Battle of the bilge

It’s a point.

After the entertainment and thrills and spills of Stoke on Saturday, Town went toe to toe with a battling, awkward and rudimentary Wycombe side who play to their strengths and bridge the money gap with an ugly style for which they should never apologise.

Town rarely got to grips with the energetic, physical approach of the home side and simply failed to take any sort of control of a game which would have been derided in the nether regions of League 2.

It is difficult to imagine what Corberán learned on a night of unremitting drudgery other than it is high past time that Dhiakaby was put out of his misery, and ours. The languid French youngster barely put a foot right, looked entirely out of place in a contest only defined by rugged effort and has so little to offer that even the smallest glimpse of competence can be dismissed on the basis that the bar is so low for him it would defeat even his skinny frame.

In contrast, Mbenza should now be separated from his, previously reasonable, association with Dhiakaby as the embodiment of Town’s disastrous summer 2018 transfer market dealings.

Easily the most threatening and progressive of Town’s misfiring, confused and ineffective display, the Belgian is proving to be well suited to Corberán’s vision and was just about the only player to come out of this mess with some credit and the portmanteau Dhiabenza (and variants) so beloved of the fan base should now be retired.

Schofield’s performance between the sticks, bar one ill advised foray which nearly ended in disaster, was competent if not particularly busy, but the positives end here.

Nothing the hosts did was unpredictable. Long balls in the general direction of Akinfenwa and hoping to profit from the chaos the iconic and likeable striker creates pretty much covers the game plan. In and amongst this single strategy is hard work, disruption and denying space to the opposition; Town aren’t the first and won’t be the last to succumb to a system which jolts teams out of their fancy Dan complacency.

It is, however, impossible for Wycombe to sustain the plan over 90 minutes and the key is to take advantage when space appears and Town simply failed to execute their own style when opportunity knocked.

Possession was slow, often retrograde, and movement stilted. Neither O’Brien nor Eiting were able to spark creativity in to the middle which could have exploited space when it appeared; the latter was particularly disappointing and never got over the huge culture shock which this game must have represented.

An exceptionally poor first half, where only Mbenza looked like providing a breakthrough with good deliveries in to the box, was notable only for resilient, if frantic, defending and the departure of Schindler who came out much the worse for an aerial lunge above Akinfenwa resulting in a heavy fall.

For a short time in the second half, Town threatened to gain the ascendancy with more meaningful possession, Mbenza the main protagonist again, but were soon undone by some strategic injury breaks. Being thwarted by a cunning plan worthy of Baldrick really isn’t a reasonable excuse, however.

Although a visit to Wycombe is an outlier in a long season, and gaining a point is a better achievement than The Chairboys’ horrendous start to the season suggests, there are grounds for concern arising from the contest.

Persisting with Dhiakaby as the natural wide replacement despite all the evidence laid before our eyes time and time again defies rationality. 

Town continue to struggle against teams who refuse to accommodate the way they want to play and largely fail to find alternative solutions. The evolution may overcome this tendency, either through general improvement or recruitment, but for now, increasing their ability to impose our own style on games should be a priority. 

Overall, this game should be consigned to the dustbin of history (just a day later it is a struggle to recall anything of note)- never were iFollow’s interminable replays and lingering cut always from play more welcome.




Thrilling Ineptitude

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past”
– Thomas Jefferson


Stoke City and Huddersfield Town buried whatever memory lingered of their last meeting in the Potteries with a contest brimming with goals, excitement and commitment.


The visitors, excruciatingly frustrating and exuberantly fluent in equal proportion, were undone by sloppy, avoidable errors in a first half which should have seen the hosts out of sight despite conceding 2 very well worked goals.


Hampered by the withdrawal of the isolating Hamer and weakened by the loss of Pipa, Town faced a tough challenge at the gambling company sponsored home of the Potters, and met it with verve and no little panache. Some of the time. In possession but not out of it. Going forward but not when pressed.


Carlos Corberán is not about to advocate launching the ball in to row Z or fire long balls to a non existent big man up top. He surely knows the limitations of the players he has available for his style, which pretty exclusively occupy defensive positions but sticking to his beliefs and philosophy of his methodology is his only choice. Rightfully and righteously.


Some of the time, as disastrously on display in a torrid first half at the back, his plans will come unstuck and those limitations laid shockingly bare but, just as often, players will exceed their own limits and points will be gathered to continue to build the foundations of success.


None of this optimistic outlook excuses the, frankly, shambolic and careless mistakes which saw Stoke, a side with genuine play off ambitions, quickly fight back from the blow of conceding first.


A largely forgettable first 20 minutes, ironically featuring a lot of comfortable Town possession amongst the back 4, was interrupted by genuine quality when Toffolo wriggled free of attention and picked out Eiting at the edge of the box. Sweeping a perfectly timed strike past Stoke’s rookie keeper, who was meant to provide the visitors with advantage until the late drafting of our own, Eiting was rewarded for a bright start to the game which had begun to make Town tick.


The errors which were to blight the visitors’ day began almost immediately. Playing out from the back requires composure and judgement, confidence and a rapid transition to safe possession; the absence of any of these qualities encourages and facilitates far more effective pressing. 


Stearman, who has generally adapted well to the Corberán style but prone to error when attempting passes beyond the mundane and a predilection for playing team mates in to trouble, had instigated the descent with a gift to Nick Powell who hit a shot directly at Periera prior to Eiting’s opener. 


Having escaped that aberration, grabbing the lead and playing with confidence in possession, Town looked well set, but they then succumbed to an equaliser eerily reminiscent of the goal conceded against Luton with Stearman beaten in the air at the back post and the ball dropping in to undefended space for Campbell to smash home off Sarr. 


Clucas’s delivery had been excellent but the situation, just as it was 2 weeks ago, was eminently defendable. Falling for the same routine is a worry.
At least the equaliser could be attributed to Stoke’s qualities rather than the ineptitude which was to follow.


Hogg, who had a first half to forget, was caught in possession after failing to take an admittedly sharp pass from Eiting, and the ball was quickly switched to Campbell in space. Town’s tormentor from the home game in January drove the ball powerfully at Town’s stand in custodian who had failed to close his legs and Stoke took a lead they didn’t particularly deserve but took full advantage of Town’s wobbles.


Periera partially atoned for his error by blocking a shot from Campbell after the lively striker had been put through by a superb Fletcher back heel, though there was more than a hint of fortune that the ball didn’t sneak under him.


Despite their travails at the back, Town continued to look impressive in possession with Eiting and Mbenza, in particular, looking capable of hurting the hosts and these two combined to craft an equaliser which should have earned half time parity. Turning effortlessly in the middle of the park leaving a bemused opponent behind him and space in front of him, Eiting glided forward and pushed a sumptuous pass in to Mbenza’s stride who instinctively finished.


Having displayed all the positive aspects of Corberán’s impact alongside the flaws which plague the project in an incident packed first half, Town were exposed again as injury time began.


While Periera’s final error, giving the ball away under pressure, led to Stoke retaking the lead, it was the culmination of an unfolding disaster between Stearman and Duhaney putting each other in increasingly difficult positions.
Stoke, already encouraged by the uncertainty which had crept in to their opposition, strangled the space available and profited accordingly, with Stearman capping his involvement in the mess by putting through his own net.


It seems inconceivable that Corberán would have chosen purity over pragmatism in the situation the goalkeeper found himself, particularly as any hope of a good ending to the sequence which had unfurled had entirely disappeared.

The speed, accuracy and appropriateness of building from the back improved markedly in the second half, though Stoke’s pressing reduced as the context of the game changed.


Buoyed by their late retaking of the lead before the break, the Potters began the second half confidently and their dominance saw them stretch their lead. While questions should be asked, yet again, of Town’s defending – Eiting was too easily beaten to a header on the edge of the box and the closing down was weak as the ball broke to Clucas, this shouldn’t diminish the quality of the mazy run which put him in to a shooting position. It was a shot, however, which a better keeper could have saved.


Within minutes, Town reduced Stoke’s lead as Sarr met an excellent Mbenza delivery from a free kick for his first Town goal and the dynamics of the contest shifted again.


Stoke voluntarily gave up space and possession to sit deeper, and Town took full advantage. For most of the last half hour, the visitors probed and tested their resilient opponents with Bacuna adding flair to Eiting’s orchestration and O’Brien’s energy. Toffolo was excellent down the left and Mbenza continued his rehabilitation well before being, inexplicably, replaced by Diakhaby.


The blunders which lead to this defeat may over shadow much of the very good play, and perhaps should, but you have to believe that the flaws are fixable even in the pain of defeat. Ultimately, they will be overcome by changes in personnel more suited to Corberán’s wishes, but for now he has to find ways to gain points; nervously looking over their shoulders at the bottom 3 places will not suit this squad.


At least it is far from boring.

Lean forward!

The Terriers finally limped over the line before a much needed 2 week break with a creditable, in parts, draw against a tough, disciplined Luton side who presented a stern, unremitting test which was not short on entertainment.


Fatigue, mental and physical, should not be under estimated and the ravages of a merciless schedule perhaps mitigates against the instinctive Corberán game plan a little more than Luton’s admirably robust style, though it should be said that the extra 24 hours recovery afforded to the hosts levelled things up.


14 points from 10 games, which would extrapolate to mid 60s over the season, is a respectable and arguably slightly above par return and a good foundation for a stabilising season as Town reverse the tailspin of the last couple of years.


It should be a comfort to both Towns that the game and eventual stalemate was the epitome of a mid table clash; a big improvement from last season’s travails and with the promise of better things to come.


Patience is a hard sell to Huddersfield fans. The rapid collapse following a rare period of remarkable success has required saintly forbearance, with a virtually complete absence of joy and few, if any, rays of hope. 


Corberán, however, deserves our patience. Watching his teams is an odd mixture of frustration and fascination; his ideas bring passages of genuinely exciting and incisive play but also clumsiness which betrays the fact that the squad is not fully capable, by a distance, of delivering the relentlessness which provides the tipping point to genuine domination of the opposition. 


It is a little like watching someone learning to ski. Acquiring bravery without recklessness, confidence but not bravado and leaning forward when your very instinct is to go backwards. Corberán will also need the right equipment; in certain instances, players are attempting to go down the slopes in jeans.


A case in point is the hapless Dhiakaby. At some point, he and us have to be put out of our misery because trying to wring some value out of one of the biggest errors of judgement in Huddersfield Town’s history may only cause more damage than they are trying to mitigate.


The young Frenchman failed to perform an elementary defensive duty which lead to Luton’s opener after a generally turgid opening 20 minutes. A soft free kick awarded against Sarr was well delivered to the far post where Bradley easily beat Stearman to plant the ball in to a dangerous area in the box. Dhiakaby failed to react and his designated man, Moncur, pounced to bury the chance.


It wasn’t just an error, rather, it was a dereliction of responsibility. His day didn’t get much better and ended when he lost the ball in the second half with Eiting in acres of space 10 yards away. Occasional, sometimes accidental, contributions to the cause simply aren’t enough.


Town improved after surrendering the lead and should have gone in to the break level with chances falling to Koroma and O’Brien but neither could apply the necessary technique when in good positions. Koroma’s attempt, set up by Eiting, was far too weak while O’Brien was foiled by a bobble as he surged in to the area, lifting his effort high over the bar.


Koroma was denied a goal by the offside flag when again played in by the increasingly influential Eiting. His effort was as unconvincing as his first but looped up off the keeper and in.


The avoidable goal against soured a reasonably competent first half performance against a resilient and sporadically dangerous opponent, but fluency evaded the home side too often and their threat was rather unconvincing.


As always, however, with Corberán’s influence, Town are capable of moments of liquid football and the second half equaliser provided yet another tantalising glimpse of what the future may bring.


Working the ball from back to front with instinctive pace and precision, Toffolo found himself in his familiar position beyond the back four and floated a cross on to the head of Eiting (tellingly, he was one of several targets with Town having 6 players in the box). The Ajax loanee had a lot to do to put enough pace on the ball to place it precisely beyond the keeper and executed it to perfection.


It was a just reward for a more dynamic display which began to reap chances. A wayward Dhiakaby effort which looped off a defender presented a far post headed chance for Koroma who was unfortunate to see his header deflect off his marker for a dead ball.


Koroma had a mixed afternoon. Perhaps fortunate not to pick up a second yellow card in the space of a few minutes in the first half, he followed up his weak effort described earlier with an ill advised attempt when better options were available to the side of him, leaving more than one colleague furious at his decision, yet played a small but critical role in the lead up to the goal with a nice feed to Toffolo. A well executed curling effort just past the post after the leveller was another decent contribution and his potential remains intriguing.


In and amongst the Terriers’ dominance, Luton caused some scares and were never out of the search for a winner. There seems to be a problem with hesitancy in the box when defending, which lost us the Bristol City and Preston games, and Luton could have similarly capitalised upon the weakness on one occasion but survived.


Though far from entirely satisfying, the potential remains. When they click with bravery, confidence and instinctive teamwork, Town look very, very good but they can be rather too easily prevented, largely by themselves, from displaying those qualities. These two weeks, and the addition of Ward and Vallejo, will help with the progress they need.


Witnessing the development, even through the badly directed and infuriating iFollow coverage, will be exciting and worthwhile if we can accept the inevitable ups and downs of the experiment.


(And remember, folks, it’s only a game. On this memorial weekend, let’s remember those whose sacrifice allows us the freedom to enjoy it).

Faltering Town let in the Robins

This is what mid table looks like.


Competitive in games, prone to careless defeat but always capable of picking up points against most opponents.


Another frustrating defeat, which was basically settled from the bench with Bristol’s options transforming their previously underwhelming attack in to one which created panic along Town’s back line, and the inability of the hosts to convert their superiority in the first half in to a more comfortable lead.


A disjointed and tired second half contrasted with the more vibrant first but, even then, the team didn’t carry enough threat against a City side which dug in and only lost the lead from a single lapse which released Mbenza to put in a fantastic ball for Koroma, emerging (slowly) as something of a Grant replacement, to smash in to the roof of the net.


Dean Holden’s substitutions will have left him an extremely happy man on the journey back to the West Country. Semenyo was excellent and single handedly changed the whole dynamic of a game which had begun to trundle along as the home side ran out of ideas and their fluency deserted them. Old boy Jamie Paterson widened his manager’s smile with the winner from the bench as Town’s rearguard, so reliable at Millwall, melted away despite having enough numbers and more to snuff out danger. 


There was a hint of hand ball in the lead up to the equaliser but with calm having left the building, the visitors’ momentum had already been established as they took control of a game they had not looked like winning from the moment they missed a convertible chance from a corner, which followed Wells hitting the bar from an unchallenged position early on. Nahki rather disappeared from the contest thereafter.


As witnessed in previous games, Town’s intensity can drop alarmingly; likely a natural propensity born of adjusting to a style which is yet to be fully absorbed. It was one thing coping with Millwall’s crude and agricultural switch around but another thing altogether dealing with the injection of dynamism from the Robins’ bench.


A late flurry failed to deliver an equaliser as the team faltered while trying to change gear and sloppy passing, particularly but not solely, by O’Brien, reduced the Terriers’ potential threat, which had been too light in any case.


The first half saw a reasonable performance topped with a very good goal, but the second was a painful reminder that Corberán still has an enormous amount of work to do with a squad which can deliver, but let’s itself down in games with spells where the style collapses alarmingly.


Luton, a different proposition from last season, up next. A win would get Town back on track but we may be witnessing a team running on fumes towards the useful sanctuary of the international break.

Keep on movin’

With a symmetrical record over the first 9 games, achieved along an eminently predictable bumpy path as a new coach attempts to impose a new and very different style of play, Town are looking like the epitome of a mid table side. Hurrah!


The big fat zero in the goal difference column also feels rather comforting.


The question now is not whether to look up or down, but how far forward? With the prospect of a stable season played out in highly unusual circumstances, and one which promises entertainment rather than sterility, there should be the luxury of time available to both Corberán and the Town hierarchy to build the foundations for a bright future.


A dynamic, defensively superb and ultimately dominant win over in form Millwall provided a huge boost after the disappointment of the previous two games where Town were unable to overcome the ultra pragmatism of Preston and the dismal functionality of Birmingham City. They got what they deserved in the former but left St Andrews rueing the naïveté of admirably chasing a winner after seemingly securing a point.


It was a major and eye brow raising surprise to see Corberán naming Diakhaby in the team to meet the Lions considering his deeply inept display on Wednesday night, though perhaps it was felt he had conserved enough energy not to be rotated.


Less surprising was Bacuna’s relegation to the bench, from whence many believe he will contribute far more effectively, as Corberán searches for a midfield blend which can apply his philosophies with greater consistency.


A torrid first 10 minutes saw Town pinned back and facing a series of corners. A free kick delivered from deep could have seen not one but two penalties awarded against the visitors with Schindler grappling dangerously with Cooper and, less convincingly, the ball striking Toffolo’s arm in the mêlée. 


Once they settled, however, Town looked far more composed on the ball than Millwall and gradually imposed a control they regularly but too intermittently maintain in games.


The control started to bring threat, too. Koroma, lively throughout, had one decent effort routinely saved and then was unfortunate to see a goal bound effort brilliantly blocked after excellent build up play.


Town, and Koroma, were not to be denied for long, though. Starting with Hamer, who had another excellent outing, Town kept the ball for over a minute with every player involved in a 27 pass move which finally arrived at Diakhaby’s head on the edge of the box. Perhaps meant for Mbenza, the much maligned winger’s knock back fell for Koroma who didn’t strike it perfectly but well enough to tuck the ball in to the bottom corner.


The expected response from the home side eventually arrived for the final 10 minutes of the half, but other than a decent save from Hamer low down to his left just before half time, Millwall’s ascendancy never seemed particularly threatening. In between, Hogg and O’Brien, still rusty at times but getting there, controlled the middle third and Pritchard provided the spark which kept the Lions on the back foot.


A mostly solid first half ended on a sour note with an ankle injury to Pritchard, who had put in perhaps his best performance for Town for a long time and possibly ever. He was replaced by Bacuna at the break.


The return of Sarr from suspension proved to be significant. The ex-Charlton giant had a solid first half and nullified Millwall’s aerial threat while contributing to the possession which established control. He was to be even better in the second half.


For their part, the home side, under instruction from the isolated Rowett watching on iFollow, sent on Town’s old nemesis Matt Smith, so often a scourge of Terriers’ defenders since his days at Leeds.


A more direct route to goal was clearly signalled, perhaps recognising that their play maker Wallace had been pushed further and further back in the midfield battle, and Sarr and Schindler proved up to the task. Smith was not helped by a reluctance of his colleagues to anticipate any duels he did win, while service to him from the flanks was perfunctory at best. 


Town soaked up Millwall’s threat with some ease and, once on the ball, probed and tested the home defence and should have wrapped up the game far earlier than they did.


Diakhaby nearly capped a much improved performance with a shot which went just wide, Koroma couldn’t exert enough power to convert after excellent work on the right by Mbenza whose shot was well saved but picked up by Duhaney to feed Koroma’s attempt.


The visitors looked far the more likely to score, had the greater composure in possession and defence and, crucially, were maintaining their superiority for longer than in recent games.


Pipa, who had played every minute of every other fixture, replaced Diakhaby to join Toffolo on the left in a successful attempt to quell Romeo and prevent balls in to the box from the hosts’ right flank. Jazzie B’s son never really threatened to bring Millwall back to life, but his pace was occasionally troubling.


The Spaniard, released by Bacuna who had created space with some excellent skill, burst forward in the final minutes and hit a hard shot at Bialkowski in the Millwall goal. Parrying the ball upwards, the Pole was unable to clear the bar and while to the naked eye it didn’t appear to cross the line as it looked behind him, the referee’s watch buzzed to signal that it had. 


With the game all but over, a slightly over hit pass by Schindler saw Hogg stretch to propel it forward towards the half way line. Substitute Campbell nicked the ball just before it reached Cooper to set Bacuna driving towards Millwall’s depleted rear guard. With Koroma and O’Brien as company, Bacuna laid the ball to his right for the latter to slot past Bialkowski to put a gloss on a fine away performance.


Thoroughly deserved and featuring some fine individual displays, the 3 points dispelled the gloom of a week featuring 2 weeks and a video of some buildings on Leeds Road. With two tricky but winnable home games on the horizon, Town have the opportunity to cement their newly found mid table status before the next international break; time which Corberán will undoubtedly utilise to drive improvement in to a team with plenty of room to grow.