Hope jacked up

Town finally secured a win in 2021 with a remarkable 7 minute period just after half time which entirely confounded the form of both teams going in to the game.

A fairly even first half, during which Town mixed encouraging forward play with their usual failings when deep in possession, ended with a Swansea equaliser so heavy with foreboding that defeat seemed inevitable.

Blessed with talent, which has carried them towards the top of the table since their only home reversal all those long months ago, and a consistently parsimonious defence, the Welshmen would surely follow in the footsteps of Wycombe Wanderers and trample all over their hosts’ fragility?

Instead, a bright start to the second half, not unlike the previous week but with end product, delivered three, high quality, goals to the eye rubbing disbelief of the audience.

While incompetence has underpinned a disastrous 2021, there have been periods in some games which suggested that the inadequacies were not immutable and that the squad, all be it depleted, could elevate itself back to mid table stagnation given a few breaks.

Any such happy talk seemed ridiculous, however, as Hourihane lifted a free kick over a wall which was less barrier and more an aid to the ex-Barnsley man’s trajectory, and past a hopelessly out of position Schofield for an equaliser on the stroke of half time.

The leveller was the culmination of the only brief period of the game in which Swansea looked remotely superior to their struggling opponents and owed as much to Town’s predilection for hesitancy and error playing out from the back than their own ability.

Though the award of the free kick was dubious at best, the Terriers had only themselves to blame for the lack of care preceding it and all the good work of a half in which they took the lead, threatened regularly and subdued the Swans for long periods was wasted.

Shrugging off a nervous opening few minutes, Town played with a purpose and energy which may have taken the visitors by surprise judging by the absence of guile in a team flying high and the number of lofted balls they resorted to, and deservedly took the lead midway through the half. 

Rowe, continuing the encouraging form from the second half in midweek, either over hit his cross following good work down the left or picked out Pipa in lots of space beyond Swansea’s defence, which allowed the Spaniard to advance to the byline before picking out Campbell in the area, whose slightly scuffed shot went in off the post for a deserved lead.

Campbell had already had the ball in the net earlier but the linesman interpreted that O’Brien, who set up the striker, was offside when coming back on to the pitch despite the last touch being from a visiting defender. Or it had gone out of play.

Minutes after the opener, Bacuna found half a yard of space after bamboozling Hourihane and struck an excellent effort from distance against the post with Woodman comprehensively beaten.

Establishing control and unfortunate not to be further ahead, Town’s unexpected but welcome levels of comfort began to evaporate as half time neared and they were grateful for a goal line clearance by Sarr, a save from Ayew by Schofield and two efforts from range being slightly off target.

Swansea’s brief but hugely threatening period of dominance began with Keogh dallying in the absence of options in front of him as he carried the ball forward and spread alarmingly through the team as persistent failings threatened to undo all of their previous good work. We had been here before and, sure enough, the pressure eventually told with Hourihane’s free kick.

Remarkably, within 10 minutes of the restart, Town put the game to bed, completed a double over one of the best sides in the division and dismantled the meanest defence of that division to record a confidence boosting win against any expectation.

O’Brien, producing his best performance of the season by some distance, restored the lead following excellent work by Bacuna who played a great ball in to Campbell who, in turn setup the midfielder for a strike which took a slight but very helpful deflection on its way past Woodman. He deserved the fortune having driven forward to begin the move in the first place.

Bacuna was involved again as Town turned the screw with a third goal minutes later as his chipped ball forward to Campbell was knocked down for Rowe to feed Holmes in to the area to finish well.

Not satisfied with a two goal advantage, Holmes then produced the goal of the season to date and one unlikely to be bettered. Taking the ball off Rowe and moving right to left, the diminutive Anglo-American took advantage of a nice bobble off the pitch to find the top corner from distance.

The devastating spell, as welcome as it was astonishing, sealed the first 3 points of the year even if beleaguered and weary supporters could still be forgiven for harbouring doubt.

The Terriers’ ability to hold on to their large lead was not to be tested, however, as a freak and horrible injury befell Morris as the Seattle Sounder loanee stumbled awkwardly while attempting to trap the ball. The seriousness of the injury was immediately and instinctively understood by Pipa, who knocked the ball out of play before urgently beckoning help.

Unfortunately for Swansea, they had already used up all their substitutes with Cooper rather obviously conceding defeat on the hour and their trip home to South Wales was further depressed by a cruel injury.

As often happens, the incident sucked the air of competition from the game with the last half hour rarely developing beyond a stroll. Swansea’s resignation, coupled with the deflation of the injury, and Town taking advantage of the rare opportunity to provide rest to some key players by using all 5 permitted changes reduced the contest to a pragmatic exercise of damage control for both parties.

Only a fool would declare Town’s problems over following an unusual if exhilarating victory. The closing minutes of the first half demonstrated how easily they can crumble under pressure to which they make a significant contribution and the score line was somewhat more convincing than the balance of play in the first hour warranted.

However, the vanquishing of as good a side as Swansea should not be under estimated.

Other than more concerns over Schofield, each and every player contributed to a fine victory, with Holmes and O’Brien finding excellent form, Bacuna channelling his talent in a more disciplined manner, Rowe constantly threatening a previously excellent defence and Vallejo providing calm and cultured possession, there were many positives to add to the relief.

Now for Derby, as much a graveyard for Town teams as Middlesbrough, and a different proposition to the poor team which barely turned up to the John Smith’s stadium early in the season. To restore our place in the boring middle of the Championship, the Terriers need to consolidate this unexpected victory with a couple or more points by the end of February.

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