Toothless Tigers tamed

After easily his best performance since returning to Town, Duane Holmes latched on to an over cooked Thomas corner, slid past two Hull players on the edge of the box then unleashed an excellent shot in to the top corner to seal a deserved, but not entirely comfortable, win for the Terriers.

Limited but awkward, the Tigers enjoyed the majority of possession in a game more notable for inconsistent officiating than the quality of play, but came up against a resolute host deliberately drawing their opponents on to a solid defence and looking to hurt them on the break.

The adoption of a low block was possible because Town scored their earliest goal in a game this season from a rather eventful corner, which arguably shouldn’t even have occurred as the referee failed to penalise a strong challenge on a Hull player in the passage of play immediately preceding.

With Town’s artillery massed beyond the far post, an unusual ploy appeared in the offing though the chaotic events which followed had less to do with a planned set piece and more as a result of a powerfully whipped in swinger from Sinani proving too difficult for Hull’s keeper to handle. Under pressure from Ward, which looked marginal for legality, Ingram punched the ball upwards and behind him, allowing Lees to attempt to force it home from inches away, only for a block to hit him on the back of the leg and over.

Town’s game plan changed after the goal, allowing the visitors to come in to the game but while the impressive Nicholls had to make one smart save and also cut out a potentially dangerous cross, Hull’s threats were fairly limited.

Sinani, who really needs that first goal in Town’s colours, forced a very good save from Ingram as the half time whistle loomed and there were a few decent counter attacks to cheer but it was all a little mundane.

A plodding second half saw Town relinquish possession in favour of defensive shape against opposition which struggled to break down their block. The superiority of the hosts’ back 3, backed up by the confidence instilling competence of Nicholls, kept the visitors at bay, though the counter attacking which was meant to accompany the solidity was too rarely seen.

O’Brien, with his best display of the season, constantly carried the ball from the danger area and was regularly dumped to the floor by unpunished challenges. Despite giving out an early card to Colwill, rightly, for a high foot the inconsistent and regularly bewildered referee allowed far too much leeway (just minutes after Colwill’s booking, O’Brien was chopped down while breaking and a yellow card was obvious but not produced).

As the second half wore on, Town’s devotion to defending began to look a little extreme and rather tedious. While there has been a marked and welcome improvement in game management this season, such a deep block against fairly limited opposition appeared too over cautious and the prospect of a calming second goal remote.

Thankfully, Holmes capped his energetic performance with a lovely strike, unaided by a bobble this time, to put the result beyond reasonable doubt.

A professional, competent display and a sprinkling of excellent individual performances, garnered 3 welcome points without providing many thrills. Over the past few seasons, such games have invariably ended in defeat so it would be churlish to critique the win too deeply.

The keeper and back 3 performed with exemplary calm and executed a defensive strategy with aplomb. Pearson, who went off ill, was back to his best after something of a form dip in recent weeks, while Lees continues to excel. Pearson’s replacement, Naby Sarr, had a very Naby Sarr moment when he kicked fresh air and let in a Hull forward only to recover with an excellent block. 

In the middle, Hogg and O’Brien put in monumental shifts to thwart and frustrate Hull. The latter was rewarded with several unpunished clatterings to go along with his concussion in the first half when trying to finish off a Ward cross.

Holmes, operating out wide where he is significantly more effective than in the middle, was busy all afternoon and fully deserved his excellent goal.

Up front, Ward contributed a lot to forward movement though his ability to hold the ball with his back to goal remains poor. For the first half hour, he was dominated by central defenders getting to the ball before him, though when he did free himself of their attention, he showed that he can link up play to good effect.

A game to swiftly move on from, but the very welcome points pushed Town in to the play off positions, cementing a very encouraging opening quarter of the season.

Waving, not drowning

A hard earned point, played against the backdrop of a biblical deluge, sees Town enter the latest international break in pretty rude health.

Desperately poor in a first half where they were bereft of craft or inspiration, Town nevertheless managed to limit a relentlessly aggressive Luton side, buoyed by their nap hand victory over Coventry in midweek, to one gold plated chance just before the much needed break.

As Bell crashed his effort against the woodwork, following excellent work by Cornick to set up the chance, it felt like a pivotal moment in a game where Town appeared to be just waiting to concede.

Despite the Hatters’ dominance, and their intensity couldn’t be criticised, their decision making largely let them down in the final act and Nicholls, who was excellent throughout, was rarely extended. In front of him, Lees put in another peerless performance and cruised through a game others found extremely challenging.

Town undoubtedly missed Hogg in a first half where they rarely advanced in to their opponents’ half with anything resembling purpose. O’Brien battled hard but was unable to exert any real influence, while Scott High looked lost in the face of Luton’s remorseless hunger for possession.

Occasionally, Town tried to loosen Luton’s grip with long balls down the channels, with virtually no success. The one time Thomas was found, he delivered a very good ball in to the isolated and anonymous Ward but the danger was mopped up quite easily by home defenders.

It was a scrap of encouragement for the sodden Town following, but did nothing to dispel the fear that their team was hanging by a few threads and massively more likely to concede than strike on the break.

In dreadful conditions, in a desperately poor arena and against an opponent high in confidence, reaching half time still level was commendable, though Bell’s miss was a huge slice of fortune, and a slender lead would have been the least Luton deserved for their unremitting superiority.

A good towelling down, possibly including a verbal one, at the break seemed to have had the desired effect as Town produced a much improved performance in the second half.

Far more composed and confident in possession, Town began to cause problems for their hitherto unperturbed hosts, particularly down the left.

O’Brien began to surge forward with far more purpose, High was far more effective and the previously anonymous Sinani began finding pockets of space for the first time.

The shift in the balance of power was evident from the kick off, with Town imposing themselves on a tiring opponent who seemed unable to maintain the intensity which had threatened to overwhelm the visitors in the first half (and would’ve undoubtedly swamped last season’s defence).

The first 15 minutes was largely played with Town on the front foot, with corners and a free kick allowing Thomas the opportunity to deliver danger in to the box. Unfortunately, his deliveries failed to trouble the Luton defence, but it was encouraging to see Town shrug off the inadequacies of the first half and operating much further up the pitch.

A curling Sinani effort whistled past the far post, and represented the Terriers’ best effort just over an hour in to the contest. A later strike had power but was straight at the keeper, and it was Sinani who was instrumental to a move which should have opened up the Hatters.

Breaking from a now fairly rare Luton attack, Sinani manufactured a position on the right with Koroma in the clear to his left. Unfortunately, the Luxembourger slightly under hit his pass and the opportunity was, frustratingly, lost.

Luton briefly reasserted themselves with a couple of corners and were handed a free kick on the edge of the box following a clumsy Sarr challenge, which they duly wasted. The hosts’ increasingly rare threats were effectively dealt with by Nicholls and the men in front of him.

Late on, Town created their best chance of the game down the left as a combination between Koroma and Holmes, on for Sinani, freed Toffolo in the box. The full back chose to shoot over the bar rather than lay the ball off to the options in the box; a poor decision.

A winner would have been more than a little harsh on Luton, but the second half turnaround would’ve been sufficient vindication had Town grabbed the 3 points.

7th place going in to the second international break, Town’s progress over the ridiculously poor standards set last season has been moderately pleasing. 

Vulnerability in the first halves of away games is a significant and problematic feature of the campaign so far (and only a slice of good fortune prevented them going behind and likely suffering defeat at Kenilworth Road), and demands resolution.

A much stronger and reliable defence should allow Corberán to build and improve upon a good start, and with notable absences likely to be fit again for a home double header which looks potentially fruitful, a strong start after England have disposed of a team of farmers is eminently achievable.

Thankfully, the delights of Luton’s barely adequate ground, which were several levels of misery worse in a relentless downpour, are behind us for another season.