You lucky, lucky people

It is more likely than not that Huddersfield Town will scrape to survival from relegation as games run out for the teams below them and the point secured in a hugely fortunate draw with Rotherham should prove crucial to achieving that miserly, inadequate and unacceptable objective.

The thoroughly undeserved addition to Town’s measly total serves only to apply the thinnest of paper over the gaping holes in the strategies of a club in deep malaise and there will be no celebration afforded to retaining a status they barely deserve. That 3 clubs, and possibly another one or two, will prove worse performers is a massive indictment of them.

Escaping demotion, which should be accompanied by sighs of guilty relief and nothing approaching celebration, will be utterly futile if nothing is done to ensure that next season isn’t another desperate struggle. It is impossible to detect even the faintest sign that we will not all be here again and rather more indicating that an even grimmer outcome is more likely. And we haven’t survived yet.

Lowly, desperate Rotherham came to town to commence a sequence of 4 games in 8 days which may well condemn them and proceeded to dominate their hosts for three quarters of a crude encounter. 

The Millers will be rueing the woodwork, a referee who denied them a quite convincing penalty appeal and their own remarkable ineptitude in front of goal. They should take heart, however, that they won’t lack for effort and organisation for the monumental challenges of their tightly packed schedule. 

Perhaps the only slice of fortune for them was facing a team as confused and lacking in personality as Town. The failure to take advantage, which would have dragged Town deep in to the mire while providing themselves with a good platform for their week, is likely to be seminal for them.

For Town, the ineptitude of the first half at Carrow Road was equalled, and possibly exceeded, in the second half of this dreadful display. Lacking character, application and even the most basic of skills, Town were not helped by Corberán’s insistence on shoehorning players in to his selection, particularly on the left and what appeared to be a hybrid of his own preferred style of play and the rudimentary approach adopted in the recent past.

A clearly less than fit Pipa was deployed at left wing back, Holmes at right wing back while the two other full back or wing back alternatives were sat on the bench, presumably not trusted by a coach preferring imbalance. It isn’t easy to make a case for Jordan Brown, more so for Rowe, but Brown would have facilitated a true back four and the greater potential for midfield control which was absent for all but a brief spell in the first half.

Well organised and aggressive, Rotherham easily coped with the few moments of potential danger Town conjured, with only a decent Keogh effort causing the visitors the slightest concern. The defender, one of only two to come out with credit from a rancid afternoon, was thwarted by Johansson’s chest and a hasty clearance.

Keogh himself prevented Rotherham from taking the lead with a last ditch block to foil Crooks’ close range shot after Town had been carved open on Rotherham’s left far too easily.

Town’s minimal threat came exclusively from the right with occasionally decent link ups between Holmes and Bacuna falling short on delivery into the box. For all his presence as a line leader, and he works hard enough, Sanogo simply doesn’t look capable of scoring. He shows an occasional nice touch and can bring others in to play, but his main asset is nuisance value which wouldn’t look too out of place in the bottom divisions but it is simply not enough at Championship level. Ishmael Miller 2.0.

The Millers finished the half on the front foot and pinned Town in their own territory without creating much beyond slight concern. In fact, an attempted O’Brien headed back pass was the root of most consternation but Schofield baled him out with a decisive intervention.

As disappointing as the first half had been, and the reaction to the disaster in midweek was barely discernible, the abject response in the second was worryingly depressing.

Shapeless, error prone and paralysed by fear, the Terriers all but handed the game to the visitors who, for all their fight and resilience, were unable to collect the gifts handed to them.

Bar Keogh and Schofield, the former held things together as well as he could and the latter saved the day with an excellent save and some decent handling, the team was an almighty shambles seemingly at the mercy of their limited but massively superior opponents.

Within minutes, Town were spared going behind by a linesman’s flag and the stench of defeat became overwhelming from that moment. 

Possession was fleeting and misused, Sanogo and Campbell became superfluous to events and Rotherham dictated virtually every aspect of the play.

Subdued and out worked, the hosts spent swathes of the second half desperately repelling their better organised, more determined opponents who won each and every individual battle across the spectrum. Even in possession, hesitancy and misjudgement poisoned any attempt to reverse the tide. The opportunities to break on the odd occasion Rotherham over committed floundered on indecision and dreadful execution.

Early in the half, Town managed to screw up a 3 on 1 opportunity with baffling incompetence as neither Holmes nor Pipa seemed to want to make the decisive move. A decent run by Thomas, on for Pipa, failed to deliver a dangerous ball in to the box and a brief ascendancy ended.

On the hour, the increasingly woeful Terriers were off the hook again as Schofield was nearly caught out as Wing curled an excellent free kick effort on to the bar. In total control by then, Rotherham piled on the pressure and were desperately unlucky to find referee Moss in a forgiving mood as Sarr bundled in to Wood following more induced confusion in the box.

Spluttering attempts to gain some sort of foothold in the game invariably ended with poor control, passing or judgement as the visitors assumed control and a good hit by Wing following a half clearance was very well saved by Schofield as Town were relived once more.

Scott High, on for Holmes and Bacuna with Mbenza, made a good run from his own half but could only force a corner for lack of support, just ahead of the defining moment of the match which arrived amidst the dreary final minutes.

Sarr was beaten by a long ball and allowed Smith in to the box. His ball across wrong footed Edmonds-Green after bypassing Keogh only for Wiles to miss an open goal when it was far easier to score. It didn’t require wiliness of any kind and didn’t get it.

It would be churlish not to acknowledge the absence of good fortune since the turn of the year with a rolling, persistent injury crisis severely hampering Corberán, but the outrageous good fortune provided by this game, which is only enhanced by the vital point it gained over a fellow struggler, is huge compensation.

If omens are your thing, and grasping at straws is what this club tends to leave us with, the last time we demonstrably threw a game against superior opposition at Bournemouth, Town followed up with a miserable draw against a relegation rival followed by a home win over a contender.

The parallels are, to say the least, imperfect. Coventry didn’t deserve to beat us and Watford’s latest manager was coming to the end of a typically short tenure, but it is something to tenuously cling on to.

Longer term, a win and a draw will see Town survive but there is precious little optimism that next season will not simply be a repetition of the malaise which remains from the waste of legacy which continues to rankle an increasingly apathetic support.

7 (Seven)

An evening of desperate ignominy in Norfolk saw Huddersfield Town trounced by a relentlessly excellent Norwich who clearly didn’t receive the memo to go easy on a club who had decided that their priorities lay elsewhere.

Deliberately enfeebling the team for a second time this season, Corberán compounded this sin by managing to organise the ragbag of has beens, never wills and never should have beens in to a shape which surrendered swathes of space in the middle. Carlos’ opposite number sat quietly and contentedly through the ensuing massacre.

The quality of the men in yellow cannot be disputed. They played with a verve and conviction born of talent and familiarity who resisted the temptation to showboat as they pushed at the open door and filled their boots.

It was not their responsibility that the opposition not only fielded an unbalanced mess who appeared to have barely met each other before, they had a coach who, contrary to evidence and experience, emasculated his best player from Saturday’s commendable draw by playing him at left wingback. A position at which he has failed whenever the idiocy has been perpetrated.

With Holmes, who had an appallingly inept first half, failing to carry out even the rudimentary duties of a central midfielder, Carlos’ folly was exponentially increased. Directly responsible for the second goal, continuously guilty of losing possession and lacking positional awareness or the ability to track runners, the American’s disastrous performance was only slightly below many of his equally culpable team mates.

The entirely anonymous Ward made few errors but only by dent of having virtually no involvement whatsoever. An already cataclysmically bad signing, Ward showed less than nothing defending from the front, won nothing by air or land and made you yearn for Campbell’s professionally honest endeavour.

If the result wasn’t entirely in doubt before the ink dried on the lamentable team sheet, the late addition of  Joel “Lucky” Pereira following Schofield’s sudden and possibly diplomatic illness plunged Town’s prospects even further. 11 goals conceded in 2 games is not what you want on a CV.

Norwich’s opener came after just 8 minutes and just 30 seconds after Keogh made an excellent block to prevent a certain goal. The ball squirted out to Cantwell who skipped around Stearman and Duhaney with far too much ease before laying it in to the path of Pukki who caught Sarr flat footed from behind.

The listless defending so early in the game was an alarming harbinger of what was to come. The Canaries scented blood, the Terriers trembled and succumbed, though it took the hosts a little time to seal their victory with a second. 

A sublime ball from Cantwell to the offside Pukki nearly opened up the increasingly fragile Town defence, just before Buendia set the Finn on his way behind Stearman and Keogh, and in to the area to finish.

Holmes, and it is difficult to convey just how poor he performed, had managed to give the ball away cheaply just inside the Norwich half which allowed Buendia the opportunity to play an inch perfect pass in to space behind the central defenders.

Within 5 minutes, Buendia was allowed acres of space to move forward and easily defeat Sarr’s half hearted, half turned attempt at a block with an excellent shot which beat Pereira and went in off the post.

At this point, even the mild resistance of the Yorkshiremen had crumbled in the face of overwhelming superiority and a 4th goal soon arrived with the impressive Cantwell and Buendia combining for the lovely haired Canary to hit the top corner beyond the hapless Pereira.

With no discernible press up top, barely a tackle being attempted and a complete absence of cohesion, Town, already dead and buried, looked ripe for a huge defeat.

Other than some poorly executed corners, Norwich looked flawless as they ripped in to their wretched opponents. Buendia, a top level player in all but status and which will soon be resolved, hit the bar with an excellent free kick, though the relief for the visitors was short lived.

One time Town target Dowell touched a glorious dink over the visiting defence to the irrepressible Buendia who could have made it a good day for himself with another goal but unselfishly fed the ball back to Dowell for Norwich’s nap hand.

A torrid first half ended without further damage and the traumatised and bewildered visitors could seek the sanctuary of the dressing room to hide their humiliation and embarrassment. Surpassing even the Bournemouth debacle, the only thing to hope for was that they would scramble to recover whatever passes for pride these days at Huddersfield Town.

Scott High was thrown on to replace the woeful Stearman at the break, though any one of the toxic central defensive trio could have been hooked. Presumably, Stearman drew the long straw.

Some sense of normalcy descended in the opening stages of the second half as Norwich settled comfortably in full certainty of their victory and another stride to inevitable promotion.

The introduction of Thomas, for Hogg, and Rowe for Holmes allowed O’Brien to move in to midfield and Town actually enjoyed a very brief period of ascendancy, with Thomas showing more ambition and positivity in a few minutes than Mbenza and Ward had shown put together.

Just before the hour, Thomas finally brought Krul in to the game, forcing a decent save at his near post.

Ineptitude soon raised it’s ugly head, however, when Skipp surged in to Town’s half with no challenge until Mbenza decided it was a good idea to make one as the Spurs loanee entered the area. It was a little soft, but difficult to complain about when any sort of attempted tackle was likely to upend the opponent who was in full flow.

Pukki drove in the penalty for his hat trick.

Sensing defeat was on the cards, Corberán withdrew O’Brien and Sarr and, to emphasise the sheer horror of the whole evening, Bacuna was handed the captain’s armband. 

Any semblance of resistance collapsed again at this point and had Norwich capitalised, a historic defeat of Maine Road proportions and beyond was on the cards. As it was, only one further goal was added and the biggest defeat since November 1987 was suffered.

Humiliated, and with integrity considerably diminished, Town could only reflect on their opponents’ achievements following their relegation last season. While Norwich planned for demotion, the Terriers’ Premier League legacy is in tatters. If Rotherham are defeated on Saturday, the management and hierarchy may believe that the sacrifices made at Carrow Road will be deemed acceptable by the club’s supporters. They will be wrong.

Fielding a deliberately uncompetitive team in the hope that this will help towards a game against lowly Rotherham, who themselves were beaten comprehensively by bottom club Wycombe last time out, is both desperate and hugely disappointing. Even being in the position of scrabbling towards survival remains unacceptable.

Corberán’s repetition of his Bournemouth strategy, his incomprehensible deployment of O’Brien at left wing back and an ill advised reversion back to the tippy tappy nonsense he persisted with throughout the winless late winter months were hugely annoying and regrettably indicative of a refusal or inability to learn.
Having set out his stall, Rotherham must be vanquished. Minimum.

Inching to safety

Town edged closer to safety with a hard working performance, accompanied by some good fortune at significant moments, which thwarted a talented but rather pedestrian Brentford side whose automatic promotion hopes were dented.

A comfortable first 20 minutes would have been very different had Duhaney’s dallying on the ball been punished by Canos, who nicked possession, rather than halted by a referee who saw offence where there appeared none.

An early clash of heads between Vallejo and Norgaard didn’t seem to affect the Spaniard too much at first, despite long treatment following the incident, and he was instrumental in the opening goal. Brentford, strangely sluggish and particularly when playing out from the back, were punished when Vallejo robbed, ironically, Norgaard with the ball running free to O’Brien who wrong footed the Bees’ scrabbling keeper for a surprise lead.

Brentford were unable to respond as Town hassled them in possession with Sanogo and Campbell working hard up front to disrupt their flow and Vallejo and Hogg anchoring a midfield determined to restrict attempts to play through the lines.

The game suffered as a spectacle but the monotony was broken briefly by an excellent run and cross by Holmes down the right, but it was too high for O’Brien who had burst in to the area.

Vallejo had to leave the field half way through the first period and with him went Town’s control and dominance. Unbalanced, the Terriers’ dogged performance dipped and the visitors’ naturally superior ability came to the fore and an equaliser looked extremely likely before the break.

A combination of poor finishing, strange officiating and some decent last ditch defending thwarted them. 
Almost immediately after Vallejo’s replacement by Bacuna, a lovely dummy in midfield by Toney released Canos who fed Janelt in to the area. A slightly poor first touch allowed Sarr to get back and, in combination with Schofield, they thwarted the German.

Encouraged, the visitors proceeded to dominate the rest of the half without achieving their usual quality, particularly in front of goal. They should have been given the opportunity to equalise when Naby Sarr used his arm to get a high ball back to Schofield with the menace of Toney far too close to comfort. The assistant on the right was unconvinced despite being well placed.

Further incursions ended with desperately poor attempts and despite their increasing superiority, Schofield was untroubled and the defence largely unruffled. Nevertheless, it was a relief for Town when the half time whistle blew.

The Bees’ intent for the second half was clear for all to see as 8 players were strung across the halfway line for the kick off and their strong start was quickly rewarded.

Town were as convinced that a throw in should have gone their way as they were unprofessional enough to allow a quick execution thoroughly expose their defence. A dangerous cross towards the onrushing Jansson hit his upper arm and was excellently cleared by Sarr from the line, only for the second ball in to fall very kindly for Sorensen who squeezed the ball in.

Despite several elements of good fortune surrounding the goal, it was well deserved and there was a genuine fear that the home side could be overwhelmed as the visitors surged with confidence. Those fears were heightened just a minute after the leveller when Toney got free for once and smashed a great effort past Schofield but on to the upright.

Strangely, Brentford failed to maintain their momentum and, largely through the energy of O’Brien, bang back in form, Town took back some control. Unfortunately, the free kicks and corners which flowed from their more aggressive approach were invariably wasted. Bacuna hit a promisingly positioned free kick over and failed to clear the first man on a couple of others.

It was also Town’s turn to feel aggrieved at a penalty decision. Inevitably, it was O’Brien bursting past Brentford’s right back which led to an apparent clip but the referee decided it was jointly attributable clumsiness, though a similar challenge outside the area would likely have been given.

The best chance for the hosts fell to Duhaney who capitalised on good work from the industrious Sanogo, but his clever duping of the Brentford defender in his way forced the ball on to his weaker left foot and he couldn’t generate power nor direction to get it past Raya.

The final 15 minutes belonged to the Bees, whose need for 3 points was rather more pressing. A point from a fixture as difficult as this was sufficient for the Terriers and they were admirably dogged in their protection of it.
Schofield made a decent save down to his right to foil Fosu and one or two balls in to the box caused mild palpitations, but the guile associated with Brentford was largely absent and Toney was excellently marshalled bar the effort just after the equaliser.

While the point was most welcome and the dogged performance showed character, there was little to enjoy besides O’Brien’s return to full form. However, it is difficult to imagine the Town of a month ago gaining a return from such a challenging fixture; Corberán’s decision to abandon his principles has probably saved the club from much deeper trouble, even if that trouble is not entirely eliminated.

The unbeaten run, diluted somewhat by the fact it contains only one win, will be under severe threat on Tuesday evening in Norwich ahead of a meeting with Rotherham which could be the one which realistically, if not mathematically, guarantees Championship football next season. Carlos should not apply a Bournemouth style gamble to concentrate on the winnable weekend fixture, he should take the positives from this draw and continue to build on the spirit now clearly visible in the team.

Survival however, if and when it arrives, must be the catalyst for a brighter future. Dogged late season avoidance of disaster needs to be banished. It is difficult to see how many of yesterday’s team can achieve this despite their commendable resilience and the result, but for now it is on them to finish the job at hand.