Madness at the Mad

Town’s unbeaten run stretched out to 9 after a chaotically entertaining encounter with troubled Reading with another double chalked up largely through Danny Ward’s first hat trick since 2014, which he registered for Town at Watford in a dead rubber. That was also Town’s last hat trick in the League by any player, but this one was far more valuable than the one at Vicarage Road.

Still without Holmes and Colwill, Town’s trip to Berkshire was considerably more tricky than assumed by too many against a Reading side admittedly in indifferent form but who had players returning from injury, including regular Town nemesis Joao, and from the AFCON tournament. They only succumbed to defeat in the final minutes at Middlesbrough last time out and in their last home game, they should’ve seen out a routine win against Derby but imploded late on.
Not that the Royals looked much of a threat in the first five minutes as Town hit their straps early and flew at their hosts in a terrific opening spell which forced a couple of promising situations only to be thwarted by timely blocks.

Unfortunately, the flaw in Corberán’s bold strategy to get on the front foot and have two marauding full backs but only two central defenders was immediately exposed in Reading’s first venture in to the visitors’ half.

With players isolated and out of position, neither Hogg nor Pearson could affect any influence on the momentum of the attack and wide spaces opened up leaving Lees wholly exposed. Toffolo’s whereabouts can only be speculated upon though he did make a very late appearance in the box as Joao tucked away the simple opportunity for a 1-0 lead.

Town responded with a devastating spell of attacking football with Pipa surging down the right, excellent centre forward play by Ward and intelligent support from Sinani who injected creativity in to an impressive period which turned the game on it’s head.

Sinani was found by Pipa after the Spaniard drove at the Reading defence and the Luxembourger, who had already tried his luck on a couple of occasions, took a couple of steps inside before hitting a defender’s chest which took the ball past the flat footed keeper.

If there was an element of fortune about the equaliser, it needs to be set in the context of Town’s total domination of possession and territory. Reading’s opener felt like a minor setback, particularly with our recent history of games turning sour on the scorer of the first goal, and the Berkshire outfit looked extremely vulnerable at the back.

Town took the lead after 15 minutes with a decent run by Koroma down the left being poorly dealt with in the box allowing Thomas to shoot against a defender and then shoot again only for the ball to fall in to Ward’s path, who instinctively turned it past Southwood.

It was no less than Town deserved and their ambition wasn’t diminished by taking the lead with Reading still only creating sporadic and relatively tame threat, despite having a goal ruled out for offside, but Koroma, who had a poor game overall, carelessly lost possession, and less than a minute later Town conceded an equaliser.

For the near 1,000 visiting supporters, the concession was disturbing and annoying. Corberán’s teams had shown tremendous guts at the City Ground and Ewood Park to earn deserved clean sheets and now the discipline, shape and resilience had somehow been replaced by a rabble without a cause.

In a near carbon copy of their first goal, Reading moved the ball quickly and simply through the spaces an over committed opponent laid out for them and Puskas slotted home with little resistance.

Within minutes, Town regained the lead. Thomas was pulled back near the touchline and delivered a teasing ball from the free kick but one which was easy for a keeper to take, and Southwood duly did. Unfortunately for the custodian, as he fell to the floor he let go of the ball which fell to Ward who buried it past the myriad defenders in front of him. 

By this point, Corberán had abandoned the back four, pushing Toffolo inside to form his usual 3 centre backs. Thomas switched to the left with Koroma on the right, though the latter’s display didn’t discernibly improve and he messed up a great opportunity to forge a two goal advantage which would have represented a chasm for a team struggling at the wrong end of the table with 6 punishment points to make up.

Instead, and with particular bad timing, Town conceded another equaliser when Morrison was allowed to attack a corner unchallenged, nay, unnoticed, and his header deflected in to even up the score on good fortune. 

So came to an end a half of dreadful defending by both sides, 6 goals and the certainty that the second half would almost certainly not yield the same number of scores; indeed, a goalless second half could feasibly be expected.

As it happens, the game needed just one more goal to determine the destination of the 3 points and it was a strike which brought Danny Ward a hat trick and the match ball.

Toffolo had been fouled near the touch line after releasing the ball from about half way in his own half. The decision, made by a linesman pretty close to the action, brought more outraged howls from the scattered home support which spent much of the afternoon decrying a pretty competent referee, though they may have had a point that the free kick was taken from the wrong place.

Pearson lifted the ball forward and Ward won an excellent flick on which Koroma fought well for and either he, the defender or a combination of both managed to get it in to Ward’s path as the striker followed up his own aerial victory. His stride was perfect and he struck an unstoppable shot past the keeper with his weaker foot.

At this point, Ward deserves yet another eulogy. His poor season, when it really did feel that Town were trying to reheat a soufflé which wasn’t that great the first time around, can be forgotten now, with his contributions since late Autumn being exceptional.

Looking fitter than ever, Ward expends masses of energy leading the line, his ability to hold up the ball and, crucially, move it on with threat and precision is now a feature of his game rather than the frustration it once was and, of course, his scoring record is now very acceptable. A real asset and a major reason behind Town’s unlikely challenge for the play offs, which is looking less and less ludicrous as the weeks go by. 

Reestablishing the lead before the hour mark, Town were significantly more conservative in their approach to defending it in this half and low blocked their hosts with relative ease in retrospect. Despite lots of possession, Reading simply weren’t good enough to break down a Town side which had closed the spaces so freely surrendered in the first half.

Nicholls, booked for time wasting yet again, had to scramble a bagatelle ball following a corner which could have fallen kindly for the home side but didn’t have a real save to make as Reading ran out of ideas and, as the game wore on, energy.

Sorba Thomas, slowly getting back to his best over the past few games, and playing with the naive enthusiasm so effective earlier in the season, had the best chance of the half after the goal but shot too near to the keeper when Ward was an option in the middle.

There were far too many errors in possession as Reading tried to increase the pressure as time slipped away, but the back line and Hogg held firm. O’Brien, who made some decent forays forward, was rather wasteful at times and was responsible for a couple of half breaks which Reading failed to exploit.

Rhodes replaced Ward, who looked to have taken a knock, and was very good running down the clock in 5 minutes of injury time and the whole team rather comfortably saw out the last quarter without a real scare to earn the 3 points.

Scoring 4 goals away from home should always mean winning, but the outcome was a little too close for comfort at times though the defensive organisation in the second half was much more like the Huddersfield Town we have come to know this season.

With a schedule much more straightforward than most, who will be crowbarring postponed fixtures in for some time to come, a squad with greater options than in recent seasons and a healthy points total in the bag, Town’s season continues to hold promise. Most will temper optimism with the lingering feeling that this group of players are over achieving, but we have seen that scenario before.

An intriguing couple of months awaits.

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