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.