side disappointed not to be out of sight already and hope for a turn around in the second half.

One minute later, Brownhill and Hunt eased their way past a combination of Diakhaby and Kongolo (O’Brien having been relieved of left back duties after the second goal), Hogg was beaten ridiculously easily as he tried to cover and a deep cross was headed in by Eliasson. Revival over before it started.

4 minutes later, the scorer turned provider with a cross which found an unmarked Williams who headed powerfully past Grabara. Naturally, the goal originated down our left; Hunt and Brownhill combined to embarrass Kongolo and Diakhaby, the latter fouled Hunt, a free kick was cleared for a corner and that lead to the cross which hammered in the final nail of a first half of epic incompetence.

Diakhaby had the well deserved ignominy of becoming a substitute substituted, though saved from being replaced as the game was in progress. His replacement, Koroma, proved significantly more effective though Cowley could possibly have picked someone from the travelling support and achieved the same result.

It wasn’t long, however, before the home side went nap. An attempted through ball deflected off Schindler, who had partially caused the problem in the first place with a poor clearing header and was aided and abetted by a weak challenge by Bacuna in the middle, allowing Weimann to round Grabara and slot home from a quite difficult angle.

To their credit, Town didn’t capitulate further, and added a decent Bacuna goal to slightly assuage their embarrassment but City rarely had to get out of second or third gear for their guaranteed three points.

Drawing the second half cannot be used as a positive, though they continued to be reasonably good in possession and Koroma added some energy down the left totally absent in the first half.

The circumstances surrounding this heavy, potentially debilitating defeat perhaps lessen the worry for the future a little and it should be one which focuses the Cowleys’ minds if they weren’t already made up. Bar Grant, who will surely be the subject of intense scrutiny once the transfer window opens, none of the players can absolve themselves of blame for such an abject defeat; this includes Hogg and Schindler, senior players who contributed to the first half disaster as well as those clearly wanting to leave.

Cowley’s decisions on formation and personnel where obviously profoundly influenced by events both recent and historic but he may reflect that he also got things wrong, particularly the introduction of Diakhaby, though Campbell’s early departure proved to be far too damaging to the shape of the team and whatever game plan was to be implemented. 

After the very real and encouraging progress of the past couple of months, a painful setback isn’t a harbinger of future despair but the potential solutions don’t look particularly numerous as we await a hopefully extensive shake up of the squad in January. 
However, the characters of the new men in the dug out will surely relish the challenge of a local derby against an ascendant Leeds United; hopefully, the players chosen will understand what it means.