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.

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.

So predictably typical Town

There are those of us of a certain vintage who were delighted to see a Cardiff back line with McGuinness Flint in it but, early 70s nostalgia aside, this sobering defeat in horrible weather was more than disappointing.

Town’s trips to South Wales rarely bring much reward but the circumstances of this encounter promised more than most. Cardiff’s dreadful form, which cost Mick McCarthy what may prove to be his final job in management, coupled with the Terriers’ encouraging season to date was sufficient comfort to overlook a generational propensity for Huddersfield Town to be the perfect opposition for struggling teams.

Despite having better squad depth available to him this season, Corberán went with an unchanged 11 from the physical demands of the past week. It was a decision which looked far from wise by half time, despite his charges leading 1-0 at the end of a low quality 45 minutes, as both Hogg (after less than 10 minutes) and Holmes had to be replaced with injuries. Both failed to complete the Peterborough game and Hogg, in particular, should not have been brought back so quickly.

A swirling wind carrying the type of rain which sprays and soddens with miserable intensity was weather more suited to the rugby international which made Cardiff city centre a great place to be prior to the game; a sparse football stadium seemed miserable in comparison.

Hogg’s injury immediately preceded Town’s opener. McGuinness, under no discernible pressure, under hit a back pass to Smithies which turned in to a through ball for Sinani, who finally opened his account for Town by holding off a challenge well before squeezing the ball between Smithies and post.

This was a perfect gift for the visitors. An early lead, provided by the incompetence of an opponent struggling with confidence, has the affect of deflating home support which eventually turns against their team whose anxiety levels spike and performances implode.

Town largely let Cardiff off the hook. Instead of piling on the pressure, some ridiculous decision making at the back, the main culprits being Nicholls and Colwill, managed to achieve precisely the opposite. It was fortunate that the Bluebirds were incapable of taking advantage of their opponents’ largesse, some decent recovery work by Town players should be acknowledged, but the opportunity to bury Cardiff psychologically was completely missed.

Towards the end of the half, the visitors could and probably should have doubled their lead with a couple of decent forays forward but Holmes failed to react quickly enough to a ball across by Sinani. O’Brien also created a shooting opportunity as Town finished the half strongly, but it was far too little, too late.

The second half was as frustrating an experience as you expect from Town on far too many occasions. They were clearly the better side, they were capable of some very decent football sporadically and created simple opportunities to put the game to bed which, had they been taken, would have resulted in an entirely different post match conversation.

In the first 25 minutes of the second half, Town largely controlled their struggling opponents and started to ramp up pressure with extended periods of possession which culminated in a burst of activity which should have sealed the 3 points.

Scott High had a goal bound effort blocked following good work by Koroma, as the left side of Town’s attack began to click; Toffolo, O’Brien and Koroma were causing problems with decent interchanges and movement.

It was O’Brien, whose bursts caused Cardiff problems all through the second half, who fed Sinani for another blocked shot which led to the corner which, in turn, produced the easiest chance to go 2 up and win the game.

Thomas, who looked far too leggy, delivered a quite superb corner which eluded a bunch of battling opponents to reach Colwill about 3 yards out. The youngster had little time to weigh up his options, but they weren’t particularly complex. Either head the ball down or back across from whence it came. Unfortunately, the ball rather hit his head and flew at Smithies who, nevertheless, made a very good save to push the ball on to the post.

It was a remarkable miss and a potentially deflating one but Town kept coming and forged 2 further chances to finish the contest.

Ward did very well to beat Flint to a high ball from Nicholls which left him clear on goal and one on one with his good friend, Smithies. His deft chip beat the keeper but not the upright and another glorious opportunity went begging.

More good work down the left saw Koroma deliver a sumptuous ball across the face of Cardiff’s goal but Ward was unable to apply a finishing touch.

The encouragement of a spell of play which emphasised Town’s growing superiority was quickly replaced by the dread of the knowledge that spurning opportunities would only lead to punishment, and so it came to pass.

A rather cheaply conceded corner indirectly following sloppy attempts to play out from the back (which blighted Town all afternoon) was very well delivered for Moore to get in front of Colwill and equalise.

Hugely disappointing, though ominously predictable, it was the first time the dangerous Moore looked like contributing to the afternoon and wouldn’t be the last.

Town responded reasonably well and, to their credit, didn’t simply retreat to take the point, but they were unable to carve out another chance despite some promising possession.

Thomas, while trying to set up another Town attack, under hit a pass forward, Cardiff switched it out to their left, Pearson was too easily beaten and Moore, again, beat Colwill to head home a thoroughly undeserved, but undoubtedly welcome, winner.

It is legitimate to question Corberán’s decisions for this game, particularly keeping an unchanged line up after a gruelling week. Losing Hogg and Holmes in the first half was prima facie evidence of error and one which reduced the possibility of flexibility in the second half to counter the evident tiredness towards the end.

And oh for a centre forward who can play as poorly as Keifer Moore did and score twice!

When we are all dead and gone, future Town teams will be losing away games in this manner as they have so often in the past. 

(And that’s me done for a while – finally allowed back in the US. Will return for Barnsley away)

Ooh, we’re halfway there

With two thirds of the season to go, a point at Peterborough took Town to half of the 50 point target which, usually, keeps you above relegation.

The result was disappointing following a performance which, while far from faultless, should have been enough to secure a creditable away win, and it should be said that there was some genuine bad luck with decisions and injuries.

However, it was probably a more realistic assessment of Town’s chances of sustaining a challenge at the top end of the table that they were unable to see through a victory against fairly limited opponents, lacking the ruthlessness necessary for tricky midweek fixtures away from home.

A dominant first half display, which wobbled ominously towards the back end, should’ve laid the foundations for victory and the exceptionally marginal offside decision against Ward when he converted a rebounding effort from Holmes off the bar, was particularly galling following a similar decision at Bournemouth. Neither call remotely hinted at the benefit of doubt supposedly afforded to strikers (if there is such a thing), and the much improved Ward has been desperately unlucky to be denied goals which attested to good striking instincts.

The disallowed open play goals would also have provided a little more balance to those achieved through set pieces, which seems to overly concern the more esoteric fans and commentators.

A high press which was maintained throughout a solid first half pinned the hosts back for long periods but, the disallowed goal aside, the control didn’t result in opportunities and a late flurry by Peterborough nearly, and ludicrously, could have seen Town go in one down.

Just before the break, Hogg went down injured and though he made it to half time, he didn’t reappear and was replaced by High. This was a blow; High is a good footballer but simply couldn’t hope to replicate Hogg’s experience which had been instrumental in the dominance of Posh in the first half.

Still, it was the visitors who continued to look the more likely winners and with O’Brien driving the team forward, they looked increasingly dangerous from both flanks. Thomas, who was otherwise a little flat and probably in need of a break, delivered a great cross to the back post which was headed over by Holmes, who perhaps should’ve done better.

Toffolo was brighter than he had been for much of the season and was integral to a couple of complex passing movements down the left which failed in the last action. He also brought a standard save from Posh’s otherwise too underworked keeper.

It was Toffolo who won the corner which led to Town’s goal with more good offensive work down the left and Thomas finally delivered a decent delivery on to the head of Colwill, who headed down for Ward to snaffle the opener from short range.

Ward thoroughly deserved his goal, particularly after being on the wrong side of two highly marginal decisions in the last 2 away games, and, along with Holmes who put in another strong performance before injury saw him replaced by Turton, should be highly praised for their massive improvement.

Sadly, the goal provoked a mindset which ultimately cost the team 2 points. Wether Turton would’ve been sent on to shore things up had it not been necessary to replace the injured Holmes is a little moot. Town’s approach became defensive and tentative and it is disconcerting that they were undone by an opponent simply throwing on a big fella to try to turn around a game they never looked like gaining anything from.

With just over 5 minutes to play, High and Turton conspired to miss opportunities to either clear a loose ball or block the consequent cross which exposed Colwill to Clarke-Harris in the middle. A small push by the Peterborough substitute was missed by the officials – O’Brien was furious and booked for his protests – but Town really only had themselves to blame.

Despite the disappointment of dropping 2 points, there was a fair amount to like about the performance. As mentioned, Ward and Holmes performed to high levels again, O’Brien and Toffolo put in their best displays of the season to date and, the late lapse aside, Town still looked defensively solid.

Saturday’s trip to Cardiff, likely with an injury depleted squad, will be tough despite the travails of the Welsh club, but whatever the outcome, the first third of the season has been more than satisfactory.

The breaking news about Phil Hodgkinson’s other businesses adds a layer of uncertainty and unwelcome distraction, but there is nothing Corberán, the players or the fans can do about that. If it proves to be the end of his ownership, however, his stewardship during a painful and difficult transition is clearly bearing fruit and this should be acknowledged amidst the crisis he is now facing.

Hogg brings home the bacon

A mildly entertaining, robustly contested game appeared to be heading to a goalless draw, which neither side would have complained about, when a late Sorba Thomas corner was headed in by Jonathan Hogg, arriving at the near post with immaculate precision.

Following their chastening defeat on the south coast last weekend, all be it inflicted by an excellent Bournemouth side looking certain to run away with the league, it was important to react in front of their own fans. An in form and very awkward Millwall team, who had won 4 of their last 5 to join Town and a plethora of other clubs on 21 points, provided typically stiff Championship opposition.

A cagey opening 15 minutes handed the visitors the initiative and though they were unable to turn their superiority in to chances, they easily thwarted Town’s attempts to gain any momentum and a long, attritional afternoon beckoned.

The similarities to the stalemate with Birmingham were glaringly obvious yet, somehow, this encounter proved more entertaining despite neither side creating enough goal scoring opportunities nor troubling either keeper much.

When Town finally began to look forward with their passing and introduced an element of pace and movement, they engineered a chance for Ward in the box only for him to volley it high and wide. The busy Holmes had fed Thomas who picked out the striker from the right with a great ball in and Town should have taken the lead at that point.

Ward did make the Millwall keeper work with another effort which was struck well but straight at him and contributed well over all against a resilient Millwall back line.

Both teams moved the ball well at times but the lack of penetration where it matters blunted their efforts, and a goalless first half rather limped to its conclusion and Town’s drought stretched over the 3 and a half hour mark (though it should be said that the goal scored by Ward at Bournemouth was perfectly legitimate and not offside).

If Town were to win this one, the most likely source of a goal would be a set piece and within minutes of the restart Pearson latched on to a flick on at the back post only for his effort to be cleared off the line by the keeper’s legs.

After this brief flurry of excitement, the game settled back in to attrition with personal battles taking place all over the pitch and, to the credit of the participants, it rarely boiled over despite the physical intent.

Hogg, unsurprisingly revelling in this full blooded contest, set Holmes on his way after winning possession and the much improved midfielder set up Toffolo for a strike which was fairly close but not particularly troubling for Bialkowski.

O’Brien then made an excellent run past three attempted challenges through the middle before laying the ball off to Sinani who fed Holmes before Thomas fired wildly over from a decent position.

The defining moment of the game arrived immediately after Thomas’ effort as Millwall broke effectively and played in Tom Bradshaw behind the Town defence. Pearson recovered and put in a crucial tackle to stop the considerable danger and almost certainly prevented the visitors taking the lead.

Bradshaw was replaced by Benik Afobe shortly afterwards and Pearson was to thwart the ex Town man as well later on to cement his man of the match status.

Town also made a change with Koroma replacing Sinani. The Luxembourger seems to divide opinion with his performances, but he has undoubted ability which doesn’t come off quite enough during games despite useful contributions to the team effort. He is worth persevering with, however, and the extra couple of percent he needs to add will create a very useful creator, which the side rather lacks.

Koroma’s introduction added urgency and a more direct approach and Town’s ascendancy in the final quarter of an hour became pronounced. Corberán also switched things around with Turton replacing the excellent Colwill to form a back 4 and Campbell replacing Holmes and joining Ward in a rarely seen front 2.

The changes paid off with a period of pressure creating a series of set pieces, still the most likely source of goals for this side.

Ward had a fierce effort blocked following a free kick delivery and Millwall began to creak under the pressure.

Perhaps their growing discomfort allowed Jonathan Hogg to get in front of the South Londoners’ defence to divert yet another Thomas assist in to the far corner. The unlikely scorer was fantastically delighted with his winner and his performance fully deserved the accolades which would follow.

First, however, Town had just over 10 minutes to cling on to their lead and, perhaps understandably, retreated a little too deep for comfort. However, the defensive resilience of this team is well established now and despite one or two moments of concern, notably a strike by Afobe which a less lenient referee may have called handball by Toffolo, the 3 points were secured.

A typically tight Championship game, settled by fine margins, produced a decent level of entertainment by both sides with Town just about deserving the win on chances made.
5th in the table and miles away from the wrong end of the table, Town enter the winter in very good shape. 

The elevated league position feels a little flattering to the actual ability of the squad, but it is also encouraging that there is room for improvement in some areas, particularly creativity and conversion, and with a January window on the horizon, a good platform is in place.

Blinded by the light

The run of 1-1 draws between Huddersfield Town and Birmingham City in Yorkshire came to an end, at long last, at the 6th attempt.

Unfortunately, a goalless stalemate was not the sequence busting bonanza we were hoping for, but a largely uninspiring contest, refereed by another idiot, kept Town in the play off spots ahead of an exceptionally stiff challenge at the weekend.

A 3rd consecutive clean sheet strongly indicates why the Terriers continue to trouble the right end of the table, and yet another superb Lees performance, ably supported by Pearson and Colwill, not to mention Nicholls behind them, restricted Birmingham to one decent chance in the whole game. This was late on and Gardner should have scored, but headed wide from close range. 

Perhaps the late let off affected Nicholls. Minutes afterwards, he was caught by Deeney as he gathered a loose ball and then spent an age putting his boot back on, composing himself and finally taking the free kick. Around 2 or 3 minutes elapsed in this pantomime, which rather inflamed the frustrations of the home support, and when a free kick in injury time was passed backwards, this translated in to some final whistle booing which appeared harsh without context.

The Blues, struggling after a bright start to the season, defended deep and robustly, much like Hull had tried to do at the weekend, and largely kept Town at arm’s length until the appearance of Campbell threatened to deliver a win for the hosts.

Ward, despite the usual struggle with hold up play, had been competent before being replaced, but Campbell brought aggression which unsettled Birmingham and injected some momentum in to the home side. He had only been on the pitch for a minute before hitting the post with a shot on the turn from a low Thomas cross.

A speculative effort by Campbell hit the other post in injury time, but a breakthrough was not to come.

O’Brien shot narrowly wide earlier in the half, which rather disguised the fact that Ward had been flattened in the area attempting to reach a cross, though expecting this latest abysmal official to spot an offence in the area would be going too far.

If ever a game needed a goal, it was this one. Town threatened sporadically in a first half which was fragmented but far from completely unentertaining. Faced with an opponent deploying almost their whole team defensively, the home side worked some decent openings and Sinani forced another good save from an opposition keeper while Ward, in the very first minute, flicked over the bar from a marginally offside position.

Holmes’ good form continued, providing most of the energy produced by the Terriers, but both Thomas and Sinani looked mentally and physically weary and will surely be rested at Dean Court, along with the enforced absence of Colwill who picked up another rather silly booking.

A disappointing evening would have been much more palatable had one of the near misses been converted, as the previous home game showed. As it was, the only bright spot was the retina scorching advertising displays at either end of the ground which were inexplicably fired up towards the end of the game.

Still, nearly 50% of games have seen Town achieve a clean sheet, which would have been laughably unlikely in the past few seasons. These shut outs are the reason Town are not, and will not be, struggling down at the wrong end again. 

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.