As a terrific contest was reaching it’s crescendo, the much maligned substitution strategy of Huddersfield Town’s much maligned manager justified itself as the much maligned Turton found Toffolo with an excellent cross; the left back looped an assisting header for the much maligned Danny Ward to secure victory with his second goal of the game.
There has been good cause for these malignancies to become common currency amongst the Town support, but, for this evening at least, all was forgotten as a rollickingly excellent clash with an expansive Blackburn Rovers delivered 3 points and banished the sour taste of two poor defeats.
A 3-2 score line is, arguably, more redolent of entertainment in football than any other, particularly if the scoring sequence casts doubt over the result throughout. Lots of goals without being freakish, indicative of committed struggle and achievement and where the loser often leaves the pitch with credit. All of these applied on a quite special evening at the John Smith’s stadium.
After the stagnant displays of late, Town’s energised start to the game was hugely encouraging and created 3 very presentable chances. Before a minute had been clocked, Thomas put in an excellent far post cross met by Koroma who headed across for Ward. Unfortunately, the first half Ward was somewhat diminished compared to his second half performance and his attempt was skewed well wide, coming off his head as if it was thru’penny bit shaped.
Sinani wasted an even easier chance, inevitably set up for him by Thomas, in minute 2, blazing over from near range.
Though Rovers gradually gained more composure, the early momentum remained with the Terriers and a third, more complicated, chance arrived for O’Brien in the box just after the quarter hour. Toffolo capitalised on a slip by a Blackburn defender before laying the ball back to his captain. With defenders closing down space, O’Brien had to hook his foot around the ball to get his shot off. He was marginally short and saw his attempt rattle the woodwork.
It took a while for the visitors to show why they have only been beaten once this season, but their quality on the ball and ability to open up defences became evident even if their execution fell short.
Brereton’s hard work and willingness to find space, combined with the trickery of Rothwell and Dolan more than hinted at their ability to hurt defences, but the outstanding Lees commanded a largely convincing rearguard in a first half of high entertainment as the 2 sides went toe to toe.
Just as it seemed the Lancastrians had worked their way to the upper hand, Town struck.
Koroma’s persistence saw him rob possession in the middle and his measured, very well timed ball out right was perfectly in the path of the marauding Thomas. Favouring cutting inside, the Welshman celebrated his remarkable progress from Borehamwood to the Wales squad by laying off yet another assist to Vallejo, who swept the ball past a slightly disappointing effort from the Rovers’ custodian.
It was also a fitting reward for an excellent performance from the Spaniard, whose passing and positioning was instrumental in maintaining Town’s progressive momentum.
Rovers responded immediately from the kick off and only blocks by Thomas and Lees prevented an equaliser. They also pounced on a mistake by Koroma who failed to clear with a mangled attempt at an overhead kick and Town were grateful for a good save by Nicholls from the lively Brereton, who had earlier shot just wide from outside the box.
The contrast of the first half of this game to the debacle against Forest was stark. Both sides contributed to a breathless tussle and perhaps therein lies the answer. Rovers came to win and opened up space which allowed Town’s qualities to the fore. Corberán’s dilemma is finding ways to beat the less flamboyant, who tend to pick off his style.
But this wasn’t a night to carp about the past. The second half surpassed the excellent first 45 minutes to produce a classic; even had it ended in a draw, or even a narrow defeat, Town supporters would still have been able to take home warm feelings and, after the bitterness of defeat has disappeared, it is to be hoped Rovers fans can do that.
Town began the second period on the front foot without creating the number of chances they had in the first. A powerful drive by Sinani was too close to the keeper and several promising incursions by the hosts rather faded with the final actions. The intent, however, continued to be savoured by a crowd whose faith was being restored by that intent.
On the hour, however, Town lost Vallejo to injury and the disruption was immediately felt.
The impressive Rothwell, whose own departure later through injury had a similar disrupting impact on Blackburn, picked up the ball just inside Town’s half and embarked upon a surging, quite thrilling, run past O’Brien and then Pearson before squaring for Brereton, who had a little work to do before equalising.
Town shrugged off the disappointment, regained their composure and produced the best goal of a great game. Ward, by this point playing with a natural confidence largely unseen since his return, started and finished the move. His link up play was a few percentage points up on the first half, which were adequate, and the difference was exponential.
Taking a forward pass instinctively in his stride, he fed Sinani who, in turn, released Thomas to deliver a superb cross in to the perfect area between keeper and defenders. Ward got in between the much taller central defenders and buried a perfect header past Kaminski.
Within minutes, Blackburn struck back, all be it aided by the gifting of a penalty as Sarr’s lunge was hurdled by Brereton with any contact happening after the ball had gone. In real time, the decision of a generally poor and indulgent referee was understandable however, and the Chilean from the Potteries bagged his own brace from the spot. Nicholls nearly reached it but it was firmly and very accurately slotted in to the corner.
Resilience in adversity is not a trait often associated with Corberán’s squads, or many since Wagner to be totally fair, and may have informed his decision, which seemed baffling at the time, to substitute Thomas and Koroma following 10 minutes of decent reaction to the second equaliser when Town were on top.
Koroma’s withdrawal was perhaps the more understandable. His contribution to the first goal was substantial, but his efforts afterwards rather less so. Turton for Thomas looked entirely defensive, however, and seemingly an admittance that a point would suffice. Which wasn’t entirely without merit.
Counter intuitively, and as described many paragraphs ago, Turton provided the cross from which Ward, who, again, had instigated the move, converted following Toffolo’s very deliberate set up.
After the lead, Corberán’s substitutes, including Ruffles, the 1,000th player to represent the club, helped see out a rather nervous last few minutes and the 6 of injury time which followed.
Despite the concession of 2 goals, one predicated by a flash of brilliance and the other a less than convincing penalty award, Town were largely excellent defensively. Lees was magnificent, as was Nicholls, while everyone else involved created a difficult unit to break down, which bodes well.
It was the verve of the attacking which will, rightly, be remembered, however. This was many miles away from the tentative, safe and slow play which hampers the individual qualities the squad possesses. The performance had a natural and instinctive tone and some very good displays. Blackburn’s expansiveness aided this, and they contributed hugely to a great spectacle (including 2 fabulously inept foul throws) but the confidence sapping week which preceded this still had to be overcome.
At the final whistle, Toffolo went to collect a banner from behind the goal in support of a young Town fan suffering from terrible disease, to demonstrate the support of the club for him, as the players and staff stood behind it.
It was a reminder about the nature of triumph and defeat in sport and everyone extends their support to Daz in his battle.