Home Comforts

Long serving Watford coach Vladimir Ivic was relieved of his duties following defeat at Huddersfield Town, who produced a disciplined and mature performance to earn their 4th home victory in a row, and their third straight 2-0 victory built on early momentum and secured with accomplished game management.

The Hornets’ hierarchy’s patience and forbearance is marginally longer than a toddler’s, but it is difficult to sympathise with a coach of an expensive and talented squad who has delivered such meagre returns away from Vicarage Road. 

Blessed with athleticism, extensive Premier League experience and the finances to blow this division away, Ivic has inspired his charges to score just 4 goals on the road and though sporadically threatening in this encounter, they showed precious little personality and fully deserved their defeat.

In contrast, Town shrugged off the drab midweek display at Coventry with one of their best showings of the season. With 4 points in the bag in the space of a few days, perhaps Corberán’s decisions which resulted in a hammering at Bournemouth can be viewed in perspective, if not entirely forgiven by all.

The game followed the same pattern as the previous 2-0 home victories but against significantly superior opposition. Establishing a two goal cushion by around the half hour, defending it with intensity and threatening on the break against tiring, likely demoralised opposition is giving the lie to the supposed danger of leading by 2. If they could push on and actually grab that 3rd, however, that would be most welcome.

Town started on the front foot with Pipa carrying the ball forward with menace and linking well with Mbenza down the right. An early corner was forced along with a free kick in Mbenza range which the Belgian fired over the bar.

Another surge by Mbenza lead to the opener. Despite losing possession, he pressed on towards Foster who inexplicably tried to bypass Mbenza with a ball to a team mate only for the inevitable ricochet to fall for Campbell to convert from close range. Arguably the best keeper outside the top division, Foster’s aberration was difficult to comprehend but after suffering so many similar reverses this season, it was particularly sweet to finally be the recipient.

Watford responded to the setback and Town were grateful for Schofield’s excellent positioning to deny Garner at close range, while a Cleverley drive from just outside the area sailed just wide, though Schofield had it covered. It was the only decent effort from a puzzling series of attempts from distance by Watford players.

Schofield was similarly well positioned to block a glance off the head of the hugely disappointing Andre Gray and a 10 minute period of dominance from the visitors had been negotiated.

Just past the half hour mark, Campbell played in Mbenza with an excellent ball down the left and Watford were only saved by a late intervention as the rehabilitated winger shaped to shoot. The reprieve was instantly negated as Capoue inexplicably sliced the resultant corner in to his own net, under no pressure.

The lead was as welcome as it was flattering, putting the Terriers in a commanding position, but the visitors came again to try to grab one back before the break. Town were grateful for Schofield again as he cut out a dangerous low cross and the advantage was preserved.

Unsurprisingly, the Hornets set up camp in the home half on resumption. Despite being largely pegged back, Town soaked up pressure with a reasonable amount of comfort and the excellent Sarr, unflappable Edmonds-Green and industrious Hogg swamped the increasingly urgent probing with discipline and controlled aggression.

A rare foray upfield lead to a very good opportunity rather wasted by the off colour Eiting. Epitomising possibly his finest 90 minutes in a Town shirt, Frazier Campbell burst down the left, fed O’Brien who moved the ball on to the Dutchman. Rather than finding one of the 2 unmarked players to his right, Eiting hit a weak shot at Foster.

Content to sit back and soak up pressure, Town dealt with the visitors’ diminishing threat reasonably comfortably but were once more grateful to Schofield for a close range save blocking Gray’s touch on a Garner drive.
An enormously satisfying victory over a very good, if clearly dysfunctional, Watford was achieved with resilience, discipline and calm.

A good indicator of the high level of performance is the difficulty in pinning down the man of the match for the Terriers. With candidates from all over the pitch reflecting the collective excellence, it was a triumph of the whole unit from Schofield to Campbell.

Sarr put his Bournemouth nightmare behind him and outshone his more celebrated namesake while beside him, the poise and elegance of Edmonds-Green belied his inexperience; it will be fascinating and joyful to witness his development.

Pipa, despite a tendency to overplay on occasion, demonstrated his class once more while Toffolo, with no little help from an unusually disciplined Bacuna, stemmed much of the danger from Watford’s right flank.

Jonathan Hogg was Jonathon Hogg. Aggressive, pivotal, leading, cajoling and everywhere against his former club. O’Brien made further steps towards the player he was before his injury and rather compensated for Eiting’s subdued display.

Up front, Mbenza had an excellent first half and was directly involved in both goals. Surely, even the most unforgiving will accept that his transformation is complete?

Above all, however, was Campbell. Despite carrying a knock for a worryingly long time, his managed aggression, intelligence and harrying of the Hornets’ back line was an exemplar of centre forward play and topped off with a goal.

A wholly satisfying victory and the prospect of new recruits adding much needed depth to the squad in the New Year points to a bright future as we watch the Corberán project grow.

Merry Christmas everyone.

It’s been a long, long, long time

Nearly 50 years after their last league meeting, Town and Coventry produced a game which will live as long in the memory. Just kidding. Those of us who were at that last meeting and were wondering if our paths would ever cross again can console ourselves that we were unable to witness it in the flesh.

Played in a weird half light on a poor looking pitch hammered by 2 teams, twice a week and week in week out, both sides had promising spells in a reasonable first half but lost their way after the break with errors strewn across 45 minutes of numbing irrelevance.

A bright start by the Sky Blues, orchestrated by the busy Hamer, featuring a couple of long range shots which didn’t trouble Schofield soon faded and the visitors had the better of the first half.

O’Brien twice played in Mbenza for chances, the second of which should’ve seen Town in front and a potentially very different game ahead than the rather bloodless affair which unfolded. Mbenza, who had a good first half, also forced a very good save from Wilson after O’Brien’s first assist.

While Town rued Mbenza missing the target from a slightly wide angle – he could and maybe should’ve played in the unmarked Bacuna for a certain goal – Coventry broke quickly and menacingly following a Town corner only for Hamer to blaze over.

Those 3 incidents temporarily elevated an otherwise average contest. Town largely controlled the game but failure to translate their ascendancy in to a lead lay the foundations for a scruffy second half performance which was far more tired than was expected with the return of the senior players from their weekend rest.

Struggling to find any sort of fluency, the Terriers’ performance deteriorated badly after half time. The threat from the Mbenza/Pipa flank, prominent before the break, faded entirely, perhaps hampered by a booking for the Spaniard who had been very fortunate not to see a yellow in the opening 10 minutes, while Toffolo hardly threatened down the left all evening as the need to find a more focused and reliable replacement for Koroma became more and more apparent.

O’Brien’s running with the ball wasn’t matched by his passing which was often wasteful. He wasn’t alone in giving up cheap possession and with his midfield partner Eiting barely featuring in a position which seemed to be in some sort of no man’s land, the visitors relied heavily upon Hogg’s energy and accuracy but it wasn’t enough to break a resolute and disciplined Coventry.

Bacuna’s night ended after a blow of indeterminate force left him in a heap in the area. The contact was accidental but if his display up to that point hadn’t convinced Corberán to replace him from the thin resources on the bench, his mind was made up for him.

The home side caused little difficulty to Town’s defence in the second half, but Sarr and Toffolo, perhaps suffering a hangover from the trauma of Saturday, managed to give them a hand.

Sarr inelegantly got in and out of a horrible tangle after misjudging a routine ball forward while Toffolo, in possibly his least effective display in a Town shirt, lost the ball rather inexplicably to Dabo whose goal bound shot was somehow kept out by a combination of the post and a very cool Edmonds-Green. The youngster’s calmness throughout was exemplary and, along with Hogg, was the big positive of the night.

A decent Pritchard shot, following a rare involvement in proceedings from Eiting was well saved, though Wilson, whose save from Mbenza in the first half was first class, would have been mortified if it had beaten him.

Otherwise, these combatants amply demonstrated their lower mid table credentials with unsatisfactory displays and neither could be greatly encouraged by their endeavours, though Coventry’s solid defence in the second half squeezed all of the flair and instinct from Town’s forward play and an eight match unbeaten run in the Championship is not to be sneezed at. 

Town, for their part, are now half way to safety if 50 points is accepted as the mark to achieve. Thinking back to the start of the season and the resources at Corberán’s disposal, there is an argument to be made that he is somewhat ahead of expectations.

A stern looking test against Watford and a very tricky Boxing Day trip to Barnsley are up next and many players will have to improve markedly to push on.

Necessary humiliation?

Town’s puddle deep squad was cruelly exposed by a Bournemouth side destined for a quick return from whence they came as Carlos Corberán’s understandable pragmatism protected against the possibility of adding to the injuries incurred over the past few weeks.

Without Schindler, Stearman, Hogg and Koroma, the chances of reward on the south coast were already slim and the opportunity to rest Eiting, Campbell and Pipa irresistible though not universally applauded.

Having navigated to a solid mid table place with two wins over mediocre opposition and the harbour of the next transfer window on the horizon, Corberán’s press conference ahead of the game signalled a strategic approach in the face of harsh realities.

Most supporters understood the dilemmas he faced, with few expecting anything other than defeat, but having set expectations so low it was hugely disappointing that the team selected fell unacceptably below them.

It wasn’t inexperience or lack of playing time which prompted Jaden Brown to fall over in search of a non existent free kick which opened Town up after 7 minutes, nor could the mess Toffolo and Sarr made of dealing with a straightforward press be put down to unfamiliarity as Solanke accepted his second gift in the space of a few minutes.

With quality all over the pitch, Bournemouth’s final tally was the only statistic in doubt and when Brooks hit a delightful third before the break, a historic trouncing was more than possible.

In between the goals, Town’s play wasn’t horrendously bad and they at least forced some saves from Begovic though only one of them, turning away a deflected Bacuna effort, was more than routine. Even in possession, however, the impression was that the hosts were allowing it in the knowledge that they could strike at will when it was lost.

In the second half, a team which resembled one assembled to take on a lower league FA cup opponent was disrupted by a string of substitutions akin to a pre-season friendly. Bournemouth didn’t exactly go for the throat while turning the victory in to a nap hand, with Stanislas’s uninterrupted saunter past several tackle candidates easily as disappointing as the two early gifts.

In and amongst the rubble of a display reminiscent of Premier League routs, there was the occasional glimpse of promise, however hard you had to squint to see them. Rowe did pretty well at right back, Edmonds-Green stood up while the seniors to his left did not and Mbenza came on in place of the injured Ward and demonstrated more professionalism and endeavour than the man he replaced in just over 20 minutes.

Dhiakaby shows no signs whatsoever of even beginning the road to rehabilitation taken by Mbenza. Any sparks he does show are fleeting and ineffectual, his body language is permanently awful and mistakes – including giving away the ball just outside the area with one baffling attempted pass – should surely see him banished from the squad and replaced by someone with a smidgeon of promise.

Bacuna’s mixture of carelessness, petulance and high levels of skill when it takes his fancy does not an effective professional footballer make. At least he had some influence as Town tried to maintain some credibility from an awful afternoon, which is, by a distance, more than you can say for Pritchard; another one for whom the end of the road cannot come quick enough.

Worryingly, Hogg’s understudy Vallejo looked unconvincing and far from ready to enter the Championship fray. He deserves patience but provided no comfort that he will be an automatic answer to future absences.

It would be harsh to judge Diarra on the youngster’s first appearance in such circumstances but he looked a little way out of his depth. The quality of the opposition and the shambolic efforts of his team mates make even a cursory appraisal of his talent impossible and redundant, however.

With few established partnerships across the pitch, and the odd one or two which could be identified failing badly, it was a seriously hard stretch to imagine Town could leave Dean Court with anything other than heavy defeat. 

A decent move involving a one two between Mbenza and Toffolo was thwarted by a block and a pull back from the left back which created a shooting opportunity for Brown provided brief moments of hope for a consolation before Town were buried by their far superior hosts.

Although the match itself was one to quickly forget, the ramifications of team selection will reverberate. If we are to swallow the humiliation accompanying this defeat, evidence of the benefits of the strategy will need to be delivered if not on Wednesday then over the course of matches up to the cup game in January.
The problem with calculations such as these is the possibility that the punishment inflicted is more harmful than the future benefits assumed. It could be argued that Cardiff was also pragmatically abandoned with subsequent results consigning it to history very quickly, though the line up didn’t look anywhere near as deliberately weak.

Ironically, injuries to Hamer and the horribly ineffectual Ward rather emphasised Corberán’s fears. Taking off Hamer was likely precautionary but Ward’s already spluttering second career at Huddersfield is now facing another, possibly long, setback and Campbell’s opportunities for rest over for the same length of time restricted.

In January, it is to be hoped that business can be done which allows Corberán the luxury of never having to compromise competitiveness for the long term health of his players.

Finally, the 10th US President, John Tyler was born in 1790 and has a grandson still alive today (he had two until recently); that is the scale of timespan that Carlos should have in mind while waiting, like the rest of us, for Dhiakaby to be of any practical use to Huddersfield Town. Please, please, please stop picking him, even on the bench.

Owls stuffed

With well over 3 minutes on the clock, no Sheffield Wednesday outfield player had touched the ball. That is is a very long time in football. Possession reverted to Town seconds after the impertinence and a totally dominant half hour followed.

It was difficult to believe that a more dysfunctional, lackadaisical and puny outfit than QPR would grace the stadium this season and beyond, but Wednesday managed to dip under that low bar just a few days later with a performance which genuinely mocked the reputation of Tony Pulis.

“Hold my beer”, as the over worked social media phrase goes.

The time and space the men in appropriate grey afforded Town was impossible to predict before the game and Town attacked at will with great movement and pace down left and right.

Pipa, who oozed quality all evening, had the first effort following the prolonged spell of possession from the kick off while O’Brien finished a flowing move with a scuffed effort which flew wide. The energetic midfielder is still honing his game following his injury and it feels like it won’t be long before those refinements return him to the player he can and will be.

The Terriers’ haughty dominance looked certain to break the hapless visitors and more great work on the right by Pipa saw him drift inside and find Koroma via a dummy by Campbell. The prodigious youngster easily evaded what can only be described very loosely as his marker and side footed the opener with the casual confidence of a striker in fine form.

With no sign of resistance from the Owls, the hosts continued to pile forward and Mbenza was caught half a yard offside from an excellent through ball by Campbell as he rifled a shot past Wildsmith.

The rejuvenated and rehabilitated Belgian then took a marvellous touch in the area to avoid a committed defender but couldn’t match the set up with a finish and shot wide.

Still driving forward, and probably not believing their luck at playing against an extraordinarily passive opponent, Koroma was played in behind Palmer who, in the full and certain knowledge that he would lose the foot race, body checked him. Up stepped Mbenza to hit a perfect free kick over the wall and in to the top left corner. Wildsmith got a hand to it but it was token resistance to an inch perfect set piece execution.

If Town ever do get a penalty this season, Mbenza had left no doubt that he should be the taker.

Koroma, brimming with effervescent confidence danced along Wednesday’s back four after yet another pacy, incisive break with O’Brien rampaging through a yawning midfield space, and fired a shot just over.

An injury to Hogg and his hopefully precautionary withdrawal rather changed the dynamics of a game which could barely have been more comfortable for the home side, and his departure, or perhaps their growing embarrassment, spurred the South Yorkshireman in to some sort of life.

With Town unbalanced (the choice of Bacuna over Vallejo as Hogg’s replacement was a little curious) the visitors forced a couple of corners. A free header from Lees at the back stick forced Hamer in to his first meaningful action of the night, punching competently away from danger.

More danger was created following a surge by the previously anonymous Luongo, but Sarr, rather painfully, blocked Windass’ effort. It was the first, scant evidence of threat from the Owls and the disruption of Hogg’s departure was a little uncomfortable up to the break.

Bacuna suffered a nasty blow to the face in an accidental collision with Reach following a corner as half time approached and Town rather scruffily got to the dressing room with their goal intact, 2 up but perhaps in need of some regrouping. Wednesday’s reception in their dressing room was anybody’s guess but no doubt Pulis delivered some calm encouragement to his charges.

The second half began brightly for Town who regained some of the vibrancy of the first half hour and Pipa released Bacuna in to the area. Rather than taking on an obvious shooting opportunity, he checked back to successfully bamboozle Iorfa who ploughed in to him to concede Town’s first penalty of the season.

There was a small yet easily dismissible case for the person who drew the foul to take the penalty as Bacuna, Mbenza and Koroma, with good nature, grappled for the honour. The democratic process saw a guy scoring for fun and enjoying sky high confidence, a man who had just added another fantastic set piece goal to the one he popped in at Birmingham lose out to a guy who had suffered a painful head injury just 20 minutes previously.

There is a thin line between bravado and arrogance, which Bacuna managed to stride over with a terrible penalty which went well wide.

Rather than burying a lightweight opposition and crushing whatever affect a Pulis half time team talk may have had, Town were left to manage a game which should have been way beyond the seemingly relegation bound opponents.

Encouragingly, Town did just that, even after further disruption caused by a worrying injury to Koroma who stumbled awkwardly following a typically adventurous surge in to the box.

Mbenza, continuing his excellent form, delivered a great cross which invited but did not receive someone taking a chance to connect. With Toffolo concentrating on defensive duties, most of Town’s good work came down the right involving Pipa and Mbenza but it was too sporadic.

Wednesday saw more of the ball in the scrappy second half but other than a decent effort well saved by Hamer from Windass and the forcing of a few corners, Sarr and Edmonds-Green were rarely troubled. Both exuded calm, particularly the youngster, and with Toffolo staying further back to assist on the left and centrally, it was a comfortable passage to a straightforward and deserved win.

A second home win on the bounce was soured by the injuries to Hogg and Koroma which will further stretch already thin resources and creates unwelcome problems for Corberán with games against far better opposition than he has faced in the last few days.

Jayden Brown’s energetic appearance was useful but it is difficult to see him carrying anything like the threat of Koroma, while Vallejo’s first appearance was far too short to provide clues to his effectiveness as Hogg’s understudy should the team’s engine room fail to recover quickly.

A trip to high flying Bournemouth without Schindler, Stearman, Hogg and Koroma makes the challenge even more daunting, but at least the points collected to ensconce Town firmly in mid table means that defeat, if it happens, won’t be particularly damaging.

But get a penalty taker designated, Carlos!

Lazy R’s wiped out

Town’s Jekyll and Hyde season took another upturn as they swept aside a supine Queen’s Park Rangers to compensate for their own calamitous showing in South Wales on Tuesday.

Adding some welcome game management to spells of genuine flair and quality, the return of Pipa rebalanced the side both defensively and going forward and though there were the customary flat spots over the 90 minutes, mostly in the second half, they were fewer in number and never allowed Rangers back in to a game which was deservedly beyond them.

The two and a half minutes which QPR managed to dominate were cruelly interrupted by a Josh Koroma run from inside of his own half ending with a delicious, top corner seeking curler, with defenders resolutely refusing to close down space or offer a semblance of a tackle, being more distracted by Toffolo’s supporting run.

If there were any cobwebs still not blown away from the horrible display in Wales on Tuesday, Town’s top scorer created the foundation for a fabulous first half performance which should have seen the Terriers out of sight before Toffolo added a long deserved second 5 minutes before the break.

The left back had, effectively, begun the move by turning a slightly over hit ball from Hamer, who’s distribution was generally excellent, in to possession for O’Brien in space with a deft header. The midfielder surged forward, fed Koroma to once again terrorise the R’s beleaguered defence before sliding a perfectly weighted ball through to the left back to finish.

In between, Town produced sweeping moves which should have resulted in goals and an unassailable lead. 

Koroma and Toffolo, whose partnership flourished in the first half, combined just after the opener with the ex-Imp drawing a good save from Dieng, a devastatingly swift break saw O’Brien feed Koroma with an excellent ball but a superfluous touch thwarted the striker and other potent thrusts threatened the completely outplayed Londoners.

Calm descended over a team so chaotic just a few days ago. Distribution from the back carried no drama, any threat from the visitors was nullified with competency and passing and moving improved enormously as Town took and maintained control of a game in which they never seriously challenged.

QPR contain several talented individuals, no shortage of pace and experience but had a quite horrible day, particularly in a first half where they allowed no end of space for the hosts; the left side of Town’s attack were barely challenged and it wasn’t noticeably much better down the right, Hogg dominated the visitors in midfield with possibly his best display of the season and the minimal amount of threat they possessed was snuffed out with some ease.

The ineptitude of the opposition needs to be acknowledged but doesn’t subtract from the vibrancy of the Terriers who exploited their weaknesses all over the pitch, glided across the playing surface and threatened regularly. Perhaps not as ruthless as they should have been given their overwhelming superiority, the 2 goal lead established always looked unassailable.

QPR raised their levels of competence in a second half which Town managed with ease without matching the fluency and dynamism of the first. 

O’Brien’s effort following good play by Pipa brought a decent save from Ranger’s keeper who had previously kept out an effort straight at him from the returning Spaniard with an unorthodox punch, though Dieng was probably the only visiting player happy with his day’s work.

There were other decent moves but clear cut chances were foiled by the final ball and Town, in any case, became more pragmatic in the knowledge that the3 points always looked secure.

Sadly, the most notable incident of the second half was a serious looking injury to Schindler. Beaten for pace on the left for the first time, the German stretched awkwardly when completing a recovery tackle and was treated on the pitch for a worryingly long time. The impact on squad depth, already a concern, could be damaging with a now severe shortage of centre backs to call upon.

A well worked corner by the visitors could have provided a nervous final ten minutes but the strike hit Toffolo and skidded to safety. Other than a particularly woeful free kick hit straight at Hamer, the end was conspicuously comfortable for the Terriers as they restored their place smack bang in the middle of the table.

Ranging from good to excellent, all the players came out with great credit and no-one more so than Jonathan Hogg who dictated from a deep lying midfield role providing defensive excellence and setting the creative players in to motion. Josh Koroma continues to fill the Karlan Grant sized hole but with greater flair and intelligence. Grant simply isn’t being missed.

Sheffield Wednesday, despite their league position, will provide a stiffer test on Tuesday night; Pulisball, named as such by no-one ever, is unlikely to provide Town with the yawning chasms of space available in the first half on Saturday.

Naby nabbed

Lightweight Town produced an insipid performance in South Wales and Cardiff came away with 3 of the easiest points they will win this season.

Defensively fragile and offensively inoffensive, periods of lengthy, pretty possession which lacked any penetration and precious little invention, Town failed to worry a superbly disciplined Cardiff defence who allowed their opponents to fanny around in front of them for most of the night.

Showing five changes from the victory over Middlesbrough was perhaps something of an indication of Corberán’s confidence of victory in a city which has generally proved extremely tough over the years. Hamer’s return was expected and even had Bacuna’s hamstring hadn’t ruled him out, his negligent first half on Saturday deserved a benching. Campbell is bound to be rested during a brutal schedule.

It was, however, the reappearance of Schindler in place of the excellent Edmonds-Green and a season debut for Daly which provided the surprises. Neither proved particularly good changes, with Daly anonymous after 15 minutes and Schindler, despite a couple of good interventions in the second half, caught unawares for the opener which sealed Town’s fate relatively early.

The first 20 minutes were not too bad with Town getting some joy down the left with Toffolo and Daly combining well at times though the final ball was lacking and both disappeared somewhat as the whole team lost that half yard which, coupled with speedy passing and movement, can occasionally make them very watchable.

Untroubled at the back, Cardiff gradually imposed themselves on the game, locked Town in to increasingly futile passing and began pressing the ball hard. With a huge aerial threat in their armoury, the Bluebirds had Town’s defence on high alert from corners, free kicks and long throw ins. It wasn’t massively pleasing on the eye but far more effective than Town’s yawn inducing backwards and sideways slow march to nowhere.

The only attack of any credibility or note saw a good combination between Duhaney and Koroma free Town’s leading scorer to the byline only for Ward to tamely flick the ball in to Smithies’ arms from close in. On his return to South Wales, Ward was largely disappointing and wholly ineffectual.

That chance, the only genuine threat Town created in a first half which deteriorated fast for the visitors, preceded Cardiff’s opener when Duhaney was far too weak on the right and failed to prevent a near post cross which saw Moore easily beat the slumbering Schindler to the ball and an easy slot in for the lead.

The only consolation for the visitors was that Cardiff didn’t add to their lead in the rest of the half as Town’s composure wobbled badly and even the futile possession game broke down.

Mbenza replaced Daly at half time, a move as obvious as it was necessary, and Town started reasonably brightly but still without teeth. Koroma came in to the game a little more but was unable to find much space to create danger and the home side nonchalantly soaked up the puny punches thrown at them, knowing that their time would come.

Without ever really suggesting they would equalise, at just one goal down there was always a chance that something would work for the Terriers, and O’Brien’s probing and Eiting’s quality could conceivably have unlocked the door, but Naby Sarr, who had already had a pretty poor night, soon squashed that fading chimera.

Put in to a modicum of trouble by an ill-advised ball from Hamer while clearly in imminent trouble from a press, the Frenchman’s palpable panic induced him to try a turn only to tread on the ball allowing Junior Hoilett to square to Moore for his second gift of the evening.

Multiple substitutions failed to inspire a reaction from Town who were already skulking to defeat when Cardiff topped a very good few days for them with a third. At least this one had a genuine touch of quality about it as Ojo fed Glatzel in the box with a nicely judged ball. Edmonds-Green was caught on the wrong side of the substitute who smashed the ball past Hamer.

A consolation goal in the last 10 minutes was far less likely than Cardiff recording a consecutive 4-0 home win but, thankfully, further punishment was avoided and Corberán is left with some hard thinking to do about Saturday’s line up.

Hopefully, Pipa will return and perhaps the substitution of Hogg may signal our first view of Vallejo, but very few attained basic, acceptable levels on a night to forget.

It felt like a defeat redolent of a lower mid table side; not consistently good enough to beat an opposition who were simply superior in intensity, discipline and a clinical game plan. Even Toffolo, superb this season, was way below his best and the team simply didn’t function well enough either at the back or in the final third to knock Cardiff off their stride.

Frustratingly inconsistent, often during the game, Town will suffer setbacks like this until Corberán can truly make his mark in at least two transfer windows. The awkwardness which accompanies playing out from the back at times, coupled with some ridiculous lack of judgement (both on show here) will either improve with familiarity or, much more likely, players who can naturally and consistently execute the practice will emerge or be brought in.

A very poor night for all concerned.

Foggy thriller

A wet, dark and murky John Smith’s Stadium was illuminated by a thoroughly entertaining contest which ebbed and flowed before Town secured a deserved, if not entirely convincing, victory which went a long way towards banishing the memory of Tuesday’s turgid encounter in Buckinghamshire.

The hangover from the Wycombe stalemate was evident in a first half which began reasonably well for the home side but deteriorated alarmingly after the early skirmishes had seen a speculative effort by Campbell sail over the bar from distance, a Koroma effort blocked and a decent chance for Bacuna from a corner.

Middlesbrough soon shook off Town’s mild attempt to dominate and took a firm grip on the game, stretching the hosts all over the pitch and capitalising on the apparent disconnect between defence and midfield and subsequent disarray.

Town’s season long issue with sustaining intensity and precision, unsurprising as it is in a period of rebuilding and reinvention, offers opposition teams quite wide windows of opportunity to exploit often alarming vulnerabilities and Boro appeared ominously capable of overwhelming their error prone opponents.

Poor decision making, particularly by Bacuna at right back, excellent transition and the pace of the visitors opened up the home defence on several occasions in a game looking increasingly like a mismatch, but Boro’s profligacy in their period of domination was to haunt them in the end.

The most remarkable miss arrived just after 10 minutes with Assombolonga somehow contriving to fire over the bar from less than 2 yards following a move which carved Town apart down their right.

The reprieve didn’t last long. A high ball cannoned off Campbell under pressure and fell to Tavernier to set up Marvin Johnson to fire past Schofield, and a very long, difficult afternoon looked likely.

Unable to establish any rhythm, Town were fortunate not to concede again in a torrid 20 minutes when it seemed that only last gasp interventions by Stearman stood between them and a heavy defeat, and when the last of those rendered the veteran unable to carry on, that outcome seemed even more likely.

However, it turned in to a pivot as Boro’s threat evaporated and substitute Edmonds-Green slotted in to the role effortlessly and proved calm in possession and managed defensive space with noticeably more composure than the man he replaced. 

Last gasp interventions tend to be the forte of defenders not particularly proficient in other areas of their job. Though this is a little harsh on Stearman, who was perhaps the main reason Town’s chances of success were not already dead and buried, Edmonds-Green’s partnership with Sarr appeared more natural from the moment he came on, and his choices on the ball superior.

Finally, Town came in to the game. No chances of note were being created, but possession became more considered and progressive and at least forced the visitors on to the back foot and out of the comfort they had enjoyed for far too long.

Mbenza, carrying on from his notable performance at Wycombe, began to see more of the ball and Eiting and O’Brien were seeing more space in a previously uncontested midfield (though Hogg had manfully battled through the difficult opening 25).

It was, however, something of a surprise when Boro’s famously parsimonious rear guard was breached, particularly as the visitors had regained an element of control and forced a couple of corners as they tried to reestablish their grip on the game.

After a Toffolo shot was blocked, Hogg won a challenge and fed Koroma who worked some space in the box before feeding Eiting who swept in the equaliser past a poorly positioned keeper who will feel that having got a hand on the ball, he should have done better. The slick conditions, and the curl Eiting achieved with a perfect connection, played their part as the Dutchman replicated his goal at Stoke last Saturday and bagged his third in 4 games.

To go in at the break even in a game where they looked a long way from equals would have been a major plus for the Terriers, but it was to get better.

O’Brien robbed Saville on the halfway line with an exceptional challenge and broke forward at pace before laying the ball off to Campbell to his right, ignoring his other option of Mbenza to his left. Initially, the decision looked to be the wrong one as Campbell cut inside instead of shooting first time, but somehow the striker bundled the ball over Bettenelli with a scuffed shot which hit his other foot and squeezed in.

The lead was undeserved, to say the least, but both goals were so similar to previous ones – Campbell’s being reminiscent of O’Brien’s surge at Millwall – that it is comforting to believe that the methods being adopted are sticking.

After the break, Town dominated their dispirited opponents in much the same way that they had been put under the cosh earlier.

Mbenza and Koroma provided constant threat down the flanks, Hogg, Eiting and O’Brien finally clicked in the middle and though chances were few, the intent and control successfully subdued Middlesbrough whose threat diminished markedly.

Just as Town’s lead had been established significantly against the run of play, Boro were thrown a lifeline when an excellent ball from Howson played in Assombolonga and Sarr was caught wrong side. The tussle appeared to confirm the referee’s assumption that Sarr had brought down the striker and a penalty inevitable. Without the aid of another angle, which clearly showed Assombolonga’s simulation, it is hard to criticise the ref’s naked eye decision though the considerable gall of Warnock claiming another one in the dying stages of the game is less forgivable.

Assombolonga stepped up and achieved from 12 yards what he couldn’t from 2, and a creditable, if frustrating draw seemed the likely outcome.

Almost immediately, however, Town grabbed the win they deserved as Toffolo lifted a perfectly executed long ball to the impressive Koroma, who burst in to the area, utilised an excellent run by Eiting to his left by ignoring it, shifted to his right and curled a beauty in to the far corner for the winner.

It was due reward for a fine second half performance by the heir to Grant’s throne. One mazy run from the edge of his own box to being upended by Howson just outside the other area was eye catching and the perfect example of his increasing maturity. Wither Karlan, indeed?

Like most Town games this season, the win was far from perfect and the metamorphosis from dull to an exciting and effective style of play is still in progress and vulnerable to set backs but a recovery which neutered a normally highly effective Warnock side is not to be underestimated.

In the longer term, the emergence of Edmonds-Green may have a profound effect. Despite a rather worrying episode of cramp, which may indicate that he is not quite ready for the demands placed on players in this strange and ridiculous season, he must be more suited to Corberán’s style than the old stagers he has been compelled to use so far.

Justifiable fears of a lack of fire power in the team following the departure of the leading scorer are now, surely, laid to rest. Not only are Town scoring regularly – remember that yesterday banished thoughts of Wycombe – the goals are coming from different players, often exquisitely constructed. Nobody would turn their noses up at an out and out striker in January, but the collective is doing the job right now.

This victory, imperfect as it was, represented a big step forward. Collecting points in this transition period to keep away from the pressures at the bottom while developing as a squad is essential and to do so against a highly competitive team such as Middlesbrough, who are likely to recover from this setback and mount a play off challenge, is highly commendable.

Battle of the bilge

It’s a point.

After the entertainment and thrills and spills of Stoke on Saturday, Town went toe to toe with a battling, awkward and rudimentary Wycombe side who play to their strengths and bridge the money gap with an ugly style for which they should never apologise.

Town rarely got to grips with the energetic, physical approach of the home side and simply failed to take any sort of control of a game which would have been derided in the nether regions of League 2.

It is difficult to imagine what Corberán learned on a night of unremitting drudgery other than it is high past time that Dhiakaby was put out of his misery, and ours. The languid French youngster barely put a foot right, looked entirely out of place in a contest only defined by rugged effort and has so little to offer that even the smallest glimpse of competence can be dismissed on the basis that the bar is so low for him it would defeat even his skinny frame.

In contrast, Mbenza should now be separated from his, previously reasonable, association with Dhiakaby as the embodiment of Town’s disastrous summer 2018 transfer market dealings.

Easily the most threatening and progressive of Town’s misfiring, confused and ineffective display, the Belgian is proving to be well suited to Corberán’s vision and was just about the only player to come out of this mess with some credit and the portmanteau Dhiabenza (and variants) so beloved of the fan base should now be retired.

Schofield’s performance between the sticks, bar one ill advised foray which nearly ended in disaster, was competent if not particularly busy, but the positives end here.

Nothing the hosts did was unpredictable. Long balls in the general direction of Akinfenwa and hoping to profit from the chaos the iconic and likeable striker creates pretty much covers the game plan. In and amongst this single strategy is hard work, disruption and denying space to the opposition; Town aren’t the first and won’t be the last to succumb to a system which jolts teams out of their fancy Dan complacency.

It is, however, impossible for Wycombe to sustain the plan over 90 minutes and the key is to take advantage when space appears and Town simply failed to execute their own style when opportunity knocked.

Possession was slow, often retrograde, and movement stilted. Neither O’Brien nor Eiting were able to spark creativity in to the middle which could have exploited space when it appeared; the latter was particularly disappointing and never got over the huge culture shock which this game must have represented.

An exceptionally poor first half, where only Mbenza looked like providing a breakthrough with good deliveries in to the box, was notable only for resilient, if frantic, defending and the departure of Schindler who came out much the worse for an aerial lunge above Akinfenwa resulting in a heavy fall.

For a short time in the second half, Town threatened to gain the ascendancy with more meaningful possession, Mbenza the main protagonist again, but were soon undone by some strategic injury breaks. Being thwarted by a cunning plan worthy of Baldrick really isn’t a reasonable excuse, however.

Although a visit to Wycombe is an outlier in a long season, and gaining a point is a better achievement than The Chairboys’ horrendous start to the season suggests, there are grounds for concern arising from the contest.

Persisting with Dhiakaby as the natural wide replacement despite all the evidence laid before our eyes time and time again defies rationality. 

Town continue to struggle against teams who refuse to accommodate the way they want to play and largely fail to find alternative solutions. The evolution may overcome this tendency, either through general improvement or recruitment, but for now, increasing their ability to impose our own style on games should be a priority. 

Overall, this game should be consigned to the dustbin of history (just a day later it is a struggle to recall anything of note)- never were iFollow’s interminable replays and lingering cut always from play more welcome.

Thrilling Ineptitude

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past”
– Thomas Jefferson

Stoke City and Huddersfield Town buried whatever memory lingered of their last meeting in the Potteries with a contest brimming with goals, excitement and commitment.

The visitors, excruciatingly frustrating and exuberantly fluent in equal proportion, were undone by sloppy, avoidable errors in a first half which should have seen the hosts out of sight despite conceding 2 very well worked goals.

Hampered by the withdrawal of the isolating Hamer and weakened by the loss of Pipa, Town faced a tough challenge at the gambling company sponsored home of the Potters, and met it with verve and no little panache. Some of the time. In possession but not out of it. Going forward but not when pressed.

Carlos Corberán is not about to advocate launching the ball in to row Z or fire long balls to a non existent big man up top. He surely knows the limitations of the players he has available for his style, which pretty exclusively occupy defensive positions but sticking to his beliefs and philosophy of his methodology is his only choice. Rightfully and righteously.

Some of the time, as disastrously on display in a torrid first half at the back, his plans will come unstuck and those limitations laid shockingly bare but, just as often, players will exceed their own limits and points will be gathered to continue to build the foundations of success.

None of this optimistic outlook excuses the, frankly, shambolic and careless mistakes which saw Stoke, a side with genuine play off ambitions, quickly fight back from the blow of conceding first.

A largely forgettable first 20 minutes, ironically featuring a lot of comfortable Town possession amongst the back 4, was interrupted by genuine quality when Toffolo wriggled free of attention and picked out Eiting at the edge of the box. Sweeping a perfectly timed strike past Stoke’s rookie keeper, who was meant to provide the visitors with advantage until the late drafting of our own, Eiting was rewarded for a bright start to the game which had begun to make Town tick.

The errors which were to blight the visitors’ day began almost immediately. Playing out from the back requires composure and judgement, confidence and a rapid transition to safe possession; the absence of any of these qualities encourages and facilitates far more effective pressing. 

Stearman, who has generally adapted well to the Corberán style but prone to error when attempting passes beyond the mundane and a predilection for playing team mates in to trouble, had instigated the descent with a gift to Nick Powell who hit a shot directly at Periera prior to Eiting’s opener. 

Having escaped that aberration, grabbing the lead and playing with confidence in possession, Town looked well set, but they then succumbed to an equaliser eerily reminiscent of the goal conceded against Luton with Stearman beaten in the air at the back post and the ball dropping in to undefended space for Campbell to smash home off Sarr. 

Clucas’s delivery had been excellent but the situation, just as it was 2 weeks ago, was eminently defendable. Falling for the same routine is a worry.
At least the equaliser could be attributed to Stoke’s qualities rather than the ineptitude which was to follow.

Hogg, who had a first half to forget, was caught in possession after failing to take an admittedly sharp pass from Eiting, and the ball was quickly switched to Campbell in space. Town’s tormentor from the home game in January drove the ball powerfully at Town’s stand in custodian who had failed to close his legs and Stoke took a lead they didn’t particularly deserve but took full advantage of Town’s wobbles.

Periera partially atoned for his error by blocking a shot from Campbell after the lively striker had been put through by a superb Fletcher back heel, though there was more than a hint of fortune that the ball didn’t sneak under him.

Despite their travails at the back, Town continued to look impressive in possession with Eiting and Mbenza, in particular, looking capable of hurting the hosts and these two combined to craft an equaliser which should have earned half time parity. Turning effortlessly in the middle of the park leaving a bemused opponent behind him and space in front of him, Eiting glided forward and pushed a sumptuous pass in to Mbenza’s stride who instinctively finished.

Having displayed all the positive aspects of Corberán’s impact alongside the flaws which plague the project in an incident packed first half, Town were exposed again as injury time began.

While Periera’s final error, giving the ball away under pressure, led to Stoke retaking the lead, it was the culmination of an unfolding disaster between Stearman and Duhaney putting each other in increasingly difficult positions.
Stoke, already encouraged by the uncertainty which had crept in to their opposition, strangled the space available and profited accordingly, with Stearman capping his involvement in the mess by putting through his own net.

It seems inconceivable that Corberán would have chosen purity over pragmatism in the situation the goalkeeper found himself, particularly as any hope of a good ending to the sequence which had unfurled had entirely disappeared.

The speed, accuracy and appropriateness of building from the back improved markedly in the second half, though Stoke’s pressing reduced as the context of the game changed.

Buoyed by their late retaking of the lead before the break, the Potters began the second half confidently and their dominance saw them stretch their lead. While questions should be asked, yet again, of Town’s defending – Eiting was too easily beaten to a header on the edge of the box and the closing down was weak as the ball broke to Clucas, this shouldn’t diminish the quality of the mazy run which put him in to a shooting position. It was a shot, however, which a better keeper could have saved.

Within minutes, Town reduced Stoke’s lead as Sarr met an excellent Mbenza delivery from a free kick for his first Town goal and the dynamics of the contest shifted again.

Stoke voluntarily gave up space and possession to sit deeper, and Town took full advantage. For most of the last half hour, the visitors probed and tested their resilient opponents with Bacuna adding flair to Eiting’s orchestration and O’Brien’s energy. Toffolo was excellent down the left and Mbenza continued his rehabilitation well before being, inexplicably, replaced by Diakhaby.

The blunders which lead to this defeat may over shadow much of the very good play, and perhaps should, but you have to believe that the flaws are fixable even in the pain of defeat. Ultimately, they will be overcome by changes in personnel more suited to Corberán’s wishes, but for now he has to find ways to gain points; nervously looking over their shoulders at the bottom 3 places will not suit this squad.

At least it is far from boring.

Lean forward!

The Terriers finally limped over the line before a much needed 2 week break with a creditable, in parts, draw against a tough, disciplined Luton side who presented a stern, unremitting test which was not short on entertainment.

Fatigue, mental and physical, should not be under estimated and the ravages of a merciless schedule perhaps mitigates against the instinctive Corberán game plan a little more than Luton’s admirably robust style, though it should be said that the extra 24 hours recovery afforded to the hosts levelled things up.

14 points from 10 games, which would extrapolate to mid 60s over the season, is a respectable and arguably slightly above par return and a good foundation for a stabilising season as Town reverse the tailspin of the last couple of years.

It should be a comfort to both Towns that the game and eventual stalemate was the epitome of a mid table clash; a big improvement from last season’s travails and with the promise of better things to come.

Patience is a hard sell to Huddersfield fans. The rapid collapse following a rare period of remarkable success has required saintly forbearance, with a virtually complete absence of joy and few, if any, rays of hope. 

Corberán, however, deserves our patience. Watching his teams is an odd mixture of frustration and fascination; his ideas bring passages of genuinely exciting and incisive play but also clumsiness which betrays the fact that the squad is not fully capable, by a distance, of delivering the relentlessness which provides the tipping point to genuine domination of the opposition. 

It is a little like watching someone learning to ski. Acquiring bravery without recklessness, confidence but not bravado and leaning forward when your very instinct is to go backwards. Corberán will also need the right equipment; in certain instances, players are attempting to go down the slopes in jeans.

A case in point is the hapless Dhiakaby. At some point, he and us have to be put out of our misery because trying to wring some value out of one of the biggest errors of judgement in Huddersfield Town’s history may only cause more damage than they are trying to mitigate.

The young Frenchman failed to perform an elementary defensive duty which lead to Luton’s opener after a generally turgid opening 20 minutes. A soft free kick awarded against Sarr was well delivered to the far post where Bradley easily beat Stearman to plant the ball in to a dangerous area in the box. Dhiakaby failed to react and his designated man, Moncur, pounced to bury the chance.

It wasn’t just an error, rather, it was a dereliction of responsibility. His day didn’t get much better and ended when he lost the ball in the second half with Eiting in acres of space 10 yards away. Occasional, sometimes accidental, contributions to the cause simply aren’t enough.

Town improved after surrendering the lead and should have gone in to the break level with chances falling to Koroma and O’Brien but neither could apply the necessary technique when in good positions. Koroma’s attempt, set up by Eiting, was far too weak while O’Brien was foiled by a bobble as he surged in to the area, lifting his effort high over the bar.

Koroma was denied a goal by the offside flag when again played in by the increasingly influential Eiting. His effort was as unconvincing as his first but looped up off the keeper and in.

The avoidable goal against soured a reasonably competent first half performance against a resilient and sporadically dangerous opponent, but fluency evaded the home side too often and their threat was rather unconvincing.

As always, however, with Corberán’s influence, Town are capable of moments of liquid football and the second half equaliser provided yet another tantalising glimpse of what the future may bring.

Working the ball from back to front with instinctive pace and precision, Toffolo found himself in his familiar position beyond the back four and floated a cross on to the head of Eiting (tellingly, he was one of several targets with Town having 6 players in the box). The Ajax loanee had a lot to do to put enough pace on the ball to place it precisely beyond the keeper and executed it to perfection.

It was a just reward for a more dynamic display which began to reap chances. A wayward Dhiakaby effort which looped off a defender presented a far post headed chance for Koroma who was unfortunate to see his header deflect off his marker for a dead ball.

Koroma had a mixed afternoon. Perhaps fortunate not to pick up a second yellow card in the space of a few minutes in the first half, he followed up his weak effort described earlier with an ill advised attempt when better options were available to the side of him, leaving more than one colleague furious at his decision, yet played a small but critical role in the lead up to the goal with a nice feed to Toffolo. A well executed curling effort just past the post after the leveller was another decent contribution and his potential remains intriguing.

In and amongst the Terriers’ dominance, Luton caused some scares and were never out of the search for a winner. There seems to be a problem with hesitancy in the box when defending, which lost us the Bristol City and Preston games, and Luton could have similarly capitalised upon the weakness on one occasion but survived.

Though far from entirely satisfying, the potential remains. When they click with bravery, confidence and instinctive teamwork, Town look very, very good but they can be rather too easily prevented, largely by themselves, from displaying those qualities. These two weeks, and the addition of Ward and Vallejo, will help with the progress they need.

Witnessing the development, even through the badly directed and infuriating iFollow coverage, will be exciting and worthwhile if we can accept the inevitable ups and downs of the experiment.

(And remember, folks, it’s only a game. On this memorial weekend, let’s remember those whose sacrifice allows us the freedom to enjoy it).