Huddersfield Town’s pursuit of back to back relegations received a timely boost on Friday evening with a gloriously inept and thoroughly deserved capitulation to the Championship’s bottom club, Luton.
Bereft of bravery, instinct or recognisable ambition, a persistently leaden first half display was followed by a calamitous nonsense of a second half which would be tragic if it were not so predictable.
Lacking personality, responsibility and even a trace of character the seemingly ironically named Terriers were comprehensively swept aside by the Hatters who topped their hosts all over the pitch with a disdain belying their own likely demotion.
If and when the Bedfordshire club drops from the division, they will, at least, have a sound basis to rebuild on decent foundations which have maybe been a little too fragile for this hugely difficult division following a renaissance from their banishment from the Football League in 2009.
The appalling state of Town’s expensive malfunctioning squad, a parade of charlatans robotically going through the motions, holds no such promise as the ghosts of the mid 70s collapse echo through the decades.
Though impossible to prove and perhaps fanciful, the club seems incapable of functioning without the support of a crowd which has been monumentally patient, absurdly forgiving and hopelessly optimistic.
Playing in an empty home stadium (away performances have been reasonably tolerable) has exposed the lack of collective spine the support, built up in better times, has inserted to keep heads, barely, above water. Beyond inevitable falling support, the most corrosive legacy of post 2018 squads is that those who remain will feel that they have been taken for chumps by the club. Useful idiots.
The pervasive stench of failure clogs the attempts at a revival which seems further away than ever. Though undoubtedly culpable along with the players, it is beginning to look like a task beyond the Cowleys, but eliciting coherent, professional efforts from this squad is like nailing a blancmange to a wall.
Despite their insistence that they have belief and trust in the squad, the evidence before our eyes is that this is either disingenuous or simply naive. With the exception of Smith-Rowe and Chalobah, this was another defeat where players regularly abdicated personal responsibility; passing the buck is now a feature of a side in desperate trouble.
With courage notably absent, the necessary aggression in a relegation battle is fatally diminished. The strategy to avoid defeat appears to hinge more upon futile possession than domination of the opponent. Luton barely needed to break sweat to contain their timid hosts and could simply keep their shape and watch Town pass unthreateningly in front of them.
A team beaten by 5 at home by Town’s latest bore a draw victims Reading and who conceded a late, damaging equaliser to their closest relegation rival should have represented a psychologically damaged opponent, ripe for exploitation. Town played two holding midfielders.
One of those, the subdued O’Brien, had the only effort of any note in a thrill free first half, shooting tamely from range straight in to the arms of the visitors’ unperturbed keeper.
Unable to inject pace or incision, the home side’s predictable and timid forward play was blunted by the ineffectual Grant and Willock on the flanks. The former, whose post lockdown contributions have smacked of a player protecting his own future, was almost entirely inept. Slow, unaware and lacking commitment the leading scorer was easily blotted out of the game and despite the dangerous over reliance on his goals his removal from the team is surely imminent and necessary.
With neither defence unduly troubled in a first half of inexorable tedium, the opportunity to arse kick at half time should have been irresistible for the Cowleys and while it is impossible to know what was said, the demeanour of the team as they strolled out several minutes after their opponents who were waiting and prepared didn’t indicate that much would change.
In contrast, Nathan Jones must have relished the break. Any trepidation or fear of defeat which existed before the game had evaporated and all that need be added to his team was a little ambition and belief.
Within minutes, Town’s lethargy was exposed and punished. A crunching tackle on Chalobah who, to his credit, did not pull out of the encounter and played with at least some energy throughout, lead to a corner and the Hatters took their opportunity and converted their height, strength and aggression in to a lead they never looked like relinquishing.
With Lössl deciding not to come for a decent delivery, Schindler was bullied out of position allowing Bradley to head home from short distance.
With a whole half in which to recover, Town’s response could be described as insipid but this adjective hardly scrapes the surface of the ensuing debacle.
Lacking guile, speed of thought and any semblance of cohesion, Town could not shake themselves out of the shackles of the safety first approach adopted from the beginning and no amount of substitutions could alter the rigid blueprint.
Rather than making any difference, 2 of the substitutions proved culpable for the 2nd Luton goal. Bacuna, whose talent seems to be unleashed at the whim of Bacuna, slipped while trying to execute a cross field ball and the loss of possession put Town on the back foot.
Schindler, who seems to be more affected by the lack of a home crowd than anyone, was easily outpaced by Collins whose fierce shot cannoned off the post and back in to danger. King, a straight swap for Hogg 5 minutes earlier, failed to react and Lee smashed home to seal a win which was already in the bag barring Damascene level conversion of the hosts’ form and attitude.
At no point did a turnaround look remotely possible as Luton performed the simple task of allowing their opponents to find different ways of presenting opportunities for their central defenders to easily clear from what we could laughably call danger.
The management have to take their fair share of responsibility for the costly debacle. Post match claims that the players were nervous is damning. Lavishly remunerated professional footballers shouldn’t need reassurance to play in an empty stadium in a game which could have virtually ensured survival. The formulaic, rigid game plan they were asked to carry out, and until the end given that the only change was to hit the ineffective Mounié, mitigated against flair, individuality and enterprise.
The defeat leaves us nervously eyeing the results of others, including in the court of financial imprudence which may doom Sheffield Wednesday, which is a wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs and doesn’t move the Club one iota forward.
“Typical Town” was the post match refrain. It would also be typical of them to go and win at Wednesday on Tuesday but a huge amount of soul searching is needed in the interim.