I’d walk a million miles….

As a 9 year old boy, my first season watching Huddersfield Town was 1969/70. What a season to start with, though the fact that I never saw them lose (Blackburn was a school night and the only home game I missed) rather heightened expectations for the future.

50 years on, I can still recite the usual starting 11 in that wonderful team, aided by the fact that the club only used 15 players in the whole season.

Amongst Town legends like Cherry, Nicholson, McGill, Poole and all the rest, Frank Worthington stood out even further.

The epitome of cool, Frank’s playing style allied flair and skill with the work rate demanded by the late, great Ian Greaves. To a young boy, the glamour attaching to this consummate footballer was dazzling and getting his autograph after every home game became a ritual; he would scrawl across two pages of my little book with a flourish that seemed to last as long as the match itself.

21 times I waited at the old player’s entrance at Leeds Road to get close to these unfathomably glamorous young men and Frank stopped every time. Off the field, you could only marvel at the lifestyle you imagined he had. Even years before celebrity culture, Frank effortlessly exuded star quality but was always approachable and very good to the kids lining up for a brief moment of proximity.

Ineffably glamorous with a luscious mane, Frank stood out wherever he played and thrived in a Town side which combined flair, hardness and endless energy as they swatted their rivals aside to the 2nd Division championship.

I was too young to appreciate the finer points of Frank as a player; rather, it was instinctively obvious that you were seeing something special. As the goal scorer and front man, he demanded attention even though surrounded by many other memorable talents. Cherry’s cultured defending, Nicholson’s experienced leadership, Lawton’s mercurial inside forward play, McGill’s enforcement and all the others’ qualities, framed Frank’s consummate performances.

For it was Frank who added bags of personality to a side rarely, if ever, matched in the decades since. 

I hated it when he turned out for many, many other teams following his inevitable departure from a club which simply couldn’t or wouldn’t match his ambition. The tributes from all of his clubs have flowed today, testament to a long career short on medals but long on fantastic entertainment.

I will always associate Frank Worthington with the very start of my obsession with Huddersfield Town and football. 

RIP Frank.

Anguished ‘owls

Like two drunks brawling at chucking out time, and to the amusement and embarrassment of the onlooking public, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town’s undignified contest ended in a draw with few punches landed and little evidence that redemption for either was any closer.

The point earned by the visitors almost certainly put themselves out of reach of their hosts, who look increasingly doomed, and survival a little closer. One result aside, with Birmingham achieving an immediate new manager bounce, the midweek fixtures have been kind and Saturday’s fixtures look very tough for the majority of those below Town, who will rest up now for over 2 weeks.

Hopefully, the enforced lay off can be used to get more players fit but, just as importantly, for some reflection on how they are going to make progress next season. It is accepted that the loss of key players throughout a long winter has forced Corberán to abandon his high level principles, but the style of football and the identity for which they yearn is as far away as ever.

As ever, a promising opening spell which saw some decent approach play let down by poor decision making faded as intensity fell away and mistakes proliferated. A vital first goal never really looked like arriving, though Holmes spurned a good opportunity set up by O’Brien, should have laid Bacuna in on another attack but delayed and Campbell opted to try and win a penalty rather than take on a first time shot with a relatively high chance of success. 

The penalty shout was legitimate if a little optimistic, but may have influenced the referee waving away a much clearer shout when Rhodes was felled by Keogh later; a penalty which would have doubled Wednesday’s lead and, very likely, secured the points. Perhaps referees just have days when they don’t want to award penalties?

The denied appeal marked the end of Town’s promising opening and stagnation set in. Despite being regularly gifted possession by the Owls, the pronounced lack of movement, subsequent indecision and slow play cemented the visitors in to a pretty woeful performance.

Somewhat against the run of play, which should not be taken as an endorsement of Town’s display at the time and more an indictment of a game plunging to scruffy depths, Wednesday took the lead. Town gave up possession, Rhodes spotted an opportunity to lift the ball behind the back 3, with Pipa stranded up field, and Windass easily outpaced the wrong footed Sarr before beating Schofield at his near post.

The combination of 2 ex-Town men was galling, and another, Kachunga, almost won the game late on with a clever reverse ball which freed Paterson only for Schofield to make a good save to preserve the point. Two pieces of quality entirely out of keeping with the drab affair they momentarily enlivened.

Going behind did little to inject any urgency in to the visitors as individuals persistently failed to spark. Holmes’ energy was invariably undermined by poor execution, Bacuna was continually caught in possession and the less said of Duhaney the better. Unusually, Hogg failed to exert any real influence and perhaps Campbell’s prolonged sulk over the penalty was the reason he contributed next to nothing in a horrible first half.

Bacuna improved after the break, but only by dent of his complete anonymity preventing him making more errors which had exposed his lackadaisical approach to a game which demanded concentration and application.

A change of shape at half time saw Mbenza replace Edmonds-Green, though it was difficult to understand why Corberán persisted with Pipa on the left with the Spaniard struggling to have any influence on the game. It was crying out for Rowe to replace Duhaney and switch Pipa over to the right. An even stronger call would have been to bring on Sanogo to offer an actual threat up front.

On the hour, and after 15 minutes of ineffable dirge from both sides, the big Frenchman was finally introduced. It would be ridiculous to suggest that the Terriers’ game improved to any great extent with his introduction, but Wednesday were being asked different questions with his presence and enthusiasm.

The equaliser came, perhaps, because Town were more confident putting the ball in to the box with a tangible target available.

Mbenza curled a delivery from quite deep in to a good area and found Sarr. His effort on the stretch was well saved but hit Paterson, under pressure from Campbell, and ricocheted apologetically in to the net.

An own goal, then, has almost certainly condemned Wednesday to League 1. Ironically, their current straightened circumstances can possibly be traced back to 2017 and another own goal conceded to the same team. Town have since taken a handful of memories away before reverting to pretty much the same state, while Wednesday stare in to the black hole beneath them. 

Sadly apt that this instantly forgettable game was played out to a near empty stadium – apologies if you hear any bad language echoing around – rather than a cauldron.

A brief appearance of entertainment intruded towards the end as the dozy combatants strived for a winner, with a deflected O’Brien effort coming close to winning a thoroughly undeserved 3 points, while Schofield’s save proved crucial for the visitors.

Town now need a handful of points for survival followed by an urgent need for transformation, while Wednesday’s future looks as uncertain and bleak as ever.

Good Hogg Almighty

Town took a huge stride towards safety by finally winning away from home for the first time since October, with a solid, though not flawless, performance against a QPR side who were uncannily reminiscent of their opponents for much of the proceedings.

With Hogg back in the side protecting the back 3, largely negating the threat of Rangers’ creative midfield and setting the tempo of Town’s game, the Terriers’ chances of victory, or at least the avoidance of defeat, were raised.

Other than one moment in the first half when he was caught too far forward and bypassed, it was a perfect day for the captain whose leadership is always sorely missed.

Following a familiar pattern, Town started brightly and threatened in the early stages. An O’Brien burst ended in a decent effort, though Dieng in the Rangers’ goal made a meal of a straightforward save, and Mbenza shot wide from distance. Naby Sarr could also have done better with an excellent Mbenza cross as the visitors dominated.

The contest evened up after 10 minutes as both sides strived to exert authority with little success. Town had a further opportunity near the half hour when an unmarked Keogh headed just wide from a corner, only for the miss to serve as a prelude for the hosts’ best spell, which should have seen them take the lead.

Seizing control of possession, with Rangers capitalising on an error in midfield by Rowe and opening up Town’s left side, the sporadically dangerous Chair played in Kane for a chance he should have buried. Instead, Schofield was able to make a decent if straightforward save and, crucially, clear the ball with his foot before Kane could atone for his weak effort.

The miss was pivotal. QPR continued to dominate but with muted threat while Town, even during their least comfortable spell, created a decent chance when Keogh, who was excellent throughout, surged from the halfway line to just outside the area and fed Bacuna to his left. The mercurial midfielder didn’t quite control his shot after a good first touch and fired over.

The visitors, however, were the more relieved for the half time whistle.

An entirely deserved victory was secured in a second half which was almost entirely in their control. Despite the hosts having the lion’s share of possession, Town’s defensive discipline, from front to back, rarely wavered, and when they had the ball, their threat was more potent.

The early introduction of Holmes and Duhaney, for Mbenza and Rowe, changed the dynamic and stiffened the team’s defensive resilience and, in the case of Holmes, added a little unpredictability in attack.

Neither were involved in the winning goal, which came shortly after their introduction, however. 

The excellent Naby Sarr pushed a lovely pass in to space for O’Brien who drew players towards him before laying the ball out to Pipa, raiding down the left. The Spaniard teased the opponents in front of him before laying a great ball with the outside of his foot in to the path of Bacuna who smashed the ball past a stationary Dieng.

With the lead, Town took control of the game and could have won more comfortably. Ceding possession intelligently, they allowed QPR to paint pretty pictures in the middle third and smothered the rare occasions they threatened to threaten.

Other than a miscalculation by Sarr of a hasty clearance by the hosts as a Town attack broke down – the odious Charlie Austin shanked an attempted cross with the recovering Sarr in pursuit – and a comedy moment when Duhaney managed to concede a corner by firing an attempted clearance on to himself, Town controlled the contest after the goal.

It is worth mentioning that Austin was ineffective throughout, until subbed, but again managed to kick out at a prone Huddersfield Town player (Bacuna), using the cover of the ball being stuck under his body after being fouled. Coward.

Town’s transition play, often involving Holmes, O’Brien and Pipa was as impressive as their defending and they deserved a greater margin of victory.

Shortly after taking the lead, Bacuna fired a free kick just wide, Holmes had a good effort kept out rather awkwardly by Dieng and Pipa curled an effort just over the bar. 

Perhaps the best chance fell to substitute Sanogo who threw his body in front of a near post ball from O’Brien, but the ball bumbled wide. 

An impressive second half, built on discipline, control and creative offensive play secured a hugely welcome and important 3 points to finally drag the Terriers over the 40 point mark and in sight of safety, which should be quite a few below 50.

A long, tough winter nears it’s end and the possibility of sustained momentum could provide a better than expected finale to the season.

Backbone located

Carlos Corberán may have come of age, counter intuitively, with an ugly goalless draw against an in form but rather tired looking Cardiff City side who brought their brand of powerful, effective and physical football to the John Smith’s Stadium and left with a barely deserved point.

Throughout the season, and even with the services of important players still missing in action, a persistent impression has been that the occasionally attractive style he clearly wants to impose was some way beyond the squad he has. The demands of insistent possession alongside the energy required to accomplish superiority have, all too often, weighed down on a team not equipped to maintain it.

The philosophy is laudable but flawed by its practitioners lacking the muscle memory to sustain it for more than brief periods. Sometimes, in those heady days before the turn of the year, those periods were enough to carry the team home but, in the main, a collection of players were playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order for too long periods.

As they strived to adapt, there was an overwhelming sense that they never really earned the right to play with beautiful fluency and the glaring weaknesses could be and were exploited in the unforgiving Championship. The loss of key individuals to a string of injuries upended the progress to mid table comfort which allowed experimentation, but didn’t bring the necessary adjustments to the ideals and an alarming plunge in to trouble has ensued.

Faced with a schedule packed with muscle and established nous, Town have been slow to adapt their own circumstances to reality but the terrible spectacle midweek against Birmingham signalled long overdue change as the Terriers finally adopted a strategy to minimise rather than invite risk. But for a freakish equaliser, the newly found pragmatism should have yielded an undeserved win, and against opponents far more powerful and adept, a single point was earned when 3 were deserved.

The recent elevation of Mick McCarthy to Shankly, Ferguson and Pep levels of managerial genius on the back of an admittedly extended new boss bounce with a squad preternaturally suited to him, coupled with the glaringly obvious mismatch of known strengths and weaknesses, was enough to condemn Town to defeat before a ball was kicked.

The likeable Yorkshireman, last seen in this division leading Ipswich to season after season of such stultifying banality that he was sacked in favour of more entertainment only for his successor to land them immediately in to League One, was celebrating his 1,000th game as a manager. 

Stage set.

Painful as it must have been for the transparently idealistic Corberán, all pretence of cleaving to his principles was dispelled by a glance at the team sheet with 2 up front and 3 centre halves. All that needed to be added was resilience, risk aversion and calm competence.

An attritional first half with limited opportunities for either side was more notable for Town’s durability in the face of Cardiff’s predictable aerial assaults from free kicks, corners and throw ins. The first of these, with Schofield allowing an unusually high lofted ball to reach the far post before he recovered well to block an attempt from the knock down appeared portentous but things got better.

The Bluebirds’ direct approach and second ball strategy seemed a little blunted, and Keogh and Sarr should take credit for meeting the challenge, though a good effort from Vaulks required a good save by Schofield and Flint hit the bar from a position incorrectly ruled offside.

For Town, most of the threat came down the right with Bacuna and Rowe linking well without being able to deliver good enough quality in to the box. Debutant Sanango wasn’t given enough opportunity to shine and was rather anonymous through no real fault of his own.

Bacuna also nearly threaded an excellent ball through to Campbell but a slight touch from Morrison saved the day for the visitors. He also fired in a reasonable effort from a Mbenza range free kick which was well saved by Phillips.

As the half came to a close, Flint tripped Sarr near the touchline and an incensed Bacuna raised his hand to the giant central defender. Perhaps the comedy value of seeing Bacuna square up to the aptly named Flint took the tension out of the situation and, remarkably, neither was booked. On another day, Town’s enigmatic midfielder could have seen red.

Overall though, Town competed well and minimised the errors which have plagued their season, though Edmonds-Green, the least comfortable of the back 3, got away with dallying in possession and was rescued by the rapidly retreating Sarr.

A far better second half largely belonged to the hosts whose defensive discipline was maintained, on the whole, and they had now earned the right to be a little more expansive if still wary of an in form opposition.

Sanogo had much more influence as team mates began to probe more effectively. This was particularly true of O’Brien whose surges began to worry, justifiably, the Cardiff back line.

The partnership between Campbell and Sanogo began to take some sort of shape. Though the couple of occasions the debutant won his battles and fed his partner narrowly failed to create chances, it was encouraging to see early signs of understanding, and with one of them resulting in a booking for Morrison’s hauling back of Campbell, a chink in their armour was revealed.

Town’s first chance of the half fell to Keogh from a Bacuna delivered free kick. The returning defender escaped attention in the box but the ball was slightly behind him, affecting his header’s direction and power.

With Cardiff largely subdued, Town seized the opportunity to play and an excellent O’Brien burst in to the area saw a blocked Rowe shot lead to him being brought down while hunting the loose ball.

Sadly, poor execution by the surprise taker, Sanogo, who fired badly wide of the target meant that Town wasted their easiest opportunity to record an unexpected win. A case could be made for Sanogo to be designated penalty taker to give an immediate confidence boost for a striker who hasn’t played competitively for a long time. Which is also the case against him.

As demoralising as the miss was, that it didn’t lead to mental collapse was encouraging. Town continued to boss the contest and two further, very presentable, chances were created.

First, Campbell nicked the ball from a hesitant opponent and freed O’Brien to measure an excellent pass behind Cardiff’s right side in to the path of Pipa. The Spaniard tried to work the ball on to his favoured right foot which caused a momentary loss of momentum and the split second was fully exploited by Phillips who made a good save from a closer range than he should have been allowed.

An even better chance fell to Campbell in the box following Sarr winning another aerial dual. Snatching at the effort when he had more time than he appreciated, and perhaps, like the rest of us, assuming he was offside, Campbell spooned the ball over the bar with an overly acrobatic effort.

Despite the frustration of dropping 2 more points in a week which should have harvested 6, this was a gritty and resolute performance where standards were largely maintained against an uncompromising opponent which has far too often not been the case against the more physical sides.

Relegation worries are far from over, indeed they may increase with other results, but adhering to basic principles rather than leaping straight in to the fancy stuff is a major and welcome shift by Corberán.

With 8 days until the next game at Loftus Road, there is time for the indispensable Hogg to return, gives time to work on the Campbell/Sanogo partnership and aid Stearman’s return to the fold.

Above all, Town finally appeared to understand the gravity of their situation and adopt the qualities required to meet the uneasy challenges which await. Consistency is now essential and a reversal of their horrifically poor away form their immediate next objective.

Blues deepen

As the returning Richard Stearman lay prostrate following an elbow to his chin just 5 minutes in to a vital game for both sides, the usual early minutes dispensation rules meant Harlee Dean stayed on the pitch and, thankfully, Town were spared the ignominy of failing to beat 10 men.

They failed to beat a full complement too, but at least they had the consolation of the reprieved Dean presenting Campbell with the opening goal for a lead which, of course, they proceeded to surrender.

It was an advantage the Terriers did not deserve.

Indeed, after a contest pregnant with palpable tension, comically poor passing and lacking quality in all areas it could be argued that neither side deserved the point each took to marginally improve their survival chances.

Birmingham, fresh from a confidence boosting victory at the weekend, carried a little more flair in the first half than the hosts though it rarely translated in to the final third and scoring opportunities and most of the fabulously inept executions of passing came from their feet.

Unrelentingly dire, the first half past with little of note to report. Birmingham threw a few crosses in which caused virtually no concern while Town’s laboured ventures forward scarcely troubled the visitors until an incorrectly awarded free kick was blazed over a wall positioned about 2 yards closer than it should have been by Mbenza.

Both sides looked every inch the relegation candidates they have become. Few risks were taken and both appeared paralysed by doubt. With fluency absent, Town relied on Campbell’s willingness to work Birmingham’s back line while City, unsurprisingly, looked for Jutkiewicz long and often.

Improvement came there none after the break. Mbenza disappeared, Pipa’s worryingly poor form continued and O’Brien gave away possession at will. Vallejo was unable to spark any reaction from deep as the game drifted towards a stultifying stalemate.

Just after the hour, however, a goal arrived out of the blue. Dean’s fluffed attempted clearance of a nothing ball in to the box fell nicely to Town’s lone striker who hit it very sweetly from just outside the area. The quality of the strike was entirely out of keeping with the dirge which preceded it.

The visitors’ equaliser came along immediately and it’s ugliness was far more fitting.

A corner from the right beat Campbell’s near post cover, dropped and died in front of Roberts who gleefully converted. Though later inquest may point fingers, there was a freakishness about the goal which summed up Town’s recent fortune. Not that they earned any luck in this fixture.

For much of the rest of the game, Birmingham looked more likely to grab a winner as Town became nervy. They weren’t helped by Corberán’s strange decision to replace Vallejo with Scott High. 

The Spaniard had produced little of influence but does exude calm on the ball while the youngster looked lost and his inexperience rather shone out. To his credit, he made a good tackle late on to stop a dangerous Birmingham foray.

Towards the end of the seemingly interminable struggle, Town got on top but a series of balls in to the box from corners, a free kick and open play were easily dealt with despite the presence of Sanogo who couldn’t get in to the game in his 15 minutes in place of Campbell.

The best opportunity was provided by Bacuna, probably the best of a bad Town bunch on the night, who burst in to the area but was unable to hit a colleague with his lay back.

It was Birmingham, however, who came closest to grabbing a winner as Sarr inadvertently nodded on a long throw in to the path of Hogan who flicked over.

The final flurries of action could not disguise the worrying lack of quality, cohesion or purpose and the final whistle came as a blessing with both sides relieved at least not to have lost. For Town, pressure continues to weigh down the team and management and there were few signs of any upturn in fortunes on the horizon.

With a rampant Cardiff due next, Town’s plight remains precarious and their future worryingly reliant on others’ failings.