You lucky, lucky people

It is more likely than not that Huddersfield Town will scrape to survival from relegation as games run out for the teams below them and the point secured in a hugely fortunate draw with Rotherham should prove crucial to achieving that miserly, inadequate and unacceptable objective.

The thoroughly undeserved addition to Town’s measly total serves only to apply the thinnest of paper over the gaping holes in the strategies of a club in deep malaise and there will be no celebration afforded to retaining a status they barely deserve. That 3 clubs, and possibly another one or two, will prove worse performers is a massive indictment of them.

Escaping demotion, which should be accompanied by sighs of guilty relief and nothing approaching celebration, will be utterly futile if nothing is done to ensure that next season isn’t another desperate struggle. It is impossible to detect even the faintest sign that we will not all be here again and rather more indicating that an even grimmer outcome is more likely. And we haven’t survived yet.

Lowly, desperate Rotherham came to town to commence a sequence of 4 games in 8 days which may well condemn them and proceeded to dominate their hosts for three quarters of a crude encounter. 

The Millers will be rueing the woodwork, a referee who denied them a quite convincing penalty appeal and their own remarkable ineptitude in front of goal. They should take heart, however, that they won’t lack for effort and organisation for the monumental challenges of their tightly packed schedule. 

Perhaps the only slice of fortune for them was facing a team as confused and lacking in personality as Town. The failure to take advantage, which would have dragged Town deep in to the mire while providing themselves with a good platform for their week, is likely to be seminal for them.

For Town, the ineptitude of the first half at Carrow Road was equalled, and possibly exceeded, in the second half of this dreadful display. Lacking character, application and even the most basic of skills, Town were not helped by Corberán’s insistence on shoehorning players in to his selection, particularly on the left and what appeared to be a hybrid of his own preferred style of play and the rudimentary approach adopted in the recent past.

A clearly less than fit Pipa was deployed at left wing back, Holmes at right wing back while the two other full back or wing back alternatives were sat on the bench, presumably not trusted by a coach preferring imbalance. It isn’t easy to make a case for Jordan Brown, more so for Rowe, but Brown would have facilitated a true back four and the greater potential for midfield control which was absent for all but a brief spell in the first half.

Well organised and aggressive, Rotherham easily coped with the few moments of potential danger Town conjured, with only a decent Keogh effort causing the visitors the slightest concern. The defender, one of only two to come out with credit from a rancid afternoon, was thwarted by Johansson’s chest and a hasty clearance.

Keogh himself prevented Rotherham from taking the lead with a last ditch block to foil Crooks’ close range shot after Town had been carved open on Rotherham’s left far too easily.

Town’s minimal threat came exclusively from the right with occasionally decent link ups between Holmes and Bacuna falling short on delivery into the box. For all his presence as a line leader, and he works hard enough, Sanogo simply doesn’t look capable of scoring. He shows an occasional nice touch and can bring others in to play, but his main asset is nuisance value which wouldn’t look too out of place in the bottom divisions but it is simply not enough at Championship level. Ishmael Miller 2.0.

The Millers finished the half on the front foot and pinned Town in their own territory without creating much beyond slight concern. In fact, an attempted O’Brien headed back pass was the root of most consternation but Schofield baled him out with a decisive intervention.

As disappointing as the first half had been, and the reaction to the disaster in midweek was barely discernible, the abject response in the second was worryingly depressing.

Shapeless, error prone and paralysed by fear, the Terriers all but handed the game to the visitors who, for all their fight and resilience, were unable to collect the gifts handed to them.

Bar Keogh and Schofield, the former held things together as well as he could and the latter saved the day with an excellent save and some decent handling, the team was an almighty shambles seemingly at the mercy of their limited but massively superior opponents.

Within minutes, Town were spared going behind by a linesman’s flag and the stench of defeat became overwhelming from that moment. 

Possession was fleeting and misused, Sanogo and Campbell became superfluous to events and Rotherham dictated virtually every aspect of the play.

Subdued and out worked, the hosts spent swathes of the second half desperately repelling their better organised, more determined opponents who won each and every individual battle across the spectrum. Even in possession, hesitancy and misjudgement poisoned any attempt to reverse the tide. The opportunities to break on the odd occasion Rotherham over committed floundered on indecision and dreadful execution.

Early in the half, Town managed to screw up a 3 on 1 opportunity with baffling incompetence as neither Holmes nor Pipa seemed to want to make the decisive move. A decent run by Thomas, on for Pipa, failed to deliver a dangerous ball in to the box and a brief ascendancy ended.

On the hour, the increasingly woeful Terriers were off the hook again as Schofield was nearly caught out as Wing curled an excellent free kick effort on to the bar. In total control by then, Rotherham piled on the pressure and were desperately unlucky to find referee Moss in a forgiving mood as Sarr bundled in to Wood following more induced confusion in the box.

Spluttering attempts to gain some sort of foothold in the game invariably ended with poor control, passing or judgement as the visitors assumed control and a good hit by Wing following a half clearance was very well saved by Schofield as Town were relived once more.

Scott High, on for Holmes and Bacuna with Mbenza, made a good run from his own half but could only force a corner for lack of support, just ahead of the defining moment of the match which arrived amidst the dreary final minutes.

Sarr was beaten by a long ball and allowed Smith in to the box. His ball across wrong footed Edmonds-Green after bypassing Keogh only for Wiles to miss an open goal when it was far easier to score. It didn’t require wiliness of any kind and didn’t get it.

It would be churlish not to acknowledge the absence of good fortune since the turn of the year with a rolling, persistent injury crisis severely hampering Corberán, but the outrageous good fortune provided by this game, which is only enhanced by the vital point it gained over a fellow struggler, is huge compensation.

If omens are your thing, and grasping at straws is what this club tends to leave us with, the last time we demonstrably threw a game against superior opposition at Bournemouth, Town followed up with a miserable draw against a relegation rival followed by a home win over a contender.

The parallels are, to say the least, imperfect. Coventry didn’t deserve to beat us and Watford’s latest manager was coming to the end of a typically short tenure, but it is something to tenuously cling on to.

Longer term, a win and a draw will see Town survive but there is precious little optimism that next season will not simply be a repetition of the malaise which remains from the waste of legacy which continues to rankle an increasingly apathetic support.

7 (Seven)

An evening of desperate ignominy in Norfolk saw Huddersfield Town trounced by a relentlessly excellent Norwich who clearly didn’t receive the memo to go easy on a club who had decided that their priorities lay elsewhere.

Deliberately enfeebling the team for a second time this season, Corberán compounded this sin by managing to organise the ragbag of has beens, never wills and never should have beens in to a shape which surrendered swathes of space in the middle. Carlos’ opposite number sat quietly and contentedly through the ensuing massacre.

The quality of the men in yellow cannot be disputed. They played with a verve and conviction born of talent and familiarity who resisted the temptation to showboat as they pushed at the open door and filled their boots.

It was not their responsibility that the opposition not only fielded an unbalanced mess who appeared to have barely met each other before, they had a coach who, contrary to evidence and experience, emasculated his best player from Saturday’s commendable draw by playing him at left wingback. A position at which he has failed whenever the idiocy has been perpetrated.

With Holmes, who had an appallingly inept first half, failing to carry out even the rudimentary duties of a central midfielder, Carlos’ folly was exponentially increased. Directly responsible for the second goal, continuously guilty of losing possession and lacking positional awareness or the ability to track runners, the American’s disastrous performance was only slightly below many of his equally culpable team mates.

The entirely anonymous Ward made few errors but only by dent of having virtually no involvement whatsoever. An already cataclysmically bad signing, Ward showed less than nothing defending from the front, won nothing by air or land and made you yearn for Campbell’s professionally honest endeavour.

If the result wasn’t entirely in doubt before the ink dried on the lamentable team sheet, the late addition of  Joel “Lucky” Pereira following Schofield’s sudden and possibly diplomatic illness plunged Town’s prospects even further. 11 goals conceded in 2 games is not what you want on a CV.

Norwich’s opener came after just 8 minutes and just 30 seconds after Keogh made an excellent block to prevent a certain goal. The ball squirted out to Cantwell who skipped around Stearman and Duhaney with far too much ease before laying it in to the path of Pukki who caught Sarr flat footed from behind.

The listless defending so early in the game was an alarming harbinger of what was to come. The Canaries scented blood, the Terriers trembled and succumbed, though it took the hosts a little time to seal their victory with a second. 

A sublime ball from Cantwell to the offside Pukki nearly opened up the increasingly fragile Town defence, just before Buendia set the Finn on his way behind Stearman and Keogh, and in to the area to finish.

Holmes, and it is difficult to convey just how poor he performed, had managed to give the ball away cheaply just inside the Norwich half which allowed Buendia the opportunity to play an inch perfect pass in to space behind the central defenders.

Within 5 minutes, Buendia was allowed acres of space to move forward and easily defeat Sarr’s half hearted, half turned attempt at a block with an excellent shot which beat Pereira and went in off the post.

At this point, even the mild resistance of the Yorkshiremen had crumbled in the face of overwhelming superiority and a 4th goal soon arrived with the impressive Cantwell and Buendia combining for the lovely haired Canary to hit the top corner beyond the hapless Pereira.

With no discernible press up top, barely a tackle being attempted and a complete absence of cohesion, Town, already dead and buried, looked ripe for a huge defeat.

Other than some poorly executed corners, Norwich looked flawless as they ripped in to their wretched opponents. Buendia, a top level player in all but status and which will soon be resolved, hit the bar with an excellent free kick, though the relief for the visitors was short lived.

One time Town target Dowell touched a glorious dink over the visiting defence to the irrepressible Buendia who could have made it a good day for himself with another goal but unselfishly fed the ball back to Dowell for Norwich’s nap hand.

A torrid first half ended without further damage and the traumatised and bewildered visitors could seek the sanctuary of the dressing room to hide their humiliation and embarrassment. Surpassing even the Bournemouth debacle, the only thing to hope for was that they would scramble to recover whatever passes for pride these days at Huddersfield Town.

Scott High was thrown on to replace the woeful Stearman at the break, though any one of the toxic central defensive trio could have been hooked. Presumably, Stearman drew the long straw.

Some sense of normalcy descended in the opening stages of the second half as Norwich settled comfortably in full certainty of their victory and another stride to inevitable promotion.

The introduction of Thomas, for Hogg, and Rowe for Holmes allowed O’Brien to move in to midfield and Town actually enjoyed a very brief period of ascendancy, with Thomas showing more ambition and positivity in a few minutes than Mbenza and Ward had shown put together.

Just before the hour, Thomas finally brought Krul in to the game, forcing a decent save at his near post.

Ineptitude soon raised it’s ugly head, however, when Skipp surged in to Town’s half with no challenge until Mbenza decided it was a good idea to make one as the Spurs loanee entered the area. It was a little soft, but difficult to complain about when any sort of attempted tackle was likely to upend the opponent who was in full flow.

Pukki drove in the penalty for his hat trick.

Sensing defeat was on the cards, Corberán withdrew O’Brien and Sarr and, to emphasise the sheer horror of the whole evening, Bacuna was handed the captain’s armband. 

Any semblance of resistance collapsed again at this point and had Norwich capitalised, a historic defeat of Maine Road proportions and beyond was on the cards. As it was, only one further goal was added and the biggest defeat since November 1987 was suffered.

Humiliated, and with integrity considerably diminished, Town could only reflect on their opponents’ achievements following their relegation last season. While Norwich planned for demotion, the Terriers’ Premier League legacy is in tatters. If Rotherham are defeated on Saturday, the management and hierarchy may believe that the sacrifices made at Carrow Road will be deemed acceptable by the club’s supporters. They will be wrong.

Fielding a deliberately uncompetitive team in the hope that this will help towards a game against lowly Rotherham, who themselves were beaten comprehensively by bottom club Wycombe last time out, is both desperate and hugely disappointing. Even being in the position of scrabbling towards survival remains unacceptable.

Corberán’s repetition of his Bournemouth strategy, his incomprehensible deployment of O’Brien at left wing back and an ill advised reversion back to the tippy tappy nonsense he persisted with throughout the winless late winter months were hugely annoying and regrettably indicative of a refusal or inability to learn.
Having set out his stall, Rotherham must be vanquished. Minimum.

Inching to safety

Town edged closer to safety with a hard working performance, accompanied by some good fortune at significant moments, which thwarted a talented but rather pedestrian Brentford side whose automatic promotion hopes were dented.

A comfortable first 20 minutes would have been very different had Duhaney’s dallying on the ball been punished by Canos, who nicked possession, rather than halted by a referee who saw offence where there appeared none.

An early clash of heads between Vallejo and Norgaard didn’t seem to affect the Spaniard too much at first, despite long treatment following the incident, and he was instrumental in the opening goal. Brentford, strangely sluggish and particularly when playing out from the back, were punished when Vallejo robbed, ironically, Norgaard with the ball running free to O’Brien who wrong footed the Bees’ scrabbling keeper for a surprise lead.

Brentford were unable to respond as Town hassled them in possession with Sanogo and Campbell working hard up front to disrupt their flow and Vallejo and Hogg anchoring a midfield determined to restrict attempts to play through the lines.

The game suffered as a spectacle but the monotony was broken briefly by an excellent run and cross by Holmes down the right, but it was too high for O’Brien who had burst in to the area.

Vallejo had to leave the field half way through the first period and with him went Town’s control and dominance. Unbalanced, the Terriers’ dogged performance dipped and the visitors’ naturally superior ability came to the fore and an equaliser looked extremely likely before the break.

A combination of poor finishing, strange officiating and some decent last ditch defending thwarted them. 
Almost immediately after Vallejo’s replacement by Bacuna, a lovely dummy in midfield by Toney released Canos who fed Janelt in to the area. A slightly poor first touch allowed Sarr to get back and, in combination with Schofield, they thwarted the German.

Encouraged, the visitors proceeded to dominate the rest of the half without achieving their usual quality, particularly in front of goal. They should have been given the opportunity to equalise when Naby Sarr used his arm to get a high ball back to Schofield with the menace of Toney far too close to comfort. The assistant on the right was unconvinced despite being well placed.

Further incursions ended with desperately poor attempts and despite their increasing superiority, Schofield was untroubled and the defence largely unruffled. Nevertheless, it was a relief for Town when the half time whistle blew.

The Bees’ intent for the second half was clear for all to see as 8 players were strung across the halfway line for the kick off and their strong start was quickly rewarded.

Town were as convinced that a throw in should have gone their way as they were unprofessional enough to allow a quick execution thoroughly expose their defence. A dangerous cross towards the onrushing Jansson hit his upper arm and was excellently cleared by Sarr from the line, only for the second ball in to fall very kindly for Sorensen who squeezed the ball in.

Despite several elements of good fortune surrounding the goal, it was well deserved and there was a genuine fear that the home side could be overwhelmed as the visitors surged with confidence. Those fears were heightened just a minute after the leveller when Toney got free for once and smashed a great effort past Schofield but on to the upright.

Strangely, Brentford failed to maintain their momentum and, largely through the energy of O’Brien, bang back in form, Town took back some control. Unfortunately, the free kicks and corners which flowed from their more aggressive approach were invariably wasted. Bacuna hit a promisingly positioned free kick over and failed to clear the first man on a couple of others.

It was also Town’s turn to feel aggrieved at a penalty decision. Inevitably, it was O’Brien bursting past Brentford’s right back which led to an apparent clip but the referee decided it was jointly attributable clumsiness, though a similar challenge outside the area would likely have been given.

The best chance for the hosts fell to Duhaney who capitalised on good work from the industrious Sanogo, but his clever duping of the Brentford defender in his way forced the ball on to his weaker left foot and he couldn’t generate power nor direction to get it past Raya.

The final 15 minutes belonged to the Bees, whose need for 3 points was rather more pressing. A point from a fixture as difficult as this was sufficient for the Terriers and they were admirably dogged in their protection of it.
Schofield made a decent save down to his right to foil Fosu and one or two balls in to the box caused mild palpitations, but the guile associated with Brentford was largely absent and Toney was excellently marshalled bar the effort just after the equaliser.

While the point was most welcome and the dogged performance showed character, there was little to enjoy besides O’Brien’s return to full form. However, it is difficult to imagine the Town of a month ago gaining a return from such a challenging fixture; Corberán’s decision to abandon his principles has probably saved the club from much deeper trouble, even if that trouble is not entirely eliminated.

The unbeaten run, diluted somewhat by the fact it contains only one win, will be under severe threat on Tuesday evening in Norwich ahead of a meeting with Rotherham which could be the one which realistically, if not mathematically, guarantees Championship football next season. Carlos should not apply a Bournemouth style gamble to concentrate on the winnable weekend fixture, he should take the positives from this draw and continue to build on the spirit now clearly visible in the team.

Survival however, if and when it arrives, must be the catalyst for a brighter future. Dogged late season avoidance of disaster needs to be banished. It is difficult to see how many of yesterday’s team can achieve this despite their commendable resilience and the result, but for now it is on them to finish the job at hand.

I’d walk a million miles….

As a 9 year old boy, my first season watching Huddersfield Town was 1969/70. What a season to start with, though the fact that I never saw them lose (Blackburn was a school night and the only home game I missed) rather heightened expectations for the future.

50 years on, I can still recite the usual starting 11 in that wonderful team, aided by the fact that the club only used 15 players in the whole season.

Amongst Town legends like Cherry, Nicholson, McGill, Poole and all the rest, Frank Worthington stood out even further.

The epitome of cool, Frank’s playing style allied flair and skill with the work rate demanded by the late, great Ian Greaves. To a young boy, the glamour attaching to this consummate footballer was dazzling and getting his autograph after every home game became a ritual; he would scrawl across two pages of my little book with a flourish that seemed to last as long as the match itself.

21 times I waited at the old player’s entrance at Leeds Road to get close to these unfathomably glamorous young men and Frank stopped every time. Off the field, you could only marvel at the lifestyle you imagined he had. Even years before celebrity culture, Frank effortlessly exuded star quality but was always approachable and very good to the kids lining up for a brief moment of proximity.

Ineffably glamorous with a luscious mane, Frank stood out wherever he played and thrived in a Town side which combined flair, hardness and endless energy as they swatted their rivals aside to the 2nd Division championship.

I was too young to appreciate the finer points of Frank as a player; rather, it was instinctively obvious that you were seeing something special. As the goal scorer and front man, he demanded attention even though surrounded by many other memorable talents. Cherry’s cultured defending, Nicholson’s experienced leadership, Lawton’s mercurial inside forward play, McGill’s enforcement and all the others’ qualities, framed Frank’s consummate performances.

For it was Frank who added bags of personality to a side rarely, if ever, matched in the decades since. 

I hated it when he turned out for many, many other teams following his inevitable departure from a club which simply couldn’t or wouldn’t match his ambition. The tributes from all of his clubs have flowed today, testament to a long career short on medals but long on fantastic entertainment.

I will always associate Frank Worthington with the very start of my obsession with Huddersfield Town and football. 

RIP Frank.

Anguished ‘owls

Like two drunks brawling at chucking out time, and to the amusement and embarrassment of the onlooking public, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town’s undignified contest ended in a draw with few punches landed and little evidence that redemption for either was any closer.

The point earned by the visitors almost certainly put themselves out of reach of their hosts, who look increasingly doomed, and survival a little closer. One result aside, with Birmingham achieving an immediate new manager bounce, the midweek fixtures have been kind and Saturday’s fixtures look very tough for the majority of those below Town, who will rest up now for over 2 weeks.

Hopefully, the enforced lay off can be used to get more players fit but, just as importantly, for some reflection on how they are going to make progress next season. It is accepted that the loss of key players throughout a long winter has forced Corberán to abandon his high level principles, but the style of football and the identity for which they yearn is as far away as ever.

As ever, a promising opening spell which saw some decent approach play let down by poor decision making faded as intensity fell away and mistakes proliferated. A vital first goal never really looked like arriving, though Holmes spurned a good opportunity set up by O’Brien, should have laid Bacuna in on another attack but delayed and Campbell opted to try and win a penalty rather than take on a first time shot with a relatively high chance of success. 

The penalty shout was legitimate if a little optimistic, but may have influenced the referee waving away a much clearer shout when Rhodes was felled by Keogh later; a penalty which would have doubled Wednesday’s lead and, very likely, secured the points. Perhaps referees just have days when they don’t want to award penalties?

The denied appeal marked the end of Town’s promising opening and stagnation set in. Despite being regularly gifted possession by the Owls, the pronounced lack of movement, subsequent indecision and slow play cemented the visitors in to a pretty woeful performance.

Somewhat against the run of play, which should not be taken as an endorsement of Town’s display at the time and more an indictment of a game plunging to scruffy depths, Wednesday took the lead. Town gave up possession, Rhodes spotted an opportunity to lift the ball behind the back 3, with Pipa stranded up field, and Windass easily outpaced the wrong footed Sarr before beating Schofield at his near post.

The combination of 2 ex-Town men was galling, and another, Kachunga, almost won the game late on with a clever reverse ball which freed Paterson only for Schofield to make a good save to preserve the point. Two pieces of quality entirely out of keeping with the drab affair they momentarily enlivened.

Going behind did little to inject any urgency in to the visitors as individuals persistently failed to spark. Holmes’ energy was invariably undermined by poor execution, Bacuna was continually caught in possession and the less said of Duhaney the better. Unusually, Hogg failed to exert any real influence and perhaps Campbell’s prolonged sulk over the penalty was the reason he contributed next to nothing in a horrible first half.

Bacuna improved after the break, but only by dent of his complete anonymity preventing him making more errors which had exposed his lackadaisical approach to a game which demanded concentration and application.

A change of shape at half time saw Mbenza replace Edmonds-Green, though it was difficult to understand why Corberán persisted with Pipa on the left with the Spaniard struggling to have any influence on the game. It was crying out for Rowe to replace Duhaney and switch Pipa over to the right. An even stronger call would have been to bring on Sanogo to offer an actual threat up front.

On the hour, and after 15 minutes of ineffable dirge from both sides, the big Frenchman was finally introduced. It would be ridiculous to suggest that the Terriers’ game improved to any great extent with his introduction, but Wednesday were being asked different questions with his presence and enthusiasm.

The equaliser came, perhaps, because Town were more confident putting the ball in to the box with a tangible target available.

Mbenza curled a delivery from quite deep in to a good area and found Sarr. His effort on the stretch was well saved but hit Paterson, under pressure from Campbell, and ricocheted apologetically in to the net.

An own goal, then, has almost certainly condemned Wednesday to League 1. Ironically, their current straightened circumstances can possibly be traced back to 2017 and another own goal conceded to the same team. Town have since taken a handful of memories away before reverting to pretty much the same state, while Wednesday stare in to the black hole beneath them. 

Sadly apt that this instantly forgettable game was played out to a near empty stadium – apologies if you hear any bad language echoing around – rather than a cauldron.

A brief appearance of entertainment intruded towards the end as the dozy combatants strived for a winner, with a deflected O’Brien effort coming close to winning a thoroughly undeserved 3 points, while Schofield’s save proved crucial for the visitors.

Town now need a handful of points for survival followed by an urgent need for transformation, while Wednesday’s future looks as uncertain and bleak as ever.

Good Hogg Almighty

Town took a huge stride towards safety by finally winning away from home for the first time since October, with a solid, though not flawless, performance against a QPR side who were uncannily reminiscent of their opponents for much of the proceedings.

With Hogg back in the side protecting the back 3, largely negating the threat of Rangers’ creative midfield and setting the tempo of Town’s game, the Terriers’ chances of victory, or at least the avoidance of defeat, were raised.

Other than one moment in the first half when he was caught too far forward and bypassed, it was a perfect day for the captain whose leadership is always sorely missed.

Following a familiar pattern, Town started brightly and threatened in the early stages. An O’Brien burst ended in a decent effort, though Dieng in the Rangers’ goal made a meal of a straightforward save, and Mbenza shot wide from distance. Naby Sarr could also have done better with an excellent Mbenza cross as the visitors dominated.

The contest evened up after 10 minutes as both sides strived to exert authority with little success. Town had a further opportunity near the half hour when an unmarked Keogh headed just wide from a corner, only for the miss to serve as a prelude for the hosts’ best spell, which should have seen them take the lead.

Seizing control of possession, with Rangers capitalising on an error in midfield by Rowe and opening up Town’s left side, the sporadically dangerous Chair played in Kane for a chance he should have buried. Instead, Schofield was able to make a decent if straightforward save and, crucially, clear the ball with his foot before Kane could atone for his weak effort.

The miss was pivotal. QPR continued to dominate but with muted threat while Town, even during their least comfortable spell, created a decent chance when Keogh, who was excellent throughout, surged from the halfway line to just outside the area and fed Bacuna to his left. The mercurial midfielder didn’t quite control his shot after a good first touch and fired over.

The visitors, however, were the more relieved for the half time whistle.

An entirely deserved victory was secured in a second half which was almost entirely in their control. Despite the hosts having the lion’s share of possession, Town’s defensive discipline, from front to back, rarely wavered, and when they had the ball, their threat was more potent.

The early introduction of Holmes and Duhaney, for Mbenza and Rowe, changed the dynamic and stiffened the team’s defensive resilience and, in the case of Holmes, added a little unpredictability in attack.

Neither were involved in the winning goal, which came shortly after their introduction, however. 

The excellent Naby Sarr pushed a lovely pass in to space for O’Brien who drew players towards him before laying the ball out to Pipa, raiding down the left. The Spaniard teased the opponents in front of him before laying a great ball with the outside of his foot in to the path of Bacuna who smashed the ball past a stationary Dieng.

With the lead, Town took control of the game and could have won more comfortably. Ceding possession intelligently, they allowed QPR to paint pretty pictures in the middle third and smothered the rare occasions they threatened to threaten.

Other than a miscalculation by Sarr of a hasty clearance by the hosts as a Town attack broke down – the odious Charlie Austin shanked an attempted cross with the recovering Sarr in pursuit – and a comedy moment when Duhaney managed to concede a corner by firing an attempted clearance on to himself, Town controlled the contest after the goal.

It is worth mentioning that Austin was ineffective throughout, until subbed, but again managed to kick out at a prone Huddersfield Town player (Bacuna), using the cover of the ball being stuck under his body after being fouled. Coward.

Town’s transition play, often involving Holmes, O’Brien and Pipa was as impressive as their defending and they deserved a greater margin of victory.

Shortly after taking the lead, Bacuna fired a free kick just wide, Holmes had a good effort kept out rather awkwardly by Dieng and Pipa curled an effort just over the bar. 

Perhaps the best chance fell to substitute Sanogo who threw his body in front of a near post ball from O’Brien, but the ball bumbled wide. 

An impressive second half, built on discipline, control and creative offensive play secured a hugely welcome and important 3 points to finally drag the Terriers over the 40 point mark and in sight of safety, which should be quite a few below 50.

A long, tough winter nears it’s end and the possibility of sustained momentum could provide a better than expected finale to the season.

Backbone located

Carlos Corberán may have come of age, counter intuitively, with an ugly goalless draw against an in form but rather tired looking Cardiff City side who brought their brand of powerful, effective and physical football to the John Smith’s Stadium and left with a barely deserved point.

Throughout the season, and even with the services of important players still missing in action, a persistent impression has been that the occasionally attractive style he clearly wants to impose was some way beyond the squad he has. The demands of insistent possession alongside the energy required to accomplish superiority have, all too often, weighed down on a team not equipped to maintain it.

The philosophy is laudable but flawed by its practitioners lacking the muscle memory to sustain it for more than brief periods. Sometimes, in those heady days before the turn of the year, those periods were enough to carry the team home but, in the main, a collection of players were playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order for too long periods.

As they strived to adapt, there was an overwhelming sense that they never really earned the right to play with beautiful fluency and the glaring weaknesses could be and were exploited in the unforgiving Championship. The loss of key individuals to a string of injuries upended the progress to mid table comfort which allowed experimentation, but didn’t bring the necessary adjustments to the ideals and an alarming plunge in to trouble has ensued.

Faced with a schedule packed with muscle and established nous, Town have been slow to adapt their own circumstances to reality but the terrible spectacle midweek against Birmingham signalled long overdue change as the Terriers finally adopted a strategy to minimise rather than invite risk. But for a freakish equaliser, the newly found pragmatism should have yielded an undeserved win, and against opponents far more powerful and adept, a single point was earned when 3 were deserved.

The recent elevation of Mick McCarthy to Shankly, Ferguson and Pep levels of managerial genius on the back of an admittedly extended new boss bounce with a squad preternaturally suited to him, coupled with the glaringly obvious mismatch of known strengths and weaknesses, was enough to condemn Town to defeat before a ball was kicked.

The likeable Yorkshireman, last seen in this division leading Ipswich to season after season of such stultifying banality that he was sacked in favour of more entertainment only for his successor to land them immediately in to League One, was celebrating his 1,000th game as a manager. 

Stage set.

Painful as it must have been for the transparently idealistic Corberán, all pretence of cleaving to his principles was dispelled by a glance at the team sheet with 2 up front and 3 centre halves. All that needed to be added was resilience, risk aversion and calm competence.

An attritional first half with limited opportunities for either side was more notable for Town’s durability in the face of Cardiff’s predictable aerial assaults from free kicks, corners and throw ins. The first of these, with Schofield allowing an unusually high lofted ball to reach the far post before he recovered well to block an attempt from the knock down appeared portentous but things got better.

The Bluebirds’ direct approach and second ball strategy seemed a little blunted, and Keogh and Sarr should take credit for meeting the challenge, though a good effort from Vaulks required a good save by Schofield and Flint hit the bar from a position incorrectly ruled offside.

For Town, most of the threat came down the right with Bacuna and Rowe linking well without being able to deliver good enough quality in to the box. Debutant Sanango wasn’t given enough opportunity to shine and was rather anonymous through no real fault of his own.

Bacuna also nearly threaded an excellent ball through to Campbell but a slight touch from Morrison saved the day for the visitors. He also fired in a reasonable effort from a Mbenza range free kick which was well saved by Phillips.

As the half came to a close, Flint tripped Sarr near the touchline and an incensed Bacuna raised his hand to the giant central defender. Perhaps the comedy value of seeing Bacuna square up to the aptly named Flint took the tension out of the situation and, remarkably, neither was booked. On another day, Town’s enigmatic midfielder could have seen red.

Overall though, Town competed well and minimised the errors which have plagued their season, though Edmonds-Green, the least comfortable of the back 3, got away with dallying in possession and was rescued by the rapidly retreating Sarr.

A far better second half largely belonged to the hosts whose defensive discipline was maintained, on the whole, and they had now earned the right to be a little more expansive if still wary of an in form opposition.

Sanogo had much more influence as team mates began to probe more effectively. This was particularly true of O’Brien whose surges began to worry, justifiably, the Cardiff back line.

The partnership between Campbell and Sanogo began to take some sort of shape. Though the couple of occasions the debutant won his battles and fed his partner narrowly failed to create chances, it was encouraging to see early signs of understanding, and with one of them resulting in a booking for Morrison’s hauling back of Campbell, a chink in their armour was revealed.

Town’s first chance of the half fell to Keogh from a Bacuna delivered free kick. The returning defender escaped attention in the box but the ball was slightly behind him, affecting his header’s direction and power.

With Cardiff largely subdued, Town seized the opportunity to play and an excellent O’Brien burst in to the area saw a blocked Rowe shot lead to him being brought down while hunting the loose ball.

Sadly, poor execution by the surprise taker, Sanogo, who fired badly wide of the target meant that Town wasted their easiest opportunity to record an unexpected win. A case could be made for Sanogo to be designated penalty taker to give an immediate confidence boost for a striker who hasn’t played competitively for a long time. Which is also the case against him.

As demoralising as the miss was, that it didn’t lead to mental collapse was encouraging. Town continued to boss the contest and two further, very presentable, chances were created.

First, Campbell nicked the ball from a hesitant opponent and freed O’Brien to measure an excellent pass behind Cardiff’s right side in to the path of Pipa. The Spaniard tried to work the ball on to his favoured right foot which caused a momentary loss of momentum and the split second was fully exploited by Phillips who made a good save from a closer range than he should have been allowed.

An even better chance fell to Campbell in the box following Sarr winning another aerial dual. Snatching at the effort when he had more time than he appreciated, and perhaps, like the rest of us, assuming he was offside, Campbell spooned the ball over the bar with an overly acrobatic effort.

Despite the frustration of dropping 2 more points in a week which should have harvested 6, this was a gritty and resolute performance where standards were largely maintained against an uncompromising opponent which has far too often not been the case against the more physical sides.

Relegation worries are far from over, indeed they may increase with other results, but adhering to basic principles rather than leaping straight in to the fancy stuff is a major and welcome shift by Corberán.

With 8 days until the next game at Loftus Road, there is time for the indispensable Hogg to return, gives time to work on the Campbell/Sanogo partnership and aid Stearman’s return to the fold.

Above all, Town finally appeared to understand the gravity of their situation and adopt the qualities required to meet the uneasy challenges which await. Consistency is now essential and a reversal of their horrifically poor away form their immediate next objective.

Blues deepen

As the returning Richard Stearman lay prostrate following an elbow to his chin just 5 minutes in to a vital game for both sides, the usual early minutes dispensation rules meant Harlee Dean stayed on the pitch and, thankfully, Town were spared the ignominy of failing to beat 10 men.

They failed to beat a full complement too, but at least they had the consolation of the reprieved Dean presenting Campbell with the opening goal for a lead which, of course, they proceeded to surrender.

It was an advantage the Terriers did not deserve.

Indeed, after a contest pregnant with palpable tension, comically poor passing and lacking quality in all areas it could be argued that neither side deserved the point each took to marginally improve their survival chances.

Birmingham, fresh from a confidence boosting victory at the weekend, carried a little more flair in the first half than the hosts though it rarely translated in to the final third and scoring opportunities and most of the fabulously inept executions of passing came from their feet.

Unrelentingly dire, the first half past with little of note to report. Birmingham threw a few crosses in which caused virtually no concern while Town’s laboured ventures forward scarcely troubled the visitors until an incorrectly awarded free kick was blazed over a wall positioned about 2 yards closer than it should have been by Mbenza.

Both sides looked every inch the relegation candidates they have become. Few risks were taken and both appeared paralysed by doubt. With fluency absent, Town relied on Campbell’s willingness to work Birmingham’s back line while City, unsurprisingly, looked for Jutkiewicz long and often.

Improvement came there none after the break. Mbenza disappeared, Pipa’s worryingly poor form continued and O’Brien gave away possession at will. Vallejo was unable to spark any reaction from deep as the game drifted towards a stultifying stalemate.

Just after the hour, however, a goal arrived out of the blue. Dean’s fluffed attempted clearance of a nothing ball in to the box fell nicely to Town’s lone striker who hit it very sweetly from just outside the area. The quality of the strike was entirely out of keeping with the dirge which preceded it.

The visitors’ equaliser came along immediately and it’s ugliness was far more fitting.

A corner from the right beat Campbell’s near post cover, dropped and died in front of Roberts who gleefully converted. Though later inquest may point fingers, there was a freakishness about the goal which summed up Town’s recent fortune. Not that they earned any luck in this fixture.

For much of the rest of the game, Birmingham looked more likely to grab a winner as Town became nervy. They weren’t helped by Corberán’s strange decision to replace Vallejo with Scott High. 

The Spaniard had produced little of influence but does exude calm on the ball while the youngster looked lost and his inexperience rather shone out. To his credit, he made a good tackle late on to stop a dangerous Birmingham foray.

Towards the end of the seemingly interminable struggle, Town got on top but a series of balls in to the box from corners, a free kick and open play were easily dealt with despite the presence of Sanogo who couldn’t get in to the game in his 15 minutes in place of Campbell.

The best opportunity was provided by Bacuna, probably the best of a bad Town bunch on the night, who burst in to the area but was unable to hit a colleague with his lay back.

It was Birmingham, however, who came closest to grabbing a winner as Sarr inadvertently nodded on a long throw in to the path of Hogan who flicked over.

The final flurries of action could not disguise the worrying lack of quality, cohesion or purpose and the final whistle came as a blessing with both sides relieved at least not to have lost. For Town, pressure continues to weigh down the team and management and there were few signs of any upturn in fortunes on the horizon.

With a rampant Cardiff due next, Town’s plight remains precarious and their future worryingly reliant on others’ failings. 

Dizzying descent at Deepdale

The nagging feeling that the excellent score line and result against Swansea last weekend was more a freakish outlier than a turn in fortunes was confirmed just a few days later at Derby and hammered home at Deepdale as Town’s survival hopes increasingly rely on others’ ineptitude.

While defeat in Preston, and indeed, at Derby or Middlesbrough, is hardly surprising given results over decades, this doesn’t make these 3 reversals any more forgivable or the concern any less alarming. This is not to give credence to the idiotic idea that certain grounds are jinxed and affect generations of players.

The midweek display at Pride Park held no redeeming features and despite a fair amount of first half misfortune, neither did this latest away defeat.

Right up until the Lilywhites’ opener, at the midway point of the first half, Town had dominated play, created two decent openings forcing good saves and were denied 2 penalties by a referee who baffled and confounded the visitors all afternoon.

The first opportunity for the Terriers arrived after a bright opening (again) with Mbenza forcing a decent, if routine, save from the keeper from range. 

An uneventful period featuring good spells of Town possession, particularly down the left where Pipa, O’Brien and Holmes offered good combinations but little penetration was followed by the defining 5 minutes of the game.

First, Campbell was played through behind Preston’s defence and appeared to be bundled to the floor as he got in front of his marker. While the collision could have been interpreted as a simple coming together, Campbell was through and had zero incentive to fall and later in the half, Edmonds-Green was booked for making a similar challenge just outside the box.

If the benefit of the doubt could be given to the defender in that incident, the next penalty shout was much louder and more convincing. O’Brien raced in to the area to chase down a short back pass to the keeper only for the defender who made the errant pass to take two steps in to his path and completely wipe him out. 

This isn’t to say that Town, who have missed both penalties awarded to them this season, would have converted it or gone on to gain anything from the fixture, but taking the lead at that point, against a team who had yet to win at home in 2021, would have altered the whole outlook.

In open play, an excellent ball through by Sarr found Holmes who cleverly lifted the ball over the despairing legs of 2 defenders to another O’Brien surge only for Iversen to cut out any angles and block the attempt.

This proved to be the high watermark of yet another dismal away defeat as the promising opening disintegrated like bones in an acid bath. Movement stagnated, passing perceptibly slowed and errors began to accumulate.

Seasoned followers of the Terriers know that the promise of a bright start rarely translates in to points and Preston, largely passive in the opening stages, pounced.

Latching on to a mistake in the middle of the park, Evans played in Sinclair behind Sarr and though Schofield made a good point blank save the ball fell to Potts who struck a powerful shot goal wards which Sarr tried to keep out only for it to roll agonisingly in under his foot. To be fair to the big defender, he was in the right position again but could not add to the several last ditch saves he has made this season.

The hosts barely deserved their lead, and should have been behind but for a negligent referee, but the lift of a goal eased their own home demons considerably and they proceeded to run out comfortable winners by the end.

A poor final 15 minutes of the first half for the visitors, along with Edmonds-Green’s booking for a foul on the hosts stand out player in the first half, Gordon, prompted a change at half time which very probably doomed Town to their fate.

Though Rowe, who came on for Edmonds-Green, was far from responsible for the characterless mundanity which followed, and indeed was considerably brighter than most, the switch of Pipa to the right after a reasonably effective stint on the left seemed an over reaction.

The Spaniard had a dreadful second half but was far from alone as all semblance of togetherness and cohesion evaporated in a display as dispiriting as many of the others in this dreadful year.

Posing little threat, it was no surprise when yet another individual error exposed Town’s back line. Mbenza inexplicably tried to push the ball in to space behind a Preston player but, presumably, had not seen another Lilywhite waiting to collect. Within seconds, Preston had gone two up as Potts, who had struck the bar with a good effort shortly beforehand, set up Evans for a routine finish in the box.

Defeat was inevitable from that point, though Sarr should have done better when trying to divert an O’Brien shot following a corner when all alone in the box.

By this point, Holmes had been replaced by Phillips as Town changed shape from whatever they were in before to a new one which proved as ineffective. Again, the substitute tried hard and there is some promise but it is difficult to know how Phillips will develop as part of a team which inexplicably ceases functioning on a whim. Ditto for Scott High, on for Mbenza.

Further changes saw the first outing of Sanogo in place of Campbell and Stearman on for Keogh. The debutant looked reasonably energetic but it would be ludicrous to judge him in this abysmal context. 

Multiple substitutions failed to affect anything approaching change as Town failed miserably to rediscover any tempo and struggled to even hint at carrying threat. A final blow never seemed far away and it duly arrived.

As a Town corner broke down, Preston launched a devastating counter attack with 10 minutes to go. Barkhuizen was released down the left, pursued by Phillips, who laid a perfect ball for Sinclair to smash home in some style. In common with the second goal, the hosts showed how to attack with pace and purpose.

The comprehensive defeat leaves the club under great pressure. The coach is sitting on an appalling record in 2021 and one which very few Championship bosses would survive, the game against Birmingham is now elevated possibly beyond the mentality of these players and the unrest at the Chairman’s decisions is growing very loud.

It is difficult to see beyond a crushing single goal defeat on Tuesday night against a team who will employ the complex tactic of allowing Town futile possession, sitting back and waiting for the inevitable error. 

A coach searching for answers for a team bursting with frailty in March as disaster looms simply isn’t good enough. The injury excuse, once genuine when added to the disruption it initially wrought, is now gossamer thin. Genuinely committed teams would respond to the adversity rather than be crushed by it and enough time has elapsed for solutions to have been adopted and applied yet the exact same issues arise in virtually every game.

Another defining week in store.


My Derby report went in the bin. A lot of research was expended on Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire” in an attempt to make a point about Town’s decades of failure at Middlesbrough, Derby and Preston. Writing it was tortuous, but not as tortuous as reading it would have been so I spared you all!

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.