Imperfect perfection

There simply isn’t an argument to be made against the fact that winning 3-2 after twice being behind is the most satisfying result possible in football.

In recent years, Town’s ability to salvage anything from losing positions has been virtually non existent until it was achieved at Bristol last week and their default reaction when an opponent goes down to 10 men is to reject any calm, tactical approach to the advantage and attempt to batter down defences which have automatically tightened up. 

The comeback at Ashton Gate was more than welcome, finally bringing a dismal spell on the road to an end, but a Boxing Day encounter with an old, traditional foe with lots of incident, controversy and entertainment comfortably topped it.

With Colwill out with illness, Corberán made the puzzling decision to yet again utilise Naby Sarr on the left side of 3 centre backs. And, yet again, it proved to be ill judged. When Naby has played centrally, he has looked just fine in an enormously improved defence when he has been needed. 

It was a Tom Lees ball which failed to reach its target in the first minute, however, which saw Town concede stupidly early for the second week running with Yates producing a nice finish after a simple ball forward played him in.

To their credit, Town levelled quickly with a quite fabulous goal. Toffolo advanced down the left, took one touch after receiving the ball and whipped in a magnificent cross for Ward to meet perfectly to head home. A thoroughly enjoyable goal which looked nailed on as the ball entered the area.

Town dominated possession from the equaliser but decent approach play rather crumbled in the final third, while Blackpool’s power up front and their ability to break with menace slowly came to the fore, culminating in them taking the lead again.

Sarr didn’t do enough to prevent a rather lobbed cross to the far post which allowed Madine a run on Pearson. The well travelled striker climbed high and headed past Nicholls to establish a lead the Tangerines just about deserved at that point.

The Lancastrians grew in confidence and were by far the more dangerous and likely team. Town’s best chance fell to Holmes who was fed by Thomas only for the American to blaze over following a bobble. Blackpool had an even easier chance on the half hour with a nicely worked move which Anderson contrived to head wide.

A 3rd for the visitors at that stage would likely have ended the contest, particularly as there would have been no need for any of the men in tangerine to commit reckless challenges.

Shortly after the missed chance, Madine elbowed and then swung an arm in to the head of Tom Lees just yards away from the referee who was looking straight at the incident. Ignoring the serious foul play, which warranted at least a booking and probably more, Blackpool were allowed to attack and very nearly scored while Town’s central defender lay prone.

Jeremy Simpson’s performances when refereeing Huddersfield Town games are rarely anything other than underwhelming, and often dreadful, but the level of incompetence he showed in this incident must surely be investigated, given the complete lack of care he took over player safety. 
Lees spent over 10 minutes on the floor and then being treated; this was a serious concussion event and Simpson’s ridiculous lack of action renders his fitness to officiate in considerable doubt. It is to be hoped that Town make a formal complaint.

Madine should face retrospective enquiry too.

The incident rather altered the direction of the game with Blackpool not looking as dangerous after it and Town, now with a back four with Sarr central and Turton at right back, seemingly more comfortable defensively.

Nicholls had to make a smart save from a shot which was moving in the air but it was mostly the hosts who spent the ten minutes added on for the injury on the front foot.

A fairly tame opening to the second half saw Town with territorial superiority but the more potent attacks were coming from the visitors. Scott High made an excellent block after some incisive Blackpool approach play and a third goal seemed a little more likely than an equaliser at that point. High made way for Rhodes on the hour to cement the change of formation to 4 4 2, with Sinani dropping in to midfield.

The change was an unusually bold one from Corberán, and within a couple of minutes the fundamental nature of the game was upended by the sending off of Gabriel. Already on a booking for a crude challenge on Holmes, the promising youngster clattered O’Brien on the touchline to collect another yellow and one which could have been red. His manager’s post match protestations about the bookings were bizarrely ridiculous. Gabriel was no angel.

Within minutes, Rhodes had the ball in the net following a Thomas cross only for it to be ruled, marginally but correctly, offside.
Though disappointing for the returning striker, the incident spooked Critchley in to making two overly defensive substitutions. Goal scorer Yates and persistent menace Bowler were sacrificed and the visitors were emasculated from that point.

Madine stayed on for a further ten minutes but even cursory knowledge of Town’s performances against ten men should have persuaded Critchley not to withdraw all of their threat.

As it was, Thomas, who had played reasonably well in the first half, started to impose himself on the game and proceeded to give Husband a torrid time, assisted in no short measure by the much maligned Turton who had an excellent outing against his former club.

Rhodes’ nous was also welcome as the tangerines wobbled without an outlet following their substitutions. In contrast, Corberán followed up his initial bold move with the introduction of Koroma and Rowe to force the pace in the final ten minutes.

The equaliser was a quite lovely goal. Thomas played a wall pass with Sinani and then another with Rhodes in the box before keeping his composure to finish. Brilliantly constructed and finished by Sorba, who’s dip in form appears to be over.

Minutes later, the ex-Borehamwood man snatched victory for the Terriers as he latched on to a half clearance and threaded a volley through a sea of legs.

Blackpool, who looked a much improved outfit from the one at Bloomfield Road earlier in the season, were pretty much done at this point and they had little left to worry the home side and couldn’t muster much to try to force an equaliser.

The visitors will rue the missed opportunities to take a 3-1 lead, which would have completely altered the path of the game, as much as the stupidity of Gabriel, but game management comes in many forms and for all Critchley’s moans afterwards, he and his team simply didn’t manage this one at all well.

Town now have two tough away games to navigate, assuming Covid doesn’t intervene, but with 36 points on the board there is a little less pressure on them. With Lees absence, Corberán will need to make some decisions about the defence; let’s hope one of those is to resist playing Sarr on the left at all costs.

Going backwards

Goodwill is a vital currency for the manager of a football club. It is used to see them through inevitable slumps in form and gives them breathing space to instigate change and regain momentum.

Sadly for Carlos Corberán, the frustrated booing at full time last week at Oakwell and again following a desperately unconvincing draw with Mark Robins’ impressive Coventry, it seems his goodwill well is dry.

Town were on course to blatantly rob the 3 points despite playing second fiddle to the slick Sky Blues who had been thwarted by some excellent goalkeeping, the post and several blocks before an injury time equaliser delivered a sliver of justice for their progressive, easy on the eye style.

In fact, the football played by the visitors seemed to be the type we were promised under Carlos but which is rarely delivered by a squad who appear constrained by rigid tactics. As well as they can defend, which is the significant difference over last season and the reason the limited football isn’t dragging us closer to the relegation battle, any early season joy has been sucked out of performances.

On the rare occasions Town break out of the rigid structures imposed by the manager, they show that they are not without talent. The goal which very nearly took them over the line was a case in point as a sweeping move down the left resulted in a perfect low ball in by Toffolo which was sweetly struck first time by Ward. 

Despite some good work down the left by Colwill in the opening 20 minutes, Town had been scruffy in possession and unthreatening before the goal, while Coventry’s neat and tidy approach play failed to trouble the hosts but more than suggested they were going to be a tough challenge. 

And so it proved. The goal didn’t settle Town at all and they nearly handed out an equaliser 2 minutes later when a poor Nicholls ball to High saw the youngster engulfed and robbed but O’Hare’s attempt to lob the keeper was badly executed and easily dealt with. It was a big let off and simply increased the already jangling nerves. Possession was lost immediately after the scare too though Coventry again failed to take advantage.

On the half hour, O’Hare hit a shot too close to Nicholls, who blocked well, following a sumptuous cross field ball by the visitors which completely opened Town up. They had hit a similarly excellent ball earlier in the half but rather messed up the opportunity but should have equalised with the second one.

The half rather fizzled out after Coventry’s big opportunity and Town took an undeserved lead in to the break and an opportunity to regroup.

The whole complexion of the afternoon could have been changed in the first minute of the second half as a lovely ball in to Holmes who had made a good run in to the box saw the midfielder hit a good effort which was finger tipped on to the post and away for a corner. Coming desperately close to doubling the lead was a massive turning point; Town’s confidence levels, which appear to be low at the moment, would have been boosted and Coventry’s resolve possibly weakened.

As it was, the visitors proceeded to batter the Terriers who were desperately poor in possession throughout a very disappointing second half. 

A cracking shot from just inside of the area slammed against the post, last ditch blocks thwarted other attempts and generally poor finishing (including a far post header at a corner which looked much easier to convert than miss) and decision making at the sharp end contributed to Town barely clinging to a lead which looked increasingly preposterous.

And yet, with virtually his only contribution after replacing Ward on 70 minutes, when other candidates, particularly the ineffective and out of form Thomas, looked far more prudent, Campbell hit a shot against a defender which looped up invitingly for Pearson. Sadly, the defender couldn’t convert to seal the points, heading wide.

This was a rare foray forward as Town consistently gave up possession and sat deep to cling on to their precarious advantage.

Though the defending could be seen as effective and, in some ways, admirable, it was anything but that. Constantly failing to clear correctly – and even the otherwise excellent Colwill was guilty of this as time went on – and persistently wasting the small amounts of possession available to them, Town were as unattractive and ineffective as they had been the week before against much inferior opposition.

The injury time equaliser, one of the most deserving the stadium is likely to witness, came as a result of tired defenders and Nicholls failing to deal properly with a ball in the box. Godden arrived at precisely the right time to glance his header past Nicholls to the delight of the excellent travelling support who had encouraged their team throughout.

Most of that support will never have seen Coventry in Huddersfield before, the clubs having assiduously avoided each other for decades (nearly 50 years in the league until last year’s behind closed doors encounter), and their club looks to be on a good path after many years of horrendous struggle through mismanagement.

The boos which descended from the thin home support, and the clear evidence of significant stay aways continues to be of great concern, was justified and a judgement on a performance which seemed at least as much to do with the architect rather than the team.

Nobody was fooled by the elevated position Town were occupying just a few short weeks ago, but levels have dipped enough to create real concerns that a repeat of last season is, at least, a possibility. This seems unlikely given a significantly improved defence and it is hard to imagine an injury crisis of similar proportion, but the dull performances simply cannot continue if Carlos wants to remain in post.

The ownership uncertainties buy him a little time to imbue this team with a bit of personality. Maybe if he stopped the micro management and allowed them to play more freely, he may rescue himself? 

Fortune certainly favoured the meek in this one.