A right Royal demolition

A lot more evidence will be required for many to be convinced that Town have turned the corner and can deliver a season free of desperate struggle, soul sapping defeats and barely deserved survival, but an encouraging start to the season was confirmed by an emphatic home victory.

Amongst a clutch of very good performances, notably the back 3, Hogg, Sinani and Koroma, the impossibly exciting Sorba Thomas, with 2 assists and his first senior goal, stood out, yet again, on an afternoon which couldn’t have gone much better for the Terriers.

Completing a third win on the trot, Town overwhelmed a desperately poor Reading side who could barely cope with the plethora of threats carried by the hosts as Corberán could leave the early season Covid issues well and truly behind, naming a strong squad with options all across the bench.

The opening half hour saw plenty of intent from the confident Terriers, which was slightly let down in execution too often, particularly by a surprisingly unsure O’Brien, and only an excellent free kick by Sinani, which slammed against the far post caused genuine consternation for the visitors, but pressure was building.

A marvellous cross field ball by Colwill found Thomas on the right. The youngster executed a precocious flick over Yiadom, leaving the Reading right back on the floor, controlled the dropping ball with his chest before hitting a first time ball in to the area which eluded Ward and two defenders before reaching O’Brien. The sought after midfielder slotted home from close range for a deserved lead.

The promise of the first half blossomed in a second period brimming with hope as Town dismantled their hapless opponents.

Within 5 minutes, victory was all but assured as Thomas curled yet another superb free kick delivery behind the Royals’ defence for Pearson to tap in. The defender was one of a clutch of players who could have converted, such was the quality of the ball in.

Reading responded with their best spell of the game, forcing a couple of corners and free kicks but couldn’t translate it in to anything even vaguely alarming for Town’s dominant defence and assured goalkeeper.

As they pushed forward in the hope of a nerve inducing goal, the Berkshire outfit simply exposed themselves to counter attacks in to the spaces necessarily vacated and were punished twice in quick succession just after the hour mark.

First, Thomas carried the ball from just inside his own half with pace and purpose, received a little luck from an attempted challenge just outside the box, which his adventure deserved, and found a yard of space before steering his shot across the keeper for his first Town goal.

Minutes later, Koroma collected the ball in a tight spot on the left, pushed it past Reading’s right back and roasted him for pace before supplying Ward, unmarked, in the box. The rightly maligned striker neatly side stepped the exposed keeper and slotted home a much needed goal.

Ward, who upped his game to adequate levels of competency was substituted immediately but could reflect on a much improved performance. Doubts, sewn over many, many months, remain but it would be unfair not to acknowledge his contribution to a hugely satisfying team display.

The problems Corberán faced last season as injuries ravaged a thin squad, forcing him in to fielding an inexperienced and panic inducing goalkeeper, relying on ageing central defenders prone to error and an attacking force of minimal threat seem to have been largely resolved.

Nicholls provides the much improved back line with a level of assuredness and certainty, the flair on both flanks is unrecognisable from last season’s tepid efforts and while creativity in the middle and a genuine cutting edge at centre forward remains elusive, the positive improvements throughout the side overcomes those issues just enough.

Sinani offers something a little different too. He needs time to adjust to the rigours of the Championship, but the potential is real.

Much sterner tests await. A depleted and, frankly, terrible Reading offered little and their ridiculous spending seems ready to bite them badly this term but the confidence and momentum Town can take from a thoroughly entertaining and encouraging afternoon augurs well.

If, as seems more likely than not, O’Brien stays now that a sickening move down the A62 appears off, and if Mbenza can be taken off the payroll opening up the possibility of recruiting a striker or creator, Corberán should be able to guide Town to a season with far less trauma. 

And maybe better.

Levi lifts spirits

Bramall Lane erupted in relieved delight as Billy Sharp finally got the better of a resilient rearguard action by Huddersfield Town, scoring the Blades’ first League goal of the season and surely earning a deserved point for his side? The veteran had already given notice that his obligatory strike against the visitors was on its way with a snap volley straight at Nicholls.

Most of the Yorkshire crowd would have accepted a draw following a largely dour struggle, though the West riding contingent felt more deflated that an injury time leveller apparently prevented a second, dogged, victory of the week.

It is greatly to the Terriers’ credit that, rather than clamming up to protect their reduced reward, they won a corner and decided to deliver it rather than take all the sting out of the game with some time consuming tippy-tappy (which invariably results in a dead ball and a final assault).

Thomas’s delivery, which had been a little below par on the few opportunities he had, was far more dangerous this time and needed to be cleared. Picking up the ball, Sarr laid it sideways to Vallejo, whose pass was intended for O’Brien but landed at Toffolo’s feet. The much missed full back superbly turned his marker and laid the ball square for Colwill to convert his first professional goal and Town’s winner.

Two minutes of an otherwise forgettable game may, and perhaps should, provide the catalyst for an upturn in fortune for Town. Though still lacking much of a spark, and heavily reliant on Thomas for moments of entertainment, the shambles witnessed against Fulham has been replaced by unspectacular (to say the least) discipline.

Neither of the subsequent opponents have the quality of the favourites for the league, but the Blades can call upon 4 strikers of variety who were largely subdued as they took turns to try and break down their Yorkshire neighbours. Sarr, in particular, stood firm and, so far, is only eclipsed by Thomas as Town’s most effective individual.

Town started quite well, taking the game to their nervous hosts, fresh from a midweek battering, but the early promise fizzled out quickly and United began to dominate possession. Pushed back, the Terriers were disciplined, restricting their hosts to a spectacular but fairly harmless overhead attempt by McBurnie which Nicholls pushed away with relative ease and a free kick by Norwood straight at the well positioned keeper.

Norwood’s opportunity arose from Turton and Hogg over passing on the halfway line allowing McBurnie space to run at the defence. Turton, who needs to step up in the absence of Pipa and is too prone to error, fouled the Scottish international on the edge of the box.

Through the middle, the obvious class of Berge rather shone out despite the youngster failing to unlock Town’s defensive wall. Scares were few for the visitors but with them carrying no threat themselves, the contest rarely nudged above the mundane.

Ten years ago, the last Blades v Terriers league meeting in Sheffield featured Danny Ward. It was patently absurd that he featured again (but for his injury, Jordan Rhodes, a sub that day, would also be back on the away bench), made all the more ludicrous by his supreme ineffectiveness in the previous 2 games.

On the hour, Town made the changes which would ultimately decide the game. The invisible Ward made way for Campbell, while Toffolo replaced High. The appearance of the first choice left back allowed Town to change shape and dynamic; Ward’s anaemic display was replaced by Campbell’s energy, which may not bring the veteran many goals but causes far more difficulties for the opposition.

Suddenly, the visitors, who had survived a spell of sustained but chance free pressure, began to threaten. Koroma shot wide from a decent position and Campbell spurned 2 opportunities to shoot before being robbed of possession. But the Terriers had disrupted the one way traffic and exploited United’s nerves as a first goal continued to elude them.

It seemed inevitable that Town would score after soaking up so much pressure, and an excellent through ball by Thomas to Koroma opened up the Blades’ defence. Koroma got a shot away which was blocked by Foderingham but calmly side footed the rebound to register his first goal of the season.

Sharp’s equaliser, a goal created by his strength and instinct, and Colwill’s late winner embellished a game low on quality if high on endeavour. 

The similarities between Sheffield United’s first season back in the Championship following an awful 2nd Premier League campaign and that endured by Town are pretty obvious. Blades fans should look at our plight over the past few seasons and worry.

For the Terriers, this week may or may not prove pivotal to their fortunes. Other than brief spells towards the end of each game, performances have been poor, if determined, but the return of Toffolo augurs well for the options Corberán now has for his team.

No doubt this cautious optimism will come crashing down at some point, sooner rather than later perhaps, but to take 7 points from a quartet of fixtures where we have played well for just short periods, and this is being charitable, is encouraging.

It’s an ill wind…..

Low on confidence, bereft of quality and hit by illness in the squad which forced a late change at the back as well as a blessed substitution at half time, Huddersfield Town snaffled 3 welcome but thoroughly undeserved points on a night of relentlessly turgid football.

Preston, early prime candidates for relegation alongside their woeful hosts, spurned two reasonable chances in a first half as rancid as any seen over the past few years of interminable struggle, while Town’s inability to cause even a modicum of threat put an intermittently restless crowd in to a stupor.

Fear of losing hung heavy in the air throughout the opening half, with transition seemingly beyond the Terriers. Up front, Koroma was pushed forward to make a two with the wretched Ward, though he spent most of his time occupying Thomas’s space and blunting the almost non existent threat the team carried so ponderously. 

Turton, presumably, was supposed to be the right sided wing back, yet forays forward were rare and invariably fruitless.

In midfield, glimpses of O’Brien’s ability to surge forward belied the price Leeds are reportedly ready to pay for him while the dynamism shown on Saturday by Scott High was entirely absent as the youngster drifted in to deep, unthreatening positions on the right far too often.

Hogg’s worryingly pedestrian start to the season continued, with his efforts subdued by a, perhaps forgivable, emphasis on protecting his defenders.

Ward, who was withdrawn at half time with illness, managed to match his now infamous lack of contribution against Fulham with an appearance of staggering pointlessness.

Guilty of giving away possession, wandering without intent and barely competing in the air, if he has transmitted any infection it will be the first time he has passed anything to a team mate in two halves of football.

On the positive side, it was a relief to welcome some competence in between the posts as Nicholls made his league debut, though he didn’t have a huge workload in the first half, while Sarr made an important block on the line to prevent Evans converting the best chance of the game and dominated in the air in the box.

Sarr also came to the rescue when his young colleague, Colwill, lost the ball in a dangerous area with a slip.

Other than the occasional foray down the left by Thomas, when his path wasn’t blocked by Koroma, Town’s impotence didn’t even extend to shooting blanks. It wasn’t just that they failed to register a shot on target, they barely mustered an effort worthy of note.

Ward’s ineptitude may charitably be attributed to his reported illness and his withdrawal at half time handed his manager something of an undeserved gift as Campbell’s energy and sometimes misplaced enthusiasm gave Preston far more to think about.

Not that his colleagues took the cue. Leaden footed, slow to pass and with far too many desperately mundane performances, Town struggled to find any cohesion and a goalless evening beckoned. 

Their opponents, who displayed more competence and basic technique, were nevertheless rather predictable and rarely tested the home defence beyond the occasional panic redolent of the Terriers for so long.

O’Brien’s possibly final appearance for Town ended with his substitution by Holmes. Tame as the likely final hurrah had been, he leaves with good wishes, even if the promotion to a Premier League bench seems rather premature. 

Putting aside his shambolic display on Saturday, Holmes offered something a little different to the plodding efforts up to his arrival, and, for the first time, Town offered a little more going forward (though showing less would have been impossible). He was, at least, willing to try to join up with the isolated attackers and his run forward which resulted in the winning goal was to be applauded, if not the attempt at execution.

Fed by Koroma, the American’s first touch in the box eluded him but not the sliding feet of Van Den Berg who pushed the ball past the previously unemployed Iversen.

It was entirely fitting that this entertainment free game was settled in such a manner.

To be fair to Town, the lead seemed to spark some life and confidence in to them and the exciting Thomas, the one offensive bright spark, nearly killed the contest with a curling shot against the post following another incisive run.

Koroma should have buried North End late on when freed by the hard working Campbell but screwed his shot wide, preserving Town’s proud record of no shots on target despite collecting maximum points.

The desperate visitors were unable to conjure any guile against a now deep defensive wall, though their one dimensional play did force an error from Nicholls who came out too far to flap at a ball which would’ve been dealt with. The subsequent mêlée saw the otherwise peerless Sarr smash an attempted clearance against Turton. Thankfully, the ball looped in to Nicholls’ arms.

To the disappointment of few, all Lancastrian, the referee called time on a contest between two clubs more than likely to be struggling throughout the season.

As it is, however, Town’s good fortune saw them climb to 16th in the table, out of the play off positions on goal difference. On this performance, this will be the closest they ever get to such a position and nobody leaving the ground was fooled.

Nicholls, Sarr and Thomas produced acceptable performances amidst the crud and the introduction of a fit Pipa and Toffolo in to the side could make a huge difference but the confusing tactics, the ever present threat of comedy goals against and the inevitability of far superior opposition than Preston remain foreboding.

Recruitment with the O’Brien money, if allowed, is key. At least 5 of the team put out should be the nucleus of a reasonable bench, which will only be possible if higher quality and proven players arrive, and quickly.

Bramall Lane will be a test of much higher magnitude; it is to be hoped that this inglorious victory will inspire some confidence to meet that challenge.

Fragile Town blown away

There are mitigations, but it is an enormously charitable stretch to believe that a catastrophic home defeat is anything other than portentous for another season of dire struggle.

Missing 4 senior players takes its toll, though one, possibly two, of them will be sold in this window anyway and the shallowness of the squad being exposed so early is desperately worrying. 

The enforced absence of Nicholls once again threw Schofield to the lions. Nervous and shredded of confidence, it is now borderline cruelty to play him and with the first choice almost certainly out of Tuesday’s game, Bilokapic should step up. This is a depressing solution which may harm another youngster, but the constant refusal to accept that Ryan Schofield simply isn’t close to being Championship standard has delivered yet another avoidable crisis.

Fulham will undoubtedly challenge for the Championship title this season, but the level of comfort they enjoyed for large swathes of a ludicrously one sided contest was a tactical embarrassment for Corberán, whose position is surely under severe scrutiny. Home supporters were treated to the young coach’s frantic touchline extortions for the first time in the flesh and, coupled with his Bielsa tribute act, which seems to consist entirely of aping his seating arrangement, few could have been impressed.

A crazy first ten minutes sealed Town’s fate. After an early chance for the visitors was saved by Schofield, the Terriers were denied the lead by a linesman’s flag which was baffling to everyone but the official. The corner had been won by Holmes who forced a save following a lay back by Thomas. 

Ward shot in to the side netting following a promising move, but amateur hour was just around the corner.

Thomas, who had delivered an excellent corner for the disallowed Pearson effort, inexplicably volleyed a back pass from the half way line towards Schofield. The ball appeared to be well over the dead ball line as the much maligned keeper tried to control it on his chest and then saw his, frankly ridiculous, attempt at a clearance hit Mitrovic and in to the net.

The outlandish comedy of errors surrounding the opener seemed to paralyse the home team and Fulham dominated all areas of the pitch and imposed their obvious superiority. A full half hour of struggle followed as Fulham pushed past their opponents with alarming ease. Hogg, Holmes and Vallejo were reduced to rubble as their ponderous attempts to gain even a tiny amount of control utterly failed.

A routine save from Mitrovic, who should have buried the chance, was followed by the same player heading past Schofield only to be called offside. Wilson missed a sitter as the visitors’ grip on the game became overwhelming.

For the second week in a row, Town were finally breached on the back post following a corner. It was the least the Londoners deserved and there looked no way back for the demoralised hosts.

Out of the blue, however, and with just 5 minutes until the sanctuary of half time, Town halved the deficit as Pearson met another Thomas corner delivery. If the Terriers could professionally see out the rest of the half, a glimmer of hope could be embraced.

It was extinguished within 2 minutes when Holmes lost possession following a throw in and Fulham burst forward. Turton and Koroma allowed Decordova-Reid to advance in to the area and provide Carvalho with an easy chance and the two goal cushion was restored.

Town had thrown away a barely deserved foothold in the game with rank amateurism and left the pitch to understandable jeers of a crowd seeing their return to the stadium ruined by the ineptitude so familiar from home viewing.

Campbell replaced the ineffective Ward at half time while Vallejo was chosen, presumably by lots, to be sacrificed and High came on. Corberán could have hooked any of the 3 midfielders, and it was a little surprising that Holmes and Hogg, both of whom had shockers, were left on.

High added some energy to the docile Terriers, and for a time a level of competency threatened to break out. It was short lived and while Koroma finally made Gazzaniga in the Fulham goal make an easy save, it wasn’t long before the visitors regained control, with Wilson hitting the bar after Schofield parried the ball in the Welsh international’s path.

Wilson was sent off for a retaliatory kick on Colwill after the Chelsea loanee had fouled him.

Seasoned Town supporters know that the opposition going down to ten men is rarely a cause for optimism, and it proved to be entirely meaningless again. Trying to push forward, Town were caught square by a superbly weighted pass for Cavaleiro, who had the easy chance to beat Schofield for Fulham’s 4th after destroying Pearson for pace.

The final humiliation came just before the curtain came down on yet another heavy, punishing defeat under Corberán, with Cavaleiro easily avoiding the attention of Pearson to give the score line an entirely accurate representation of the game.

With the exception of Colwill, whose ease on the ball puts his massively more experienced colleagues to shame, the summer recruitment programme, which aimed to add depth to Town’s elderly and creaking defence of 2019/20, lay shattered and broken by the end. 

Ripped asunder by a vastly superior opponent, it may prove to be a simple mismatch of resources, but the nature of the defeat was deeply demoralising, and witnessing it live brought the club’s travails stretching back to early 2018 in to bleak focus.

Poor recruitment, a coach who tries to impose a style of play well beyond the resources at his disposal and a hierarchy grappling with the problems left behind by the former benefactor add up to yet another season of struggle. 

Serving up a supine, error ridden display with virtually no redeeming qualities in front of their first live home crowd was disastrous; the suspicions of those not already convinced that a desolate future seems inevitable were starkly brought to the fore, making redemption even more difficult to achieve.

It was unfortunate to have to play a weakened team against a relegated Premier League squad likely to bounce back, but Town were incapable of meeting any of the challenges such a fixture brings and the reasons for that failure are far more complex and deep seated than economic disparity.

Fulham, cheered on by a disappointing number of followers, effortlessly negotiated an easy game and though they would be wise not to over estimate the value of this victory given the shambolic opponent, look well equipped to go straight back up again.

By the time they drop back down, the chances of them making another trip to Huddersfield look slim.

Thomas erases doubts

In the end, Wayne Rooney was able to name an experienced first eleven after a week of drama as his boss tried to navigate around the sanctions he himself has brought upon the Rams, and the delusional predictions of an easy task for the Terriers predictably evaporated.

Town’s own, more short term, difficulties arose in the run up to the game and stripped them of a goalkeeper, two left backs and their most valuable asset (also a sometime, if misjudged, left back). With Corberán also isolating, the disruption was complete.

Defensively, Town look far more capable of overcoming injury and suspension this season, though that is a particularly low bar to clear, and the adoption of a back 3 in some games had been predicted, if not for the opener. With Turton on the right being significantly more defensive minded than Pipa, risks were reduced somewhat but at the expense of threat.

An ill prepared but experienced home side was pitched against a well prepared but disrupted visiting team and the eventual sharing of points was a fair outcome in a game lacking quality in most areas, but not effort. 

The fact that Derby didn’t visibly tire as the game wore on was admirable given their horrible circumstances and, indeed, they could have claimed all 3 points had Schofield not made up for a poor decision parrying a low cross in to a dangerous area with a good save from Sibley.

Minutes before that heart in mouth moment, substitute Campbell fired an excellent chance too close to Roos with Town looking increasingly more likely to grab a win.

The introduction of Campbell and Koroma introduced a better dynamic than the partnership of Ward and Rhodes. Neither of the original front two played badly but they lacked chemistry and produced little in the way of threat.

A disappointing first half, as the sides weighed each other up, was only brightened by Sorba Thomas’s vibrant and fearless efforts. None of his substitute appearances last season suggested the vertiginous raising of his levels he is showing, despite the obvious enthusiasm he displayed.

Somehow, Corberán needs to find a way of accommodating both Thomas and Koroma – the latter looked nearer to his own high standards when he came on than in his disappointing display at Hillsborough last Sunday.

Derby opened the scoring rather out of the blue, though an uncharacteristic error by Pearson had nearly let the home side in just before the half hour with Schofield doing well to close down the threat and the Rams had a brief period of ascendancy before their opener.

Giving away a corner following good work from Lawrence, the ball should either have been headed away by Holmes defending the near post or left to Schofield who came to claim it only to be thwarted by the ex-Derby man’s unintended flick on which flew to the back post. A combination of Curtis Davies and Levi Colwill bundled the ball over the line.

Encouragingly, Town were level by the break as the impressive Thomas delivered a superb ball in to the box from a free kick (he had delivered another to Rhodes minutes before which the striker didn’t quite connect with and the glance went wide). This one was met, unchallenged, by the towering Sarr and momentum switched back to the visitors for the second half.

Even before the half time whistle blew, High drew a good save from Roos and the subsequent corner should have caused more danger following another Rhodes flick.

A more interesting second half followed, with Town largely on the front foot but Derby looking dangerous on the break. The visitors played too slowly on the whole, though the penetration provided by Thomas was enhanced by the arrival of Koroma who carried threat down the right and Town began to look the more potent.

A corner resulting from another passage of attacking play found Pearson unmarked and the defender should have buried the chance rather than head over. Thomas, of course, had put the opportunity on Pearson’s head.

The outstanding player of the game then set Campbell free for another gilt edged opportunity but his shot was too close to Roos and, at that moment, it felt that the visitors’ chances of a winning start to the campaign had gone.

That final lapse and redemption by Schofield ensured that a positive, if slightly disappointing, result was achieved.

Playing their first competitive game ahead of the new season was sensible preparation, only to be ruined by the COVID problems, while the circumstances of their opponents, which will bite later in the season, added up to a game where conclusions are difficult to draw. 

The anticipointment (yes, this is a word!) which usually accompanies the first game was absent, though the joy of both sets of fans to be present was not.

Stiffer challenges await, particularly in the next 5 games, but the emergence of Thomas as a talent of great potential will be fascinating to witness. Goals look as scarce as ever, but a Thomas/Koroma combination may provide the ammunition up front to keep Town clear of trouble, if the former can maintain his progress and the latter can adapt to playing down the right.

Defensively, Town look more secure, though they need a calmer influence behind them than Schofield. Nicholls needs to be restored against Fulham, if his circumstances permit.

A strange opening day, then, but life apparently returning back to normal is to be celebrated. It felt good.

Shiny, happy people

The sights and sounds of a ritual paused for 513 days unfurled as, at last, a crowd descended on Hillsborough for a Yorkshire derby in a cup disrespected and abused for so long by the visitors. Not today.

Cars seeking out parking spaces around the venerable, yet haunted, South Yorkshire stadium, a waft of fried onions from a van from the outer edges of the street food fad, the anticipation on faces young and old with the latter wearied by experience but still clinging to hope, programme sellers doing brisk trade, lines clutching tickets for a game which would normally just attract the obsessed. Even concourse culture seemed acceptable (for now).

The welcome, if endlessly frustrating, distraction provided by iFollow through the long months of crisis was replaced by the real thing. 

Around 2,000 Town fans packed the upper tier of the Leppings Lane end and proceeded to be as loud, crude and (occasionally) funny as ever. 

It wasn’t difficult for either set of fans to single out a villain, with Jack Hunt’s parentage regularly questioned by the visiting support (much to the amusement of his former team mate, Ward, at one point), while Rhodes taking the first penalty of the shoot out which decided the affair rightly infuriated Owls’ fans who remember him conspicuously ducking out of the rather more important one in 2017.

The individual targeting Barry Bannan, for reasons known only to himself, provided more idiosyncratic amusement.

Who knows what disruptions lay ahead but, for now, let’s rejoice that, however disconcerting the return to old norms was for some, perhaps many, the long awaited event actually took place. Town reached the 2nd round of the League Cup.

Despite their travails, Wednesday provided tough opposition, literally and figuratively, though their threat was largely absent as Town controlled and dominated an entertaining first half long on the visitors’ possession but rather short on end product.

Scott High, who impressed again, forced a decent save from Bailey-Peacock and two other chances were created by effective pressing to force less demanding stops.

Defensively, Town coped comfortably with Wednesday. 

Colwill’s clash with Paterson was excellent experience for a young player with undoubted class in possession but still developing to meet the demands of facing aggressive centre forwards. Alongside him, and one unpunished error aside, Pearson provided strength and know how. 

A better team than Wednesday would have exploited Toffolo’s high position far more effectively as Town left too much space behind him at times, though Turton concentrated more on defence on the other side, providing a third central defensive presence when Toffolo was bypassed.

O’Brien, watched by Bielsa’s from the stands, was outstanding throughout. Last season’s poor preparation through injury and enforced positional changes diminished his obvious ability but, sadly, it looks likely that Leeds will benefit from the stable pre season he has enjoyed, if they are prepared to meet Town’s high price.

Up front, Ward looked sharper and fitter than at any time during his return and had some lovely touches but only one half chance late on when a shot on the turn was never going to bypass the number of bodies between him and goal. Encouraging though.

In contrast, Koroma was a little flat and not quite up to speed and his replacement, Thomas, continued his good form in pre-season with an eye catching cameo only slightly tainted by missing a good opportunity when put clear by High, though Bannon’s recovery and tackle was excellent.

Holmes provided some good balls through to front positions though carelessness in passing at times could’ve been costly.

Other than a ten minute spell in the second half, which brought one decent save from Nicholls, Town were largely on the front foot and regularly tested the Owls’ resilience. It will have encouraged Moore to see his side stand up to the pressure, though Rhodes, on as a substitute in place of Ward, found space in the area twice and should have won the tie for the Terriers.

His first header would have been routinely saved, but Hutchinson intervened unnecessarily and was relieved to see his sliced clearance loop over the bar. The second, however, was a golden opportunity provided by Thomas with an excellent cross. Rhodes’ disappointment was clearly evident, though this didn’t affect his composure in the shoot out.

It barely needs stating that Town won the penalty competition; the success over the years is nothing short of remarkable and this one was achieved with no German influence (unless Hefele’s presence inspired).

Every penalty was a good one with Wednesday’s keeper standing no chance with any of them. In contrast, Nicholls saved two meaning that the full complement of spot kicks were unnecessary. The chanting of a certain Argentinian’s name, which will surely accompany every Owls/Terriers clash down the decades, twisted the knife.

Despite failing to score, rather emphasising the fear that the defensive strengthening may be undermined by the lack of goals in the squad, the performance provided some hope for the season ahead and bringing  the tie forward a very useful innovation for both clubs.

For the many who have waited so long to witness professional football in a stadium again, the event was always going to be bigger than the result. Let’s hope the recovery doesn’t stall; the near normalcy was hugely welcome and refreshing.

Now on to the season proper….