Passive Town pay penalty

It is some consolation that despite being overwhelmingly outplayed in a disappointing 2nd half, Town’s unbeaten run continues as does their unlikely challenge for a play off place.

Swansea’s hunger for possession was known and predictable as were the recent failures they have suffered despite quite astonishingly high numbers in control of the ball and had the second 45 followed a similar pattern to the first half, Town would still be in the top 6.

Unfortunately, an enforced change of personnel at half time, with goal scorer Sinani being replaced by Scott High, seemed to unhinge the hosts’ dynamics and they were simply incapable of escaping the stranglehold Swansea created with a higher quality of possession than their first half efforts.

There was an air of possession for possession’s sake about the men from South Wales in that first 45 and most of it fizzled out on contact with Town’s solid back four. Nicholls had to make one very good save following an effort by Manning which was the result of a fortunate run of the ball rather than the conclusion of a 35 pass move from back to front.

Town’s patience and discipline allowed them to easily cope and despite their own forays forward being relatively limited, they looked far more likely to score than the visitors and duly did on 15 minutes.

It was just reward for an energetic start which pushed the visitors backwards and a high press which panicked them in to errors. O’Brien rushed his former colleague Hamer in to a wild clearance, and then brought an excellent save from him with an effort which looked destined for the top corner.

The subsequent corner was put in to the net by Koroma but he was offside after Pearson had won the aerial battle.

The Terriers’ superiority in the opening 15 minutes was rewarded with the lead when Pearson’s excellent ball forward to Ward was expertly taken by the striker and, in one movement, he released Koroma down the left and carried on to the penalty area to receive the ball back. Ward’s effort was blocked and Hamer denied O’Brien again with the follow up only for the ball to deflect to Sinani who couldn’t miss.

The reversal prompted an improvement in the Swans and the aforementioned Nicholls save was made soon after the goal, but the home team appeared very comfortable with defending the visitors rather rambling possession.

Soaking up the pressure, such as it was, with ease it was only a matter of time before the home side broke forward again and an excellent move just before the half hour should have seen a doubling of the lead and a completely different game would have ensued.

Ward was at the heart of the move again with a superb take and turn followed by an inch perfect ball to Thomas who fed the rampaging O’Brien in the box only for Hamer to thwart his former team mate with a remarkable save which was undoubtedly a turning point for his team’s fortunes.

An entertaining half with Town deservedly in the lead seemed to augur well for the hosts but Sinani’’s injury, and the absence of Holmes to provide a like for like solution, derailed the team to such an extent that escaping with a point became cause for relief.

For their part, Swansea became far more potent in possession and, since they had the ball almost uninterrupted, it was always likely that Town’s increasingly desperate resilience would break.

The visitors’ intensity also improved substantially with their assaults on Town’s defence having far greater purpose than their efforts before the break. Town had no answers to their opponents’ movement and precise passing to the consternation of a large crowd enticed by the offer to watch for a fiver.

That Town lasted until the final quarter was far more to do with the heroics of Nicholls, who had to make many saves and interventions, and the rugged determination of Pearson who blocked and tackled throughout to pull his colleagues out of self inflicted trouble.

Poor Scott High, who was sent on to do a role which looked like duplication, suffered a torrid half which included giving the ball away twice in ludicrously dangerous areas, one of which led indirectly, but indisputably, to Swansea’s deserved and overdue equaliser.

Town were simply unable to escape out of their own half. Ward, excellent in the first half, was isolated and superfluous, the midfield chased shadows as their superior opposition passed them in to oblivion and having been starved of the ball for such long periods, brief moments of possession seemed to come as a surprise to too many and given away with startled regularity.

As he admitted post match, Corberán made the wrong call at half time but there was more than a hint of too much hindsight and insufficient action taken to rectify the error. Hogg, who will need time to get fully back up to speed, should’ve been replaced for a more progressive option. On at least 3 occasions, the returning skipper halted rare moments of promise with a backwards pass. 

Not that he was alone. Only O’Brien, with some scintillating breaks, played with bravery and risk. The introduction of Pipa produced better things on the right at times, though it moved Thomas over to the left in place of the disappointing Koroma and minutes after the switch, the Welsh international missed a tackle which allowed his opponent to feed Downes for an excellent finish to equalise.

Corberán then went two up front after the equaliser but not before Swansea nearly took the lead with an effort which Nicholls did well to keep out. Rhodes arrival, for the last 5 minutes and injury time did result in some long overdue pressure from the home side and they proceeded to ask decent questions of Swansea’s under worked keeper and defence.

Hamer produced yet another save to deny O’Brien, who must have been heartily sick of him, and the final flourish in search of an unlikely and undeserved winner did, at last, provide some entertainment for a restless home crowd.

The final act, however, saw Swansea come close to taking the 3 points which few would have begrudged as Pirhoe headed just wide with Nicholls scrambling.

One point closer to survival and likely safe before the Spring is not to be sniffed at, but it wasn’t a day upon which that Corberán will look back fondly. Far too late in reacting to a game in which his team were barely competing, hopefully it is a lesson learned.

Soaking it up

Town concluded their Festive season fixtures with a dogged goalless draw at a sodden Ewood Park and enhanced their credibility as a play off contender by thwarting the form team of the division in a ruggedly entertaining encounter.

A larger than anticipated away following, no doubt enticed by a too rare pay on the day opportunity and Town’s recent form, caused difficulties which resulted in a 15 minute delay to the kick off, which also allowed a little more time for the pitch to drain of excess water.

That additional drainage didn’t entirely resolve the problem of parts of the pitch being too waterlogged to allow for free flow of the ball and the visitors put themselves under pressure as a result of the ground problems on a few occasions in a frenzied opening 20 minutes completely dominated by Rovers.

For all their possession, thrust and aggression, clearly built on high levels of confidence, only an excellent break and shot by Khadra, which crashed off the bar, caused great concern as an individual moment, but the pressure was intense and unrelenting.

Unable to advance out of their own half and simply not coping with conditions as well as their hosts, Town squandered a glorious chance to break when Holmes fell over his own feet, presumably in a puddle, with lots of options opening up in front of him.

It was just the type of break they would have been hoping for, knowing that Blackburn would be on the front foot early but Town had to wait until midway through the half before getting anywhere near the home goal.

Sinani supplied a very presentable chance for Holmes who was unable to match his finish at the City Ground with a diving header which was well stopped.

It would be inaccurate to say that this brought a massive change in the rhythm of the game and a big, if incorrect, penalty shout on the half hour had been precipitated by a poor loss of possession by Holmes on the halfway line allowing Blackburn a rare opportunity to attack with Town’s defence on their heels. Brereton, who was rarely as effective as he had been at the John Smith’s stadium, was probably correct that Lees had fouled him outside the box but his dramatic fall several seconds later as Pearson muscled him off the ball fooled no one.

Town continued to grow in to the game and having weathered the best Rovers had thrown at them with all 3 central defenders contributing to a fine rearguard performance, along with the highly dependable Nicholls, the evident gap between the two sides began to narrow quite quickly.

Still, the sanctuary of half time was more welcome for the visitors who had worked exceptionally hard as a team to thwart a highly dangerous attack. The pitch condition improved as time went on, which probably helped as Town simply didn’t handle the going as well as their hosts.

There was a final scare for Town before the break as Rovers had another penalty appeal waved away as the final act. An attempted cross hit O’Brien from short range and the referee rightly and immediately dismissed the claim.

The second half was far more comfortable as Rovers ran out of ideas and were consistently guilty of making basic errors; the number of poor passes which left the field of play was quite staggering for a team which would finish the day 2nd in the table.

Not that life was comfortable for Town’s defence, but it seemed a lot easier for them to manoeuvre Blackburn’s forwards where they wanted them to be and the threat they posed was noticeably diminished. 

Pearson, Lees and, particularly, Colwill were immense at the back, rarely putting a foot wrong, intercepting with aplomb and keeping Blackburn at arm’s length for long periods. 

The youngster on loan from Chelsea was outstanding. Poised, elegant and supremely confident, he breezed through a game against one of the most potent attacks in the division. Time and space are his currency, rarely needlessly rushing in to tackles and not once on this afternoon. At 18, his future looks assured at the very top level and it is a pleasure to witness the beginning of what could be a glittering career.

Levi’s effortless quality was matched by his fellow defenders more basic qualities and, behind them, Nicholls had another flawless game exuding confidence from the last line.

Town flattered to deceive a little going forward when they had the chance, but a lovely ball through to Holmes should have seen the diminutive midfielder test the keeper at the very least but one touch too many meant the angles disappeared and his shot hit the side netting.

He was nearly freed again later in the half but Dolan, a fresh substitute, never looked like losing the foot race. Inexplicably, Holmes then launched a challenge from behind which should have been punished with dismissal. The only thing which saved him was a slight push by another Rovers’ player which the referee, incorrectly but understandably, may have interpreted as the cause of the lunge.

At the other end, Thomas made a routine clearance from the line having been well positioned to deal with a rather unthreatening header, and right at the death, a horrid Lees’ back pass nearly sold Nicholls short but the custodian dealt with probably his most concerning moment of the day with a good clearance.

A very creditable end to the holiday games, then, including shutting out two form teams away from home, and collecting 10 points from 12. Things could have turned out differently in 3 of these games, but managing to win or not lose games is key to success in the Championship, and it is perhaps time to acknowledge that luck is earned and that this team has created the momentum which delivers such results.

2022 is looking very promising. 

Riding the storm

Despite an unforgiving onslaught by Nottingham Forest which began on the half hour and remained pretty relentless until the final whistle, Town made it 3 wins in a row and ended the year in the play off positions and in damn good shape.

The character shown in an exceptionally tough away game was impressive with bodies being thrown on the line to keep the win intact.

A combination of excellent goalkeeping, intensely determined defending and some Forest profligacy delivered the unlikely win, though it should be said that Samba had to make just as many excellent saves (one) as Nicholls when he tipped a rasping O’Brien effort over, both sides hit the bar with Thomas doing so from long range in the very first minute and both missed one easy chance each.

This is not to suggest that Forest were anything other than dominant, particularly in the second half, but the sum total of their efforts resulted, roughly, in to the same important metrics as Town, other than the most important one.

An entertaining first half was more evenly contested until Town took the lead on the half hour. The impressive Colwill set Holmes free with a nice forward pass and the ex-Ram played a neat exchange with Toffolo before firing home at Samba’s near post.

With Ward off injured or ill after just 15 minutes, Town were weakened early on but not put off their stride and easily matched their in form opponents across the pitch from the moment the pipes and drums of Mull of Kintyre faded in to a bizarre Forest ritual before kick off. What is that all about?

Holmes’ opener heralded a siege of Town’s goal for the rest of the first half and the visitors were clinging on by their finger tips and unable to relieve the pressure in any meaningful way. There was an air of the hosts not being able to see the wood for the trees, and perhaps a more guileful approach would have served them better than bludgeon, but it was a huge relief when the half time whistle blew.

Town showed great strength of character and resilience in an extremely difficult second half of unabating pressure though, again, there wasn’t much finesse on display as Forest looked to pummel their way through.

Their best chance fell to the impressive Brennan, who will surely be playing at a higher level very soon, but he was unable to convert a straightforward opportunity after Nicholls could only parry.

O’Brien’s effort which was well saved by Samba and Sinani’s poor miss meant that Town were not entirely swamped but it was a win rather gifted by the opponent who had one of those nights which all clubs suffer from time to time.

Despite riding their considerable luck, Town did compete with personality and are beginning to become likeable as a squad again. Overcoming the early loss of Ward, dealing with the cynical targeting of O’Brien, which was never tackled by an otherwise decent referee, and coping with a furious onslaught made this a fantastic win in the circumstances.

Though Pipa’s reappearance was notable more for his first two poor touches, his availability provides Corberán with more options and the imminent return of Hogg in the New Year will provide much needed relief for the over used High who, not unnaturally, is starting to fade a little.

Blackburn may well prove too stiff a challenge coming soon after this bruising contest, but 2022 looks a hell of a lot brighter than a lot of 2021.

Happy New Year to all.