Hope jacked up

Town finally secured a win in 2021 with a remarkable 7 minute period just after half time which entirely confounded the form of both teams going in to the game.

A fairly even first half, during which Town mixed encouraging forward play with their usual failings when deep in possession, ended with a Swansea equaliser so heavy with foreboding that defeat seemed inevitable.

Blessed with talent, which has carried them towards the top of the table since their only home reversal all those long months ago, and a consistently parsimonious defence, the Welshmen would surely follow in the footsteps of Wycombe Wanderers and trample all over their hosts’ fragility?

Instead, a bright start to the second half, not unlike the previous week but with end product, delivered three, high quality, goals to the eye rubbing disbelief of the audience.

While incompetence has underpinned a disastrous 2021, there have been periods in some games which suggested that the inadequacies were not immutable and that the squad, all be it depleted, could elevate itself back to mid table stagnation given a few breaks.

Any such happy talk seemed ridiculous, however, as Hourihane lifted a free kick over a wall which was less barrier and more an aid to the ex-Barnsley man’s trajectory, and past a hopelessly out of position Schofield for an equaliser on the stroke of half time.

The leveller was the culmination of the only brief period of the game in which Swansea looked remotely superior to their struggling opponents and owed as much to Town’s predilection for hesitancy and error playing out from the back than their own ability.

Though the award of the free kick was dubious at best, the Terriers had only themselves to blame for the lack of care preceding it and all the good work of a half in which they took the lead, threatened regularly and subdued the Swans for long periods was wasted.

Shrugging off a nervous opening few minutes, Town played with a purpose and energy which may have taken the visitors by surprise judging by the absence of guile in a team flying high and the number of lofted balls they resorted to, and deservedly took the lead midway through the half. 

Rowe, continuing the encouraging form from the second half in midweek, either over hit his cross following good work down the left or picked out Pipa in lots of space beyond Swansea’s defence, which allowed the Spaniard to advance to the byline before picking out Campbell in the area, whose slightly scuffed shot went in off the post for a deserved lead.

Campbell had already had the ball in the net earlier but the linesman interpreted that O’Brien, who set up the striker, was offside when coming back on to the pitch despite the last touch being from a visiting defender. Or it had gone out of play.

Minutes after the opener, Bacuna found half a yard of space after bamboozling Hourihane and struck an excellent effort from distance against the post with Woodman comprehensively beaten.

Establishing control and unfortunate not to be further ahead, Town’s unexpected but welcome levels of comfort began to evaporate as half time neared and they were grateful for a goal line clearance by Sarr, a save from Ayew by Schofield and two efforts from range being slightly off target.

Swansea’s brief but hugely threatening period of dominance began with Keogh dallying in the absence of options in front of him as he carried the ball forward and spread alarmingly through the team as persistent failings threatened to undo all of their previous good work. We had been here before and, sure enough, the pressure eventually told with Hourihane’s free kick.

Remarkably, within 10 minutes of the restart, Town put the game to bed, completed a double over one of the best sides in the division and dismantled the meanest defence of that division to record a confidence boosting win against any expectation.

O’Brien, producing his best performance of the season by some distance, restored the lead following excellent work by Bacuna who played a great ball in to Campbell who, in turn setup the midfielder for a strike which took a slight but very helpful deflection on its way past Woodman. He deserved the fortune having driven forward to begin the move in the first place.

Bacuna was involved again as Town turned the screw with a third goal minutes later as his chipped ball forward to Campbell was knocked down for Rowe to feed Holmes in to the area to finish well.

Not satisfied with a two goal advantage, Holmes then produced the goal of the season to date and one unlikely to be bettered. Taking the ball off Rowe and moving right to left, the diminutive Anglo-American took advantage of a nice bobble off the pitch to find the top corner from distance.

The devastating spell, as welcome as it was astonishing, sealed the first 3 points of the year even if beleaguered and weary supporters could still be forgiven for harbouring doubt.

The Terriers’ ability to hold on to their large lead was not to be tested, however, as a freak and horrible injury befell Morris as the Seattle Sounder loanee stumbled awkwardly while attempting to trap the ball. The seriousness of the injury was immediately and instinctively understood by Pipa, who knocked the ball out of play before urgently beckoning help.

Unfortunately for Swansea, they had already used up all their substitutes with Cooper rather obviously conceding defeat on the hour and their trip home to South Wales was further depressed by a cruel injury.

As often happens, the incident sucked the air of competition from the game with the last half hour rarely developing beyond a stroll. Swansea’s resignation, coupled with the deflation of the injury, and Town taking advantage of the rare opportunity to provide rest to some key players by using all 5 permitted changes reduced the contest to a pragmatic exercise of damage control for both parties.

Only a fool would declare Town’s problems over following an unusual if exhilarating victory. The closing minutes of the first half demonstrated how easily they can crumble under pressure to which they make a significant contribution and the score line was somewhat more convincing than the balance of play in the first hour warranted.

However, the vanquishing of as good a side as Swansea should not be under estimated.

Other than more concerns over Schofield, each and every player contributed to a fine victory, with Holmes and O’Brien finding excellent form, Bacuna channelling his talent in a more disciplined manner, Rowe constantly threatening a previously excellent defence and Vallejo providing calm and cultured possession, there were many positives to add to the relief.

Now for Derby, as much a graveyard for Town teams as Middlesbrough, and a different proposition to the poor team which barely turned up to the John Smith’s stadium early in the season. To restore our place in the boring middle of the Championship, the Terriers need to consolidate this unexpected victory with a couple or more points by the end of February.

Desperation intensifies

Interpreted generously, 35 minutes of competent , occasionally penetrative play bookended a seriously poor mid section to constitute the type of sandwich it is unnecessary to elucidate and exposed Huddersfield Town’s failings as they continue to plunge inexorably towards the bottom of a distinctly average division.

A very bright opening saw Town move the ball quickly and purposefully against a lethargic Middlesbrough side suffering their own injury and form problems. 

Typically incisive in the early stage of a match in which the Terriers desperately needed a reaction to Saturday’s disastrous and hugely damaging defeat, it is far from uncommon for Corberán’s charges to set the tempo with great promise, but seasoned observers know that the superiority is almost inevitably illusory.

Rewarded for their enterprise in an encouraging 10 minutes by another excellent free kick conversion by Mbenza following a foul on Pipa, followed by a break minutes later when Mbenza failed to find the unmarked Holmes in the box, the visitors didn’t appear to have been crushed by the weekend’s events. Until Middlesbrough woke up.

With the simple application of greater intensity, the home side, possibly fearful of wily old Warnock’s wrath come the break, broke the visitors down with disconcerting, though hardly surprising, ease.

The shape of the side disintegrated, control was entirely abandoned and a horror show ensued for a full half hour culminating in a deserved half time lead for Boro which deserved to be greater than just one goal.

Pinned in their own half, the folly of drafting O’Brien as a temporary left back and starting the perpetually ineffective Pritchard in his midfield place was ruthlessly exploited by the hosts. Town weren’t helped by a literal lack of sure footedness as several in yellow slipped over at crucial moments, including in the lead up to the equaliser, which had been coming.

Panicky defending kept Boro at bay for 15 minutes, though the obligatory comedy moment arrived soon enough with Sarr and Schofield creating havoc for themselves and allowing Watmore to poke the ball through the keeper’s legs in to the open penalty area. Fortunately, Mbenza was on hand to clear. Unfortunately, the Belgian pulled his groin making the clearance and left the pitch a few minutes later to join the teeming throng of injured.

Middlesbrough equalised on the half hour with a good quality strike by Watmore who should never have been allowed to get in a position to shoot. O’Brien, temporarily delayed in to position by the aforementioned slip, waved an apologetic right leg as an excuse for a challenge as Watmore cut inside, bypassed Sarr with consummate ease and fired past Schofield. Sarr, in fact, had been beaten easily twice in the space of seconds.

The defensive disarray and inability to keep possession encouraged the hosts to swarm all over the Terriers and force a series of corners and dangerous open play situations. They thought they had taken the lead from a free kick on the right when Schofield’s inexplicable rush from his line allowed Hall to head home from, to the relief of the young keeper, an offside position.

With all confidence squeezed out of them by the relentlessness of Boro, the sanctity of half time while still level was just about the only hope for the battered visitors; an objective they could not achieve.

Yet another cheap loss of possession on the left allowed a cross in to the area and Fisher arrived to meet it just before O’Brien whose tardy challenge felled the attacker to concede a clear and unequivocal penalty. 

Benevolent as ever, Schofield’s lame attempt to save Fletcher’s rather insipid penalty allowed the ex-Barnsley man to end his goal drought which stretched back to September (though 4 months out with injury didn’t help).

Another late goal changed the game’s dynamic, even if that dynamic was flowing entirely in one direction in any case, and it was almost impossible to imagine a Town recovery in the second half.

Just before the break, a rare Town foray in to opposition territory brought a free kick in Mbenza range. In his absence, Bacuna drew a routine save from Bettenelli.

To his credit, Corberán made the necessary, and obvious, changes at half time. O’Brien was relieved of his full back duties in favour of Rowe who at least had the credentials of having played in the position more than twice, all be it on the other side of the pitch, and Pritchard’s typically feeble contribution was terminated to get O’Brien back to where he is comfortable.

Middlesbrough’s need to press forward was less urgent than in the first half and while they dominated the opening of the second half, there wasn’t quite the intensity which had crumbled Town before the break. Nevertheless, the visitors remained on the back foot and Sarr proved to be more adept at clearing danger coming in to the box than tackling out wide.

With 20 minutes to go, and with Phillips replacing the anonymous and disappointing Holmes, Town finally began to assert some control over the game and began to look capable of an equaliser. A fast break saw the visitors with a four on one advantage which they managed to mess up through a poor attempted pass by Pipa, but the situation seemed to give Town more belief.

A raid by the lively Rowe saw his cross spooning up off a defender and Phillips, who had shown a lot of purpose since coming on, flicked his header from short range only for Bettellini to touch away.

An excellent chance for Campbell following some good work by Bacuna was lashed wildly over the bar when more composure was needed.

Town were provided with a numerical advantage with 10 minutes to go when McNair brought down Bacuna on the edge of the box and was, perhaps harshly, sent off for his rash challenge. Sarr took the Mbenza territory free kick but put it over the bar.

Pushing Boro backwards in desperate search of a point, the best chance fell to the lively Phillips who took a pass from Campbell, made space and hit the inside of the post with the keeper beaten. 

Despite maintaining the pressure in the dying minutes, Town couldn’t fashion another chance of equal danger and another defeat left them still winless in 2021 and facing a strong Swansea side at the weekend.

A desperately poor half hour in the first half cost them dearly, as did the team selection. Playing O’Brien at left back was a poor decision exacerbated by handing Pritchard a start. It is becoming clear that Schofield needs a break and is adding to an increasingly spooked defence, and while Phillips and Rowe may also succumb to the same type of breakdown through inexperience, they surely earned a start in the next game.

Though not on the same scale as the Wycombe debacle, the seemingly endless throwing away of advantage persists. An inability to maintain performance levels over 90 minutes plagues a team crying out for calming presence and leadership. Hogg cannot deliver this on his own.

With a tough February schedule ahead, it now seems certain that Town’s situation will deteriorate and reliance on the failings of others the only preventative strategy. Mbenza’s injury adds another worry to Corberán’s pile. The revelation that he has been playing on the edge of breakdown for the past few weeks goes a long way to explain his subdued performances and shines a harsh light on the management of players’ fitness.

The agony persists.

Collapsing in to crisis

Momentous games arrive from time to time. Some are celebrated and some are so utterly ignominious that they not only live long in memory but are held up for future generations as defining moments in the club’s history.

Whether this appallingly abject defeat to a far superior Wycombe side will resonate down the years, as it should, depends on the reaction to the disgrace which should be cleaving to the consciences of all involved, from boardroom to coaching staff to players.

The most optimistic of us, who could rationalise a disastrous January by pointing to a catalogue of injuries which disrupted an idealistic coach’s plan to transform a club from functional relegation battlers in to contenders, have been made to look utterly foolish by a performance which plumbed subterranean depths.

In summary, a bright opening half hour brought a 2 goal lead and missed opportunities to bury the visitors, only for the tables to be turned like the plot of a terrible B movie, beginning with an injury time concession which felt ominous and proved to be much, much worse.

Two stretches of the first half saw Town’s energy and intensity drop alarmingly; a feature throughout a season where even the good wins have been accompanied by perilous and inexplicable periods when the opposition is allowed to profit from mini self implosions.

The first of these followed the opening goal, which was well crafted by Vallejo and Campbell to set up a simple headed finish by Bacuna, as Town’s control and prominence simply disappeared. When on the ball, the Terriers were reasonably effective and comfortable; without it they looked nervous and fragile. 

Sensing vulnerability, Wycombe began to expose the usual frailties. Much was made of the different styles of the two teams before the game, citing Town’s high pass completion against the visitors’ necessarily rudimentary approach given their circumstances, but the statistics belie the Terriers’ discomfort without the ball and susceptibility to physicality and pressure.

Losing shape, errors were forced by the visitors and Town were grateful to Sarr’s interceptions on more than one occasion, including two clearances off the line as Wycombe, with little to lose, reacted to going behind with commendable spirit.

With half time approaching, Town doubled their lead through Mbenza who struck a decent shot across Allsop, who was beaten a little too easily and had a great opportunity to finish off the League’s whipping boys only for Bacuna to make a mess of a simple ball in to the box for the unmarked Holmes.

Off the hook, Wycombe staged a late assault on Town’s faltering rearguard and got their reward in injury time when the impressive Mehmeti strolled past Vallejo and Bacuna to strike a good shot past Schofield. The goal followed a scare just a minute earlier when Knight hit the bar and the goal was just reward for the visitors’ endeavour.

It was also the defining moment of the game. Instead of being down by 3, the Buckinghamshire stragglers had given themselves hope and a huge lift at a crucial time, simultaneously casting fear, uncertainty and doubt in to their hosts.

What followed in the second half was entirely unacceptable. Unprofessional, lacking inspiration of any kind and disastrously sloppy in and out of possession, Town were completely dominated, on their own patch by demonstrably the poorest side in the division.

Not that Wycombe looked anything like the worst Championship side in recent memory. That sobriquet belonged to their opponents who, after a reasonably promising opening 10 minutes of the second half, proceeded to collapse in to a profoundly disturbing and ramshackle paltriness.

Bullied all over the pitch, entirely incapable of winning a second ball, rarely completing a pass, hesitant and in some cases hiding, lacking spirit, bereft of cohesion, defensively inept, offensively impotent, thoroughly unprofessional; even this litany of sins barely conveys one of the worst displays witnessed in many a year. The many failures in the Premier League at least had the consolation of being committed against opposition of quality.

This is not to diminish Wycombe’s efforts, which entirely debilitated the hosts and may well have condemned them to inevitable further deterioration. Their domination was as complete as it was astonishing and laid bare the uncomfortable fact that for all the flair Town can show from time to time, as they did in the first half, it counts for nothing if half the team aren’t prepared to sully their talent with the fundamentals of the game. 

This was no smash and grab; if anything, the visitors should have won by a bigger margin. A Schofield save from point blank range, a remarkable miss from close in scrambled away from the line, a good chance put wide following an ill advised Schofield rush from his line and a McLeary effort which just cleared the bar, illustrated Wycombe’s superiority. Allsop, at the other end, was entirely untroubled.

The inevitable crack of Town’s puny resistance came when Keogh decided to run alongside Ikpeazu, who browbeat the home defence, rather than execute a tackle. Handing over responsibility to Hogg, Town’s captain bundled him to the floor to concede a penalty converted by Jacobson.

The thoroughly deserved winner arrived with 5 minutes to go. A free kick glanced off the head of substitute Scott High and fell to the feet of Knight. Easily evading feeble attempts to block, he took one touch before beating Schofield and condemning Town to humiliation.

So, now what? The first game of the shortest month was supposed to deliver a confidence boosting 3 points in advance of the considerably harder challenges ahead. Instead, Town have reached a watershed. The glimmer of hope represented by picking up 2 points at the end of a losing streak has been extinguished and without the, admittedly, minor redemption on offer against Wycombe, all excuses have now expired.

Corberán, whose nascent head coaching career is now firmly on the line, has to deliver a team on Tuesday which can rectify the damage inflicted on a dark day for the club. It is more likely that he cannot, as the psychological damage looks far too severe and his inexperience too exposed but he should be allowed the opportunity. It is his choice whether to stick to his principles or introduce, somehow, a level of pragmatism to a squad seemingly incapable of performing to the standards he clearly desires but pursues against increasingly flimsy evidence of likelihood.

The fine line between principle, including training methods which may be contributing to seemingly endless injury problems, and obstinance is now being severely tested. Can Corberán innovate to affect change? The season long ineffectiveness of in game adaptability suggests not but perhaps necessity will prove the mother of invention.

He isn’t helped by an increasingly poisonous and hostile opposition to the Chairman, CEO and head of recruitment. The only blessing is that he and his players are spared the wrath of the support. By the time we get back in to stadiums, the haemorrhaging of that support may be severe and all of the damage inflicted.

Patience has snapped with a club which insisted upon searching for a new identity without paying enough attention to it’s personality. Rather than becoming the Brentford of the North, built on shrewd investment and fuelled by the development of raw talent, which needs supporters to understand the plan, they are left baffled by it and unconvinced that it even exists.
All we can do is now watch the rest of the season unfurl, or unravel, through our fingers. Over to you, Carlos.

A joyless point

Scraping a fortunate draw, which could have turned in to a thoroughly undeserved victory, Town extended their unbeaten run to two. More pertinently, their winless streak in 2021 goes on and anything other than an end to their joyless New Year against collapsing Wycombe will trigger significantly increased levels of opprobrium amongst a support fast losing faith.

In dreadful conditions against aggressive, relentless opponents, a point at Kenilworth Road would ordinarily be taken as a marginal gain, but in the context of what appeared, from the outside, as an inept final day in the transfer market and no evidence that failings at both end of the pitch are close to being addressed, Town’s equaliser, welcome as it was, provided minimal comfort.

The promise of a bright, if typically less than incisive, opening was punctured by yet another Naby Sarr transgression which gifted Luton possession and left the visitors naked and exposed. The Hatters gleefully accepted the gift, as so many have done before them.

It would be far too kind to call this a glitch, given the propensity of Town’s defenders in general and Naby in particular for undermining the efforts in front of them, and, indeed, Sarr played a similarly risky ball in to the middle later in the half which directly led to an O’Brien booking. For balance, he also played a couple of decent balls in to the middle during the half, but a success rate of 50/50 rather suggests that the risk and reward ratio simply isn’t favouring the Frenchman.

As ever with this team, they excelled when allowed to be in their comfort zone, particularly down the left. Regrettably, that zone doesn’t include the business ends of the pitch rendering their strengths approaching, appropriately, pointless. Ignis fatuus.

All of the effort expended to get in to threatening positions flounder through poor execution, bad decision making and not enough commitment to get in the box. The last of these is particularly disappointing as it was a feature earlier in the season and rightly acknowledged as a massive improvement.

That all the unfulfilled promise came down the left, featuring 8 unsuccessful balls in to the box, was not surprising with Mbenza’s inexorable descent to pre Corberán form and, worryingly, attitude. Listlessly uninterested, he contributed little and was rightly substituted at half time.

A scrappy first half on an uneven surface which certainly didn’t help the tippy tappy stylings of the visitors, saw precious few opportunities for either side but the hosts should have wrapped the game up shortly before the break. Pipa rather over sold himself when chasing a clearance from a corner and was easily bypassed by Mpanzu whose cross was headed against the post from close range by Potts. 

Town’s two, off target, attempts on goal summed up a pretty dreadful first half showing. O’Brien found good space just outside the box but fired hopelessly wide while a very good run by Bacuna should have ended with a lay off to the much better placed O’Brien but, instead, he used his normal decision making processes and rolled a weak effort wide.

To their credit, Town were a better, if far from perfect, proposition in the second half and the introduction of Aarons was key. Operating on the right, perhaps the miserable performance of Mbenza has inadvertently pointed the way towards a more effective formation and the right flank can begin to relieve the left of the burden they have increasingly carried during this dismal run.

Despite one or two scares, including a wild effort by Mpanzu after being freed in to a position he really should have scored from, the visitors largely matched Luton’s energy with errors reduced if not eradicated. Hogg’s return added some very necessary steel and defensive know how and if Holmes can shake off the rustiness which saw him lose possession too easily at times, he should prove an asset.

The first sign of improvement was a good effort by Pipa which fizzed just wide from distance after good work from Holmes.

Though the game reverted to an attritional battle for long periods, Town dug in and defended their box with greater discipline and frustrated the Hatters with well timed blocks. They were a little fortunate when the influential Mpanzu decided not to go down in the area when clearly knocked in preference to stumbling in to a poor effort from a difficult angle.

At the other end, Luton were to be grateful for Bacuna’s curious decision making. Set free in to the area by Aarons, he fired a hopelessly ambitious shot in to the side netting when others were far better placed. Like Sarr, it was just a repeat of a previous lack of judgement and doing the same things over and over with the same result is difficult to forgive.

To his credit, Sarr was able to atone for his error with the equaliser. Pritchard, on for Pipa, bought a foul just outside the box with a dramatic fall from an innocuous challenge, which Bacuna delivered rather well in to the area. A dummy by Toffolo ensured Sluga had to make a save (his first) but he could only parry the ball in to Sarr’s path. Town’s third highest scorer wasn’t going to miss from a couple of yards.

The equaliser forced the game in to a period of mild entertainment, fuelled by frenzy rather than dazzling play and Town created the best chance to take all 3 points when Campbell was freed down the right on a break. His well directed ball in to the box was met by Holmes but the long throw specialist couldn’t quite control his effort to meet a cross which was knee height for him rather than on the floor.

With a precious point within their grasp, Town managed to create a sting in the tail when Toffolo miscontrolled when attempting to play out rather than taking the obvious option to launch the ball to safety. His attempted recovery saw him slip and clatter unceremoniously in to an opponent and the instant response of the referee was to assume dangerous play and show the red card. Replays show that the left back was unfortunate but as he was the author of his own misfortune, sympathy is a little reduced. The referee, who had a generally poor game, was right to dismiss but mitigation may result in an appeal.

The resulting free kick was the last action of the game and very nearly completely ruined an already very average afternoon, when a decent header inside the area struck a post and the stalemate was preserved.

Frustrating and unsatisfying as it was, the point away from home at a tough venue is welcome. The value of it will be increased by a home win next Saturday, but the performance didn’t enhance hopes, even against the worst side in the division; they can show resilience, a quality Town struggle to deal with.

Finding ways to unlock Wycombe’s defence must be the priority during this week, even though they have shipped 10 in their last two games. Presumably, those teams have effective strikers.

Had this point accompanied a couple of wins from January, it would have been seen as a dogged one. The multiple failures in January, however, meant it was the minimum required to begin to soothe nerves and it barely achieves that. A dozy deadline day, lack of meaningful communications and the bizarre introduction of West Vale Squash Club in to an over heating debate overwhelm any small positives it represents.

Losing streak ends, concerns remain

Staring deeply in to the mouth of a gift horse, Huddersfield Town’s losing streak ended with a limp draw as they failed to capitalise on Stoke City’s reduced numbers as old failures undermined their efforts once more.

Veterans of many Town performances against 10 men will not have been surprised at the frustrating inability to make their extra man count and no doubt relieved that the visitors were unable to counter attack and grab a winner once comfortable with their absorption of increasingly predictable pressure.

It had all started so well. Continuing on from their second half dominance of Bristol City, the Terriers swamped Stoke in a compelling opening 15 minutes with the men from the Potteries barely making it in to Town’s half.

The superiority brought a welcome early goal with a good Toffolo cross eventually landing at the feet of Mbenza who set up Pipa to strike. A very helpful deflection left Gunn stranded and beaten.

Town’s dominance continued with the left flank combinations of Toffolo, O’Brien and Aarons causing significant problems for the visitors and the team in general fluently exploiting Stoke’s static opening.

An excellent Mbenza corner found the towering figure of Sarr who should have made more of the opportunity but the best chance of Town’s brightest period of the game fell to Campbell who contrived to plant a header wide from a fantastic Toffolo cross.

The miss heralded a decline which was rarely arrested. 

The Potters finally began to find some energy to close down the spaces in which Town had flourished and the easy possession which they enjoyed dried up. Pushing further up the pitch, the visitors evened up the contest to an extent, and it was disturbing to see such a slight improvement have an immediate and detrimental impact.

Nevertheless, there was only mild pressure being applied to Keogh when he twice gave away possession in the space of a couple of minutes. Having got away with the first misdemeanour, the second became unforgivable and ultimately cost 2 points.

An attempted ball inside to Vallejo was even worse than his earlier misplaced pass to O’Brien and set up Stoke for a rare attack with Jack Clarke released towards the area. Even then, the ex-Leeds man should’ve been jockeyed and held up rather than being tripped up by Sarr’s impetuous challenge. Fletcher despatched the penalty for pretty much his only meaningful contribution of the day.

Stoke took encouragement for the gift and finished the half looking the team more likely to take maximum points until Norrington-Davies was dismissed in stoppage time for a reckless lunge on Bacuna. The Welsh youngster could have few complaints. The challenge was no doubt a genuine attempt to win the ball rather than deliberately malicious but the force of the tackle left the referee with little option to produce his red card with no hint of hesitation.

The depletion probably cost Stoke the chance of 3 points but, ironically, probably improved their opportunity for some reward given Town’s terrible record against sides who concede possession in favour of closing down space, and so it proved.

Laboured and lacking imagination for far too much of the second half, Town were, nevertheless, a little unfortunate on the two occasions they breached Stoke’s defensive walls and had a half decent shout for a penalty when Pipa appeared to be caught in the area only for the Spaniard’s overly wrought tumble to turn the decision against him.

As stodgy and inaccurate as much of the approach play was, Town only needed to nudge ahead to force the game in to the open to then take real advantage of an opposition forced to try and recover a game with ten men.

The threat Town were able to muster inevitably came down the left and their two big chances emanated from that flank. Toffolo, who is back to his 2020 form, set up O’Brien to hit a good strike from slightly behind him which may or may not have been finger tipped on to the bar by Gunn.

O’Brien then set up Bacuna in the area and following a nice piece of skill which opened up space for himself, his goal bound shot was cleared by McClean who positioned himself excellently to head away.

Had either of those gone in, the mood would be entirely different and, arguably, the restricted spaces Town find so difficult to negotiate would have opened up.

This is not to defend the rest of the half which was undoubtedly lacking in guile and threat. 

While Pipa looked back to somewhere near his best, he wasn’t particularly helped out by his lacklustre partner down the right, Mbenza. The Belgian simply didn’t contribute enough and his replacement, the returning Holmes, managed 2 more threatening balls in to the box (inevitably not read by our strikers) than he had achieved in a pretty dismal second half display.

Campbell also had a distinctly average afternoon after missing the early chance, culminating in a pathetic dive late on which was never fooling anybody. The veteran has his positives, not least a willingness to work selflessly for the system, but when that system gets bogged down and plants itself up its own firmament, his flaws are exposed more than most.

The introduction of Holmes sparked some life in to the increasingly desperate search for a winner and his neat and tidy cameo showed promise for the future. In stark contrast, the sight of Pritchard under the numbers board must have brought many a groan from the sofas of West Yorkshire and beyond. He didn’t, dear readers, make a difference.

Stoke’s threat was minimal, as expected, but a corner won from one of their rare appearances in Town’s half was threatening enough to suggest the unthinkable was possible. Their resilience earned them a point, however, and restricting Town to just two opportunities of note in 45 minutes was commendable.

It is of little consolation that Town finished a game with a reward for the first time in 2021 when a much needed win eluded them, but it is better than nothing.

The improved form of Toffolo and Pipa is encouraging, the introduction of Holmes promising and the reemergence of Corberán’s style, though not sustained long enough, positive but the shooting themselves in the foot refuses to stop.

The mild concern about collapsing in to relegation trouble wasn’t alleviated by taking one point from two games which should have delivered at least 4, and February needs to be a massive improvement on January to get the club back on the mediocrity trail.

A multitude of conundrums

A fourth successive league defeat leaves Town nervously contemplating a relegation battle should fortunes not change in the near future, but this latest reverse carried significant signs of hope that the club can get back to the mundane mid table position which looked pretty inevitable before Christmas.

Uninspiring as it is to yearn for mediocrity, a season with no drama remains enticing after the deep trauma of recent years, but the disruptions to a previously stable team capable of picking up enough points to keep comfortably out of danger have proven too fundamental to overcome.

Nerves and mood were not helped at all by a pathetic, featureless defeat to Millwall, and the absence of style, imagination and energy cast a pall of gloom which threatened to derail the Corberán project before it has had chance to build any sort of platform for the future.

Just 6 days later, and with just one change to last week’s mooching shambles (which probably helped), Town came away from Ashton Gate with no reward but, hopefully, a renewed sense of purpose.

Before the half hour, the visitors appeared doomed to their now traditional sound thrashing beside the Severn Estuary as the Robins struck twice inside 5 minutes, exposing Town’s static and square back line with two good pieces of skill. 

First, an Alfie Mawson through ball was cleverly dummied by Mariappa which set Diédhiou free to round Schofield and slot home. Town’s naivety contributed to the concession but should not detract from City’s invention.

A poor clearance by Sarr, over his head and with no control, allowed the hosts to strike a second time just a few minutes later as Palmer clipped a nice through ball inside Sarr for Diédhiou to grab his brace. 

Surgically dissected twice in the space of just a few minutes, Town’s reasonable start to the game which had seen them come closest to opening the scoring when an excellent O’Brien surge ended with a shot against the post, lay in ruins and an implosion seemed far more likely than what was to follow.

Much will be made of Town’s defensive frailty in those two moments, but this would be to unfairly overlook the invention of Bristol’s forward play and, indeed, before the double concession they should have made much more of an excellent ball by Palmer out to the right, but Marriappa fluffed the opportunity to create an easy chance for either of the forwards awaiting a simple ball in.

Rocked back on their heels and with confidence taking another battering, Town took a while to regain some equilibrium but the final hour belonged almost exclusively to the Terriers, only for them to be thwarted by a combination of ill fortune, some good goalkeeping and the familiar lack of clinical finishing.

Helped by Bristol’s decision to contain the visitors by settling back and hoping to profit from any over commitment, the home side rather lulled themselves in to passivity and can count themselves fortunate, to say the least, that their strategy eventually paid off. 

Perhaps informed by their rather short break since beating Millwall with some ease in the cup, the self extinguishing of any meaningful threat, after looking capable of punishing Town further, was a high stakes gamble, but the 3 points they gained were not deserved.

Just before the break, a Town corner was met by Vallejo, who thumped the ball in to the ground looping it towards goal only for Hunt to head it on to the bar and clear. It wasn’t to be the last encounter the Spaniard had with the woodwork, but along with some decent movement and interplay, which rather evaporated as they got nearer the goal, the visitors finished the half strongly while City’s ambition visibly waned.

Town’s second half display was the most promising for a long while. Their opponents’ decision to retreat makes it difficult to assess how much of this improvement was overwhelming superiority rather than taking advantage of circumstances, but it should still provide a platform for the near future and must be built upon.

For the first time in at least a month, Town’s left flank developed some potency. Toffolo was allowed to get further forward than of late, O’Brien finally found some form and Aarons produced easily his best display of his short time at the club.

The right wing was less effective, but Pipa was also more prominent behind a rather more mixed Mbenza performance. Marriappa, however, proved a more difficult opponent for them than the opposite side of the Robins’ defence.

The chances flowed.

A perfect cross by Toffolo should have been converted by Campbell; perhaps he was surprised at the quality of the ball in after such a long time feeding on scraps, but his attempt lacked the necessary calm of a Championship striker.

Mbenza slipped as he attempted one of his free kicks from a distance which looked optimistic, though Bentley in the Bristol goal was sufficiently worried by the attempt.

On the hour, more good play down the left saw the lively Aarons played in by O’Brien and after a mazy run, just on the right side of control, his ball in to the danger area was back heeled intelligently by Mbenza to present Bacuna with a chance he couldn’t, and didn’t, miss.

Vallejo then hit a superb effort from around the same distance as the Mbenza free kick, which caused the Robins’ custodian even more concern. Unfortunately, the quality of the strike wasn’t rewarded and crashed down off the bar and Bacuna, whose second half display was notably improved, was unable to profit from the aftermath.

Bacuna then hit another, equally excellent, long range shot which Bentley did well to turn over the bar, though the effort was very close to him.

The overriding feeling that the home goal was charmed was confirmed as another Bacuna effort hit Campbell and struck the post before diverting to safety. 

With a total of 26 shots, 6 on target, Town could not be accused of lacking creativity and the wafer thin margins worked against them on a night where an hour of total dominance simply wasn’t reflected in the final score.

The hosts’ threats were, and this is charitable, sporadic and either easily dealt with by the excellent Keogh or self inflicted in the case of yet another back pass moment which drew an “oh, God!” commentary on iFollow, as Schofield hesitated before winning, after a fashion, a dead ball.

The disappointment of yet another defeat on the road is, to an extent, alleviated by the promise of the performance though the opposition’s tactical choices allowed the game to be played to Town’s strengths. It is unlikely that Stoke will fall in to the same trap, but the confidence the team should take from a far more fluent and imposing display should not be under estimated.

Optimistically, it is encouraging that Corberán transformed pretty much the same group of players in less than a week and if and when injuries start to clear up and Holmes adds a new level of dynamism, hope may be resurrected.

However, the improvement must be continued at the weekend and the very different circumstances they face overcome. 

Winning is now an urgent requirement.

Trudging down memory lane

On a day when normalcy became popular again, Town’s return to a state of characterless, doddering ineptitude could not have been less welcome.

None of the style implemented by Corberán was on display and there wasn’t a single consolation to be found in probably the worst performance of the season against a disciplined, barely troubled Millwall side who are unlikely to gain 3 easier points on the road this campaign.

This was a game which needed to be won. There are plenty of excuses to reach out for but all of them should be dismissed and ignored. The injuries have been with the club for enough time to be mitigated, the London team took far greater advantage of the dreadful northern weather and bedding in new faces demands greater care of the ball than the slovenly, inattentive attitude which permeated a dreadful opening 10 minutes which led to an early concession.

Town were a little fortunate that the damage wasn’t even worse.

Though largely determined by player availability, Corberán’s pairing of Campbell and Ward fundamentally unbalanced a largely laughable attacking force and the complete absence of ideas in an unremittingly dreary second half spoke of a team drained of confidence and, perhaps, basic fitness. 

To his credit, Ward had the only shot on target in the 90 minutes, which drew a decent save. The chance was one of three conjured in the only period of the game Town escaped the Lions’ shackles. The first saw Toffolo and O’Brien linking well down the left leading to a push on the latter and the award of a penalty which should have been the game’s turning point, coming just 10 minutes after Millwall’s opener.

Campbell, however, fired the spot kick too high and let the visitors off the hook while simultaneously subduing the struggling hosts, though an O’Brien burst through the middle created a glorious chance for Bacuna which the purple haired midfielder struck wide.

On the half hour, Toffolo and O’Brien created more danger down the left which allowed the full back to square to Ward who did well to swivel and force a save from Bialkowski.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was that. 

Millwall, who scented blood early in the game, held on to the lead they took in the 4th minute when an excellent ball in by McNamara found the inexplicably unmarked Malone inside the area and the Town old boy swept home.

The goal was the culmination of the visitors taking advantage of the Terriers hesitant and horribly imprecise play from the kick off; sluggishness which lasted a full 10 minutes and was hugely encouraging to the previously out of form Bermondsey outfit.

At their liveliest, for the 15 minutes up to the half hour, Town failed to take advantage of their brief period of dominance and the last hour of the contest was an increasingly turgid trek to deserved defeat.

To describe the second half display as pedestrian would be to imbue it with far more energy than it held. Lacking ideas, movement and any sign of individual moments which may have caused even the mildest of surprise to the opponents, Town stagnated alarmingly.

The merciful substitution of Ward on the hour brought no discernible change in attitude or fortune with Mbenza proving just as ineffective. The returning winger had zero impact though his anonymity may have been the inevitable result of Town implementing not a single change to how they were playing. Which was sideways, backwards and far too deep. 

Throughout the evening, Town looked and played like a team completely overwhelmed by the problems which built up in the frantic schedule towards the end of 2020, and this includes the management team whose project has been upended.

The continuity which seemed to have delivered mid table stability has been usurped by chaos and mounting defeats, carrying none of the soothing consolations of earlier setbacks, and the threat of a debilitating spiral seems very real.

Sympathy for their plight is beginning to wane and will disappear if answers are not found. A home game against moderate opposition was the opportunity to reverse a decline which has hit hard and fast and the manner of the utter failure to grasp it was deeply worrying.

In particular, the Hogg shaped hole was inadequately filled by Vajello. The Spaniard, one of the few who came out with credit at Vicarage Road, could not provide the necessary energy or drive provided by the injured Teessider but was not helped by Bacuna or O’Brien for the most part and the collective failure of imagination throughout was depressing.

A Millwall second looked far more likely than a home equaliser and, indeed, they had a goal disallowed, rightly, following a corner. The offence against Schofield had been preceded by Pipa seemingly wrestling his opponent to the ground, unspotted by officials.

With the visitors mainly sitting deep to comfortably protect their lead, it is difficult to judge the performance of the newly arrived and already condemned Keogh, but he did little wrong. Apart from contributing to the decidedly uncertain start to the game, his central defensive partner Sarr was also largely blameless for the inactivity in front of him.

Many of the problems facing Corberán are not of his making. The inadequacies of the squad when shorn of certain individuals have been painfully exposed and applying band aids to gaping wounds deeply inadequate, but this is the hand he has been dealt and more effective solutions are needed.

The current points tally provides some breathing space but it is difficult to dispel the fear that a precipice is approaching. Campbell’s penalty miss may prove pivotal to Town’s fortunes this season and beyond; averting a deepening crisis must now be Corberán’s priority.


Having been gifted 3 points by Watford a few long weeks ago, Town’s generous reciprocity sealed a hugely predictable defeat in a game of largely uninterrupted banality with few positives for Corberán, who is facing the biggest challenges of his short tenure.

An already meagre squad shorn of experience and continuity faced a Hornets side notably strong at Vicarage Road with several players making rare starts and with the regulars, particularly Pipa and Toffolo, being asked to compensate accordingly, the possibility of a Bournemouth sized disaster loomed ominously.

Unlike the South coast debacle, most of Corberán’s choices were enforced, though perhaps one or two of the omissions had an eye on Millwall in midweek and, to their credit, a solid if uninspiring first half raised hopes of snatching a point against a side rather more frightening on paper than on grass.

The back 3 of Edmonds-Green, Vallejo and Critchlow knitted together well with the Spaniard catching the eye with calm distribution and essential availability while the two youngsters produced authoritative performances against the experience of Deeney and the growing talent of Pedro.

Restricting Watford to a couple of efforts well saved by Schofield, the defensive effort nevertheless emasculated the visitors’ threat. Bar a half decent opportunity which was wasted by Bacuna, Town’s reliance on the willing but rusty Aarons and Rowe rarely looked like troubling the home defence. 

The reluctance to commit was understandable as the alternative of leaving the central defence open to the pace  of the home side, as the potency of Pipa and Toffolo was deliberately restrained, would have been, to put it mildly, rash.
The defensive game plan, given the personnel available, was as forgivable as it was necessary, but the almost total neutering of attacking intent made for a difficult watch.

Things may have been different had an incident on the half hour been adjudicated differently. Troy Deeney’s assault on Bacuna, who had released Aarons some time before being clattered, was as worthy of a red card as his scything down of Quaner in the first Premier League season.

The failure to play advantage was more understandable given the severity and immediacy of the challenge, but not to follow this up with dismissal simply added insult to injury.

A half of football lacking excitement if not endeavour ended, deservedly, goalless and perhaps Watford’s pedestrian display encouraged Town to open up a little in the early stages of the second half as they attempted to impose themselves a little more (it was hard to imagine them being less progressive).

They began to look quite comfortable, even managing a shot by Bacuna following a neat move down the left involving Toffolo who had finally managed to get forward.

On more than one occasion, neat play at the back extricated Town from Watford’s press and the game suddenly held some promise for the visitors until the bright start came crashing down in bizarre circumstances. Perhaps over emboldened by their earlier calm, O’Brien played a simple ball back to Vallejo who, in turn, moved the ball on to his goalkeeper. Inexplicably, Schofield didn’t react and, in fact, took a step backwards which allowed Cleverley to pounce and open the scoring.

The young keeper’s scoresheet remains firmly positive despite the error, but the circumstances of the day demanded diligence if a positive outcome was to be achieved. As it was, defeat seemed inevitable as the second half plan imploded.

Within ten minutes, Watford sewed up the points as Pedro swept the ball out to Femenia who easily beat Pat Jones before finding Pedro on the back post to tap in. That the ball travelled that distance without intervention was disappointing, though the lack of challenge by Jones, who was barely minutes in to his League debut, made life too easy for the hosts.

Watford appeared largely content with a lead which seemed almost certain to be unassailable, while Town changed formation to involve Ward to join Campbell up front. The injury plagued substitute’s cameo was sadly, though not altogether unexpectedly, anaemic and featured a break down the left which he managed to run out of play. 

Scott High, however, had a promising 20 minutes including Town’s one shot on target of the afternoon, comfortably gathered by Bachmann, who rarely if ever had to go in to overdrive. Sadly, it wasn’t a case of him not seeing anything yet as his afternoon continued untroubled.

An expected defeat then with all the problems pervading the club laid out across the field despite a defensively commendable first half. As it stands, there are no January signings which will bring immediate relief; Aarons was energetically ineffective and clearly needs gradual introduction, Grant is injured before even making the bench and Thomas more likely to go out on loan.

Millwall, and the return of Mbenza, perhaps, offers a good opportunity to get back to winning ways which increasingly feels necessary despite the still comfortable gap to the relegation zone. A losing spiral is not exactly far from supporters’ memories.

Running on fumes

Town’s 6 game undefeated home run was ended by a Reading side with too much quality for a mentally fatigued, again unchanged, first eleven with little backing them up as the structural deficiencies of an injury hit squad and lack of depth finally caught up.

This is a mid table outfit, even with its full complement, which is a considerable improvement from the relegation strugglers we assumed as the season got off to a poor start.

Far from being a disastrous defeat, the performance had some redeeming features but lacked the necessary intensity, fluency and attention to detail necessary when facing a play off contender recovering from an injury crisis which had spoked their wheels after a rip roaring start to the season.

An increasingly unconvincing lead established after 5 minutes with the first attack, as Mbenza produced an excellent cross for Campbell to power in, never looked like being built upon and the visitors controlled most of the opening half and would have gone in level but for another outstanding stop by Schofield.

Perhaps the very early lead mitigated against the Terriers. Far too passive in possession, the dynamism of previous home games was largely absent and the opportunity to capitalise on Reading’s shock at going behind was missed. The slow pace made for a dull first half, enlivened by the visitors in injury time as they sought a deserved equaliser.

Having survived one excellent delivery in to the box with Pipa slicing an attempted clearance in to Schofield’s hands, the next one from the excellent Swift reached its target and forced yet another close range stop from the young keeper and the lead was preserved. Precariously.

The Royals took a grip of the game from the start of the second half and looked much the more comfortable and confident side. Town’s control, which was reasonable for a period after the opening goal, had eroded markedly as the visitors’ quality established a dominance which always felt ominous for a squad creaking under the weight of its limitations, not least those sat on the bench which included 3 full backs; possibly our least worrisome positions.

The best chance, however, was created by a trademark O’Brien surge which almost found Mbenza in the six yard box. Perhaps a shot was the better choice for the midfielder but the let off for the visitors proved the turning point.

The equaliser, and the nature of it, came as little surprise as Joao took advantage of Edmonds-Green’s hesitancy in dealing with a ball behind him as the youngster hoped, with little apparent basis for optimism, that Schofield was going to deal with the threat. The keeper was equally convinced, and rightly, that this was a situation entirely the responsibility of the centre back, and the impressive Portuguese took full advantage of the naivety.

It was an error which smacked both of inexperience and hesitancy born of mental fatigue. Edmonds-Green has been, and will continue to be, one of the successes of the season, stepping in to a central defence crisis with a poise and elegance which outstripped the injured alternatives and is surely allowed lapses, particularly at the end of a gruelling schedule.

The leveller spurred the home side a little but only served to make them look even more vulnerable to the counter and a Pipa block was needed to thwart Joao before a strong claim for a handball in the area blocking a Hogg effort was waved away by a referee who had a poor game, though probably right to be unmoved by these appeals.

Less forgivably, the official played an inadvertent but vital part in the lead up to the winning goal, blocking Hogg’s path to an interception of a poor ball. This is not to take away from Joao’s excellent strike; a thunderous shot after making space with a lovely turn. Subsequent criticism of Town defenders’ inability to block the shot rather ignores the skill employed to open up the space with a subtle and decisive feint. If you are going to lose, be beaten by quality.

Town had chances to equalise as Reading failed to press home their advantage despite looking clearly the better of the two sides. Mbenza brought a very good save from Reading’s Brazilian keeper following a good lay off by Campbell and had an even better chance late on when the much improved Bacuna shredded Reading’s back line with an incisive ball. The Belgian tried to manoeuvre the ball on to his right foot rather than taking the chance more quickly with his left, however, and he was forced to stab at the chance and saw his effort go narrowly wide.

Always a threat on the break, the Berkshire outfit hit the bar late on and saw out a deserved victory for their overall superiority.

Corberán’s refusal to blame the defeat on fatigue was admirable though a little credulous. It is not just the mental and physical tiredness which afflicts a team with the same line up for 5 straight matches (and there is an argument that the continuity is beneficial), but also the ability to change things which is severely impacted. 

The paucity of resources, screaming out from the state of the substitutes’ bench, is now well beyond stating the bleeding obvious territory, but capable of at least some rectification before the next league game. When Reading replaced the always excellent Swift – against us, at least – with possibly the best prospect in the Championship, Olise, you could have forgiven Corberán a head in hands moment.

However, and despite being below par for much of the game, Town competed and even had chances to grab an undeserved point. They were a little unfortunate to be playing Reading as they return to strength, though having taken 3 points from a Watford side at probably it’s lowest ebb, these things tend to even out.

Progression from solid mid table will take more time, and the dial is unlikely to be moved this season. This final game of yet another brutal run was one too far, but the effort of the eleven stalwarts couldn’t be faulted and the future is still hopeful.

Naby drives Rovers wild

On screen, Pipa’s beautiful lobbed pass in to the area as the clock ticked towards the end of the regulation 90 looked like a hopeful and wasteful punt until the imposing figure of Naby Sarr appeared from the left, took a fantastic first touch and smashed home the winner in to the top corner.

As in 2019, on the very same date, Town ended this terrible year with a victory over the same opponents and by the same score line. It is to be hoped that the uplifting performance will not precede a year like the one now ending.

As so often, Town followed a disappointing display with a much improved performance against a decent Rovers side who rather failed to rise above the ordinary despite carrying intermittent threat and forcing an equaliser they barely deserved on the run of play having capitalised on the hosts’ failure to add a second from a variety of good moves.

If anything, the visitors shaded a relatively even first half and certainly had the best of the chances. Town were grateful for an excellent Toffolo block in the very first minute as Blackburn took control of the first half hour, culminating in two chances for Armstrong. The first saw Schofield make a genuinely world class save down to his left as Rovers’ marksman fired in a forceful shot from 5 yards, while his second opportunity was plonked in to the side netting from close in and completely unmarked.

Town moved the ball well at times but troubled Kaminski in the opposition goal only once when Bacuna, who was far more effective and disciplined in this game than in too many others, latched on to a deep cross at the far post forcing a good, if regulation, save.

Towards the end of a reasonably entertaining but far from flawless half, Toffolo should perhaps have done better when he was on the end of a flowing Town move rather than slicing his attempt wide. It was, however, a sign of things to come with the Terriers growing in to the game as the half progressed.
O’Brien, still struggling to regain the form he showed in the before times, gradually worked himself in to influencing the game from the left and produced a second half performance much more like his old self.

It was O’Brien who punctured Rovers’ constantly to create good openings in the final third, but hesitation and misplaced passes too often thwarted the home side. 

He was also unceremoniously chopped down by Lenihan early in the second half. The Blackburn  defender was either trying to create a diversion by claiming, with appropriate dramatics, that Campbell had stamped on him whilst prone or the Town striker had, indeed, extracted revenge for the assault. Either explanation could be true of an unedifying spectacle which was only exceeded when iFollow lingered far too long on a shot of Tony Mowbray excavating his lugs.

By now the far more progressive and dynamic of the two teams, Town took the lead from a superbly delivered Mbenza corner. Naby Sarr found space in the area and planted a header past a bemused Blackburn rearguard.

Taking advantage of the visitors’ lack of fluency, Town produced their best football following the goal, and just lacked composure to put the Lancastrians to bed. Most of the threat emanated from the O’Brien/Toffolo partnership down the left, a combination looking increasingly promising and necessary in the absence of Koroma.

Precision was lacking however and as a second goal eluded Town, Mowbray took a break from his aural grooming and made positive changes from the bench, a luxury not afforded to Corberán who, it should be said, repeatedly, has exceeded any expectations we could reasonably have given the injury list on top of a packed schedule.

The addition of Dack, Gallagher and, later, Downing increased Rovers’ potential potency though possibly at the expense of their previous defensive solidity, and Gallagher sounded a warning on the three quarter mark when converting from an offside position.

With less than 5 minutes to go, Rovers claimed an equaliser which vindicated Mowbray’s decisions. Relieved of what must have been enough wax for a candle, the under fire boss saw Gallagher react first to a cross parried by Schofield and it seemed that Town were to be sickened again by a late goal.

To their credit, Town reacted well and grabbed the 3 points with Sarr’s unlikely but excellent strike. Blackburn were unable to take advantage of the generous time added by a below average referee, and a winning end to the year was secured, reigniting thoughts of a play off challenge which is still likely to be beyond the current squad and, should it arise, would surely be far too soon.

For now, the growing gap to the bottom 3 should remain the focus. A mid 40s point tally is not very far away and a continued run of excellent home form, along with an upturn away should see Town safe by late February and maybe sooner. 

Good January recruitment would hasten the survival date – the quality and experience on the bench in recent times is untenable, though being forced to pick the same starters game after game may not be the handicap commonly assumed in these days of rotation.

Another good Championship side vanquished at home and any remaining doubts about Town’s competitiveness in this ever challenging league have surely disappeared.

Happy New Year everyone.