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Ward, who was withdrawn at half time with illness, managed to match his now infamous lack of contribution against Fulham with an appearance of staggering pointlessness.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