Huddersfield Town’s new found attacking intent, predicated on being able to field and organise a group of players infinitely more talented and hungrier than those on show before the January activity, belatedly crushed an occasionally pretty Charlton Athletic side with the softest of underbellies.
6 points in the space of a few days has not banished the threat of relegation, and sterner tests are on the horizon, but the despair following the poor display in South Wales has been swiftly vanquished.
The performance wasn’t perfect and it seemed odd to be walking away from a 4-0 win with the unnerving feeling that a 10 minute spell early in the second half when Charlton’s possession appeared to have developed some purpose could, and perhaps should, have seen the Addicks level.
A dominant first half had yielded just one goal, Grant pouncing on a defensive error which Charlton’s glaring hubris signalled was coming long before it did, as excellent approach play down both flanks was largely wasted by players not taking the opportunity to shoot often enough. Willock, who displayed raw talent with inevitable naivety in equal measure, ballooned and sliced one while a sublime touch to bring down a dropping ball by Smith-Rowe saw the Arsenal loanee shot well saved with Grant hitting the post from a very tight angle.
Simpson, who had a very solid game both offensively and defensively, delivered a sumptuous cross for Grant who couldn’t connect properly with his head; possibly distracted by the defender jumping in front of him.
Charlton occasionally tried to gain some control through possession but Lössl was troubled just once and made a fairly routine save at his near post. On the whole, the indefatigable O’Brien and excellent Chalobah pulled the strings in the middle and with multiple options ahead of them and to the sides, Town just lacked the precision and incisiveness in dangerous areas to put the Londoners away before the break. A knock to Smith-Rowe reduced his effectiveness though his class was barely concealed.
The half had been satisfying if unfulfilled. On the front foot for the vast majority of the time, the interplay down each flank was striking with Toffolo’s surges forward creating constant overloads and threat. On the other side, Willock and Simpson were a little less potent but nevertheless the necessary pragmatism of the Cowleys tenure to date seems to be being replaced with a sense of adventure which bodes well for the future if the unthinkable is avoided.
A two goal cushion would not have been unjust but the newly dynamic formation will surely add a lethal edge in time.
Town started the second half still the more likely to add to their lead and Smith-Rowe’s final notable contribution before succumbing to injury was a goal bound effort bravely blocked by a Charlton defender in the opening exchanges. Chalobah also saw a good effort cannon off a red shirt and victory looked assured.
However, the Addicks, with the added energy provided by substitute Williams, began to claw themselves back in to a game in which they had looked doomed. Playing with more menace and pushing the home side back for the first time, a 10 minute spell produced 2 very presentable chances and several scares for the hosts.
Toffolo, otherwise excellent, was completely bamboozled down the right and Oshilaja picked out Pearce in the box who waste fully fired over. It was a warning against complacency and O’Brien and Chalobah stepped up to regain control and release the tension.
It may be a little unfair to reflect on the absence of Hogg and Kachunga but it is hardly deniable that Chalobah’s mature and pretty flawless display provides greater thrust than the more prosaic veteran and Willock’s pace and ability to beat an opponent replacing the German stalwart’s admirable but largely stultifying work rate. A threshold appears to have been crossed with players passing and moving forward with intent rather than sitting fearfully. They no longer appear to be waiting permission from opponents to attack.
The January recruitment has also transformed the bench, providing the Cowleys with options, ability and experience. Pritchard, missing for months, may not have given much since his arrival but his talent is unquestionable. Coming on for Smith-Rowe, the diminutive play maker was instrumental to the second, killer, goal, releasing Toffolo with a superb ball down the left after clever passing with O’Brien. The ex-Lincoln man delivered a perfect cross on to the chest of Mounié, another one of the bench, to score with his first touch.
Charlton were finished and with a revitalised Bacuna replacing the fading Willock, their troubles were far from over. As the game drifted towards an inevitable home victory, the final substitute added much needed gloss to the score line and goal difference.
Playing a wall pass off Mounié, the erratic but hugely talented youngster sat a Charlton defender on the floor with the slightest of feints then fed Grant in behind for his brace.
With injury time almost up, Bacuna then carried the ball upfield. With little company to pass to, he created a pocket of space and then lashed a tremendous 30 yard shot beyond Charlton’s keeper for a 4th.
It was possibly a winning margin more befitting of Tuesday night than this particular game, but the confidence and joy which was palpable at the end as the old salute was revived in front of the south stand should stand the squad in good stead for the challenges ahead; not least next Saturday on enemy territory.
While throwing caution to the wind at Elland Road is unlikely to end well, Town simply cannot entirely abandon the style which has brought 6 hugely valuable points.
A week is a long time in Championship football.