Our sweetest songs are those of saddest thought

As far as it is sensible to try to deconstruct a chant sung by supporters and ascribe deeper meaning to a small reworking of Paul Heaton’s easy on the ear tune, Luton Town away became an anthem with levels of sub conscious and conscious meaning from which the marketing department of Huddersfield Town should have stayed well away.

It is important to emphasise that it was never a disparagement of the Hatters. Their club’s name, first and foremost, easily scanned. They are, like us, unglamorous to the point of parody and have taken relatable, and actually more serious, journeys from pride to desolation; in the Championship it is difficult to find a more suitable contrast to Old Trafford, the Emirates or Anfield (which also scans). 

The point of the song was self deprecation, self awareness and a wry acceptance of a fate expected since the play off promotion and known by the time it emerged.

It was also increasingly sung with bitterness. Not at the inevitable demotion from a league which found us irritating after the condescension had subsided, but the utter failure to transition back to the Championship despite the considerable financial advantages the club now has over their rivals, which should have provided a prudent platform to compete.

1 win in 2019, 4 wins in 57 games and a refusal to win a traditional Saturday game for over 500 days are statistics to boil the piss of the most easy to please of supporters. The patience shown has been extraordinary; the adoption of a fatalistic chant about the prospect of a visit to Kenilworth Road iterated their continued support and acceptance of difficult circumstances but contained a subliminal message that the direction of travel needed to be addressed.

Perhaps inevitably, the long anticipated match ended in yet another defeat and it is now clear that the warning succinctly expressed has not been heeded. Acceptable and necessary prudence looks far closer to parsimony, the transfer of power from Dean Hoyle to Phil Hodgkinson looks contrived and potentially dubious (a much more convincing explanation is imperative) and no one seems capable of reversing a catastrophic decline reminiscent of the 1970s implosion.

On the pitch, the performance was fairly typical of the past 20 months. Unconvincing, lacking resilience and purpose, and ultimately weak. It wasn’t disastrously bad – as ever, we get little periods of play which show promise, but even a referee influenced defeat is still another L to add to the chain.

A forgettable first half was littered with errors, largely free of invention and determinedly mundane. A good run by Diakhaby, who should surely be given time to develop as he shows tantalising glimpses of quality, which ended with Grant poking the ball just wide under pressure was the rare exception to a final third ineptitude which has plagued the club now for as far back as you care to remember. Diakhaby also produced another run which narrowly evaded Campbell who was making his debut as Hudson reverted to two up front though to little effect.

Van La Parra, bizarrely transferred to Red Star Belgrade DURING the game, was a constant thorn in the side of Town’s attacking intent; everything he did either slowed down play, stopped attacks as he was dispossessed cutting inside (which was telegraphed every time) or ended with misplaced attempted passes going dead. His signature lack of heed to overlapping left backs was on full display. Thanks for the memories, Rajiv.

At the back, and from the off, Town seemed intent on inviting the easiest press Luton will come across in a lifetime. Trouble was never far away from some absurdly casual attempts to portray competence and confidence with Hogg’s miscontrol of a simple pass the most egregious and potentially costly; fortunately Grabara, no innocent in the shambles, wasn’t called upon to save.

When common sense finally dawned, Grabara’s kicking was generally straight down the middle and on to the welcoming heads of Luton’s imposing centre halves, who were excellent throughout.

Luton played with markedly more cohesion and unity than the visitors but were nearly as lacking in the final third and rarely troubled Grabara, while Town’s other chance was a rushed header back to his keeper by a Luton defender which needed to be turned away for a corner. Grabara did make one sharp save from Collins, the best effort of the half by either side.

The Terriers began the second half with a little more vigour and found themselves one up within minutes with a goal born more of poor execution than sizzling play. 

A typically lacklustre free kick was headed out to Hogg who found Van La Parra out wide. The Dutchman’s last meaningful contribution to Huddersfield Town was to deliver a cross behind the forwards which Grant somehow managed to get an ankle too which deflected over to Diakhaby who played a one two with Schindler and fired the ball across for Grant to connect via a defender for the lead.

For a time, it looked like a turning point as Town applied pressure to try to get a second and hopes, oh! cursed hope, rose in an away end still willing to back a team which rarely fails to dash them.
Unfortunately, a referee who had barely been noticed in the first half, which is a compliment, strode purposefully to centre stage.

Luton had regained their composure in response to the opener and began to increase pressure on the visitors and were having some joy down their left. A ball was played in rather innocuously towards Schindler. As the captain shaped to clear, Collins nipped in front of his half cocked leg and was knocked over. The collision was entirely accidental but deemed a penalty which was expertly converted by Collins himself.

Less than ten minutes later, Luton took the lead while playing on, as was their absolute right, with Hogg down in the middle having taken an arm or an elbow to the face. Having stopped play earlier in the game for a similar circumstance, the referee neither gave an obvious free kick nor halted proceedings.

Two pretty terrible pieces of refereeing had undone Town who, true to form, were not going to come back from going behind despite some frantic attempts which never culminated in Sluga having to make a save other than thwarting substitute Mounié in a one on one. That chance came as a result of the referee appearing to waive play on after fellow substitute Kachunga was dragged back in the area.

Grant headed a reasonable chance over the bar and Town dominated the latter stages in a performance which, overall, wasn’t too bad in the second half but this is to damn with faint praise.

Another defeat simply piles on the pressure to a new hierarchy already under deep, possibly unfounded, suspicion.

The transfer of power at the end of last season was opaque, puzzling and inadequately explained. The exodus of players, ranging from the unwisely outspoken Billing to the hugely respected Löwe and Smith, was only partially explicable while the recruitment was baffling.

In the next two weeks, Phil Hodgkinson, somehow, has to make an appointment which will restore some faith, answer questions which he has largely created himself by seemingly not following up his Summer statements with action and transform a deeply troubled club with visible and convincing leadership.

Let us never sing Luton Town away ever again.

Reading the runes

Atmosphere pricked.

A third defeat in 8 days, two of them under his now almost certainly temporary tenure as manager, was a little harsh on Mark Hudson who has, at least, instigated some structural changes in a deeply flawed squad which has encouraged better performance for a little longer in games than his unlamented predecessor.

He has not, however, and thus far, been able to banish a losing mentality so entrenched that it is almost impossible to envisage from where salvation will emerge. Mentally and physically frail, with the former being perhaps understandable but the latter unforgivable, the players produced the best 30 minutes of the season from the kick off yet were unable to muster a shot on target and belief began to ebb as the flow was exhausted.

A game which must have been targeted as the one to turn around horrible early season form rather ignored Reading’s solid start to the season, though the Royals looked deceptively limited as the home side ratcheted up considerable pressure under a wilting August sun.

The visitors barely crossed the halfway line in the first 15 minutes and offered little but resilience in a one sided first half. They did, however, muster the only realistic attempt on the frame of the goal which Grabara saved well. The keeper, a positive bright spot amidst the gloom of our relegation hangover had earlier played the team in to trouble with a poor ball out and paid for it with a collision with Kongolo to prevent a disastrous concession in Reading’s first foray in to the final third after 15 minutes.

At the other end, Van La Parra’s trickery caused Reading concern on several occasions which quickly dissipated as the winger’s decision making was invariably poor.

His counterpart Diakhaby showed tantalising glimpses of whatever talent resides within the leggy French kid though rawness too often foils his intentions. 

Another youngster, however, lit up the game in the first half with a powerful performance which provides a glimmer of hope. Trevoh Chalobah couldn’t add to his midweek goal at Cardiff which should have earned an unlikely and undeserved point, but he possesses the power and intensity so absent from Huddersfield Town displays for the past 18 months.

Like the rest, he faded as the crushing despair weighed down in a desperate second half but he may be an asset a new manager can build upon amongst the general wreckage.

Jaden Brown at left back also produced an encouraging performance which was full of calm decision making as he replaced Kongolo who, too belatedly, was drafted in to a central defence finally relieved of Elphick.

Things may have been different had Pritchard made more of a good through ball by Grant but instead of taking on a shot, the diminutive and too often disappointing play maker allowed the ball to bounce up and the opportunity was gone; extinguished by hesitancy.

A Schindler header from a corner went narrowly wide and Chalobah saw a good effort have an identical result but the optimism generated by a much improved showing was severely tempered by the near immutable law that if you don’t convert dominance in to goals you will be bitten, hard, on the arse.

The second half saw a perceptible shift from the beginning with Reading finally showing intent further up the pitch, perhaps sensing the home side’s almost permanent mental fragility.

The first chance, however, fell to the Terriers as Grant latched on to a Reading error. Sprinting forward, the leading goal scorer had Diakhaby free to his right but decided to shoot and bring a good, but not particularly difficult, save from Cabral. It may have been a better decision to release his colleague but had that not worked, a strong possibility, he would have been criticised for not taking the shot (our first on target); damned if you do…..

Up the other end, and almost immediately after Grant’s effort, Reading were nearly rewarded for their more adventurous approach when Grabara had to keep out a rasping effort by Boye after Yiadom had crashed the ball against the bar.

A decent Pritchard effort was tipped over the bar, again routinely, before Diakhaby was found by Grant alone in the area but he couldn’t bring the ball under control quickly enough and his effort was deflected wide by a recovering defender.

By this point, the hosts were wilting and the visitors began to capitalise. Encouraged, Reading manager Jose Gomes brought on the ominously monikered Puscas (joining Pele who was already on) and within minutes, the Royals took the lead.

A simple one two in the middle of the park set Ejaria free and he waltzed through Town’s tiring rearguard and struck an excellent shot past Grabara.

The atmosphere, which had been remarkably buoyant in support of a team which so rarely delivers, subsided immediately; raw belief hasn’t materially impacted results for such a long time and it wasn’t going to change now.

Deflated, unquestionably defeated and staring at yet another failure, Town couldn’t and didn’t recover. Belief, as in all walks of life, simply isn’t enough and the players had nothing left with which to respond.

With 7 minutes left, a corner to Reading was converted rather too easily by Morrison. This was the cue for a mass exodus as supporters left to enjoy the rest of the day’s sunshine and, apparently, little of note occurred in the remainder of the game.

Hudson deserves some sympathy. He made the right changes for his second game in charge, had clearly motivated and organised the team to produce an encouraging, if flawed, first half performance and can hardly be blamed for the lack of confidence which envelops at least half of the team no matter how hard they try to put it right.

Basic fitness levels appear deficient to say the least, exacerbated by the burden of persistent individual and collective failure weighing down on shoulders.

Sacking Siewert was necessary but was never going to solve the deep, systemic problems plaguing a club in steep, possibly irreversible, decline. Hodgkinson now has to make a difficult choice of new manager; the values which brought success to the club have all but crumbled over two disastrous transfer windows and the new direction and shake up which should have happened in January but didn’t, leaves him in a classic zugzwang.

Disciplinarian or innovator? Experienced or hungry? English or foreign? Whomever gets the job deserves our sympathy and patience, but the latter is in very short supply.

It always seemed a little odd just how sanguine Reading fans were after the play off defeat. A little more understandable now, perhaps, but is there any excuse for a club not to capitalise on the huge injection of revenues two seasons in the top league has brung?

The ironic chant about going to Luton is not so funny now, is it?

1973 and all that

Glum faces all round

Jan Siewert’s painfully inept, if somewhat unfortunate, tenure as manager of Huddersfield Town came to a predictable end with a defeat against a Fulham side who finally woke from a first half torpor to dominate a horrible second half for the team and their walking the plank boss.

With the club suffering from seemingly intractable problems which had built inexorably since around January 2018 under Wagner who, despite the miracle of survival which had largely been secured in the first 3 months of the season, was unable to replicate his remarkable achievements in the rarefied air of the Premier League, Jan’s job was as unenviable a task as the trials of Hercules.

Unfortunately, and from his first days to his last, he was unable to move the dial and rarely looked capable of doing so. 

The automatic goodwill and sympathy afforded to a coach taking over control of a vessel battered by the storms of debilitating stretches of defeat, the loss of leadership caused by Dean Hoyle’s traumatic illness and the sheer impossibility of a league where weakness is ruthlessly and incessantly punished was rather wasted by attacking his vulnerable players after defeats and never really connecting with a support which had demonstrated endless patience.

With no bounce, not even of the dead cat variety, there was little for supporters to become excited about. Perhaps unfairly, Siewert’s personality contrasted rather poorly with the man he replaced; when compared with many of his predecessors this would not have been an issue but Wagner, for all his failings towards the end, will cast a long shadow. He needed a signature victory but the only one he got was a fairly streaky three points against an opponent seemingly mesmerised by the words Huddersfield and Town.

Having accepted that there was little the man could do with a team largely incapable of competing in the top league, most were able to muster patience largely based on the belief that the step down would be an opportunity for him to shape his squad, get rid of the alleged bad apples and impose his own style for a difficult but more egalitarian league. 

That patience, however, was not underpinned with a great deal of belief as Siewert hadn’t demonstrated much in the way of innovation and even a successful, if relatively soft, pre season only served to slightly increase expectation that the team could quickly find their feet; not necessarily with a barnstorming march to the top of the early table but with a clear style and decent performances. Neither happened. Glimpses of decent play in isolated spells in the first two league games simply didn’t convince.

A relatively difficult start didn’t help him, but it was his job to overcome the challenges in front of him and he has pretty consistently failed to rise to them. There were some moments of ill fortune, but even a peremptory examination of them reveals individual failings; Elphick’s horrible debut including a ludicrous error, Kachunga’s blazing of an equaliser opportunity over the bar, Quaner ducking under across at QPR. The latter, however, was not just the error of the player – he shouldn’t have been on the pitch and epitomised Jan’s persistently bad substitution decisions.

The circumstances surrounding the home defeat by League 1 Lincoln were also ill starred but in a tough world, they were of the type you have to overcome. He didn’t. Again.

Overall, Siewert had little good fortune throughout his occupancy of the hot seat but neither did he ever give the impression he would create strategies to overcome them. It wasn’t just bad luck and circumstances which caused his downfall, it was his lack of discernible reaction to them.

In his final game, Siewert faced one of the favourites for promotion (serendipity seems to entirely evade the German) and chose a team which entirely ignored Van La Parra’s angry, message sending, cameo against Lincoln and Bacuna’s poor performance in the same game.

Predictable, lacking innovation or bravery even when you know the sack is just 90 minutes away is either remarkable chutzpah or unwisely and doggedly clinging to failed beliefs to the very end.
It didn’t turn out well and an uneventful, dull first half with neither side convincing or forcing either keeper in to meaningful action, though Grabara was the busier of the two, failed to offer much solace. A decent first 15 minutes for the home side faded away and were never to return and created little of note in any case.

Despite what looks like a very strong Championship squad, including the little nark, Arter, Fulham had a first half to forget and both sides produced distinctly average displays, littered with errors. For Town, Bacuna’s woeful start to the season persisted and was about to get immeasurably worse.

There was a significant case to be made for Siewert to replace the Dutch youngster at half time but, indecisively and predictably, he didn’t; a decision he would rue just 5 minutes in to a second half which had already seen Fulham improve considerably with purposeful possession.

A fairly benign attack down the right was transformed in to a dangerous one as Bacuna’s attempted clearance sliced high in to his own penalty area and perfectly placed for Mitrović to head home from close range. Elphick could possibly have done better too but the situation was completely unpredictable and a gift for the Fulham centre forward.

To their credit, and to the general surprise of a home crowd now fully expecting defeat, Town equalised when Hadgerjonaj finally delivered a decent cross which found Grant unmarked. Town’s single bright spot and cause for hope headed powerfully to the keeper’s left whose attempt to claw the ball out was marginally too late and goal line technology showed it crossed the line for Grant’s third goal in 3 games.

This should have signalled an assault on the visitors and the introduction of an attacking alternative to pile on the pressure. It didn’t, of course, and Fulham shrugged off the disappointment and simply picked up where they left off, dominating possession, moving easily and looking very comfortable.

Grabara, who had made several good stops before the equaliser became increasingly busy as Fulham resumed their superiority but had no chance whatsoever when Cavaleiro curled an excellent winner past the Pole after creating space in the area with the help of a dummy run to his left by Bryan.

With that, the final nail for the manager had been driven home and Town never looked like recovering. Van La Parra appeared with 5 minutes to go as Siewert’s Achilles heel was demonstrated for the final time and boos cascaded down the stands at yet another defeat.

Hudson, who, along with Whitehead, should have been given the job to guide Town out of the Premier League, will take charge at Cardiff and maybe until the international break if the club are wise and consider the options very carefully.

Whoever takes over will have the very difficult job of ensuring the great drop of the 1970s is avoided. There is organisable talent in this squad, but the relentless defeats have left an atrophied club spiralling in a descent reminiscent of those exceptionally dark days.

Good luck in the future, Jan, it just wasn’t to be.

Pressure mounts

It was good to see a well organised, committed and resilient team compete to as high a standard as their talent allows and beyond, securing a well earned victory with purpose and identifiable intent at the stadium last night.

Each and every player seemed to understand their roles and responsibilities, worked hard to counter the threats intermittently faced and played with freedom and movement when the opportunities arose.

That Lincoln we’re not at least two goals to the good by the break was down to debutant Ryan Schofield in goal who made some excellent saves to prevent even more embarrassment than that which finally befell a team which spluttered with uncertainty, hesitancy and lack of direction for most of the evening. One save, in particular, stood out as Schofield turned an excellent effort by the lively Jack Payne round the post. 

In what is now a feature of Huddersfield Town’s games against opposition ranging from the very top of the game to lower league strivers, there were brief flurries of intent and intensity (in this game, the 10 minutes before half time and, with desperation screaming from the effort, the final 15 minutes of the match).

The majority of the encounter, however, was dominated by a clearly well managed Lincoln City side who knew when to move the ball, when to swamp the opposition out of possession and how to keep their shape and discipline throughout. It didn’t take any insight in to tactical theory to recognise teamwork underpinned by motivated individuals taking personal responsibility to achieve a collective goal.

Those in red and white who took the deceptively long journey to Huddersfield could be mightily proud of their team, even if the margin of victory should have been greater – they fluffed a ridiculously easy chance to double a lead secured by a tidy move which unhinged Town’s back four before being sweetly finished at the back post. 

Lincoln were also grateful for a particularly generous interpretation of the hand ball rule towards the end which should have seen Town’s third penalty award in a row but they deserved the break and the home side decidedly did not.

The introduction of Van La Parra, who appeared to bristle with angry intent, turned the tide and the snubbed Dutchman nearly created an equaliser twice. First, he had a good effort well saved, then he put a cross on to the head of fellow substitute Mounié. To little surprise in the disgruntled, seething crowd, he put it over the bar.

The non penalty, the save and the miss spared us all 30 more minutes of misery and Lincoln deservedly progressed in to the next round of a cup which Town seem incapable of taking even remotely seriously. David Wagner earned the right to treat cup competitions with disdain; the current incumbent had a responsibility to lift the spirits of a club in a deep spiral.

Seeking positives from this dismal scenario is difficult and probably futile, but Challobah  looks to have a drive which even the least effective manager since John Haselden will struggle to subdue. That is not to say he won’t.

Another performance lacking in intensity, spontaneity and organisation brings Siewert perilously close to the exit door and the relationship, never great, with supporters is now beyond poisonous. If he lasts up to the Fulham game, it is going to take something exceptional on Friday night to save his skin.

Patience wears paper thin

As toxic levels rise inexorably, with both poison chalice holders, manager and chairman, coming under pressure from a frustrated support increasingly questioning of a club seemingly in search of a direction, Town scraped a point in a dire contest thanks to another Grant penalty.

In most circumstances, a draw at Loftus Road, now touchingly renamed The Kian Prince Foundation stadium, would be rightly viewed as creditable given QPR’s standing in the game, but neither the opposition nor the location was relevant.

After a painful second half of last season, for which no blame could attach to the new manager, slightly alleviated by 2 final games of relative competence against less than fully competitive opposition, and a full pre-season to prepare, supporters are still searching for signs of renaissance, some semblance of a new identity and, perhaps above all, evidence of managerial competence.

Siewert deserves a little sympathy as he took over from a man whose consideration of his fast disappearing reputation outweighed his responsibility to a club already suffering  an enforced crisis of leadership and there appeared no solution to the spiral of failure. Having accepted the challenge, however, Jan inherited the responsibility and has been given time to impose himself on the job.

He will know that the support’s patience has been stretched to it’s limits with, it seems, a majority yearning for a discernible upturn in fortunes from the very start of the season. This may or may not be an unfair demand, but it is his reality. Goodwill, which extended in to the pre-season, is now spent.

An opening day defeat against a competent Derby County piled on the pressure for a game which could hardly be considered a knocking bet, but the long awaited improvement in fortune failed to arrive, again, in a messy encounter not helped by strong winds and early downpours.

A pacy run by Diakhaby promised a very early boost for the visitors but ended with a tumble deemed a dive by referee Whitestone who booked the young Frenchman.

Rangers’ dangerous youngster Eze, who had scored a well publicised and fantastic goal against Stoke in the R’s opener, brought an excellent save from Grabara and looked a lively handful for the first 20 minutes before rather fading from prominence as the game wore on.

Bright Samuel forced the impressive Grabara in to another stop as the home side dominated the opening 10 minutes.

Weathering both a figurative and actual storm, Town came in to the game and a great through ball by the debutant O’Brien fed Karlan Grant on goal but an unnecessary first touch allowed Lumley to narrow the angles and block. The attack wasn’t over, however, and the combative O’Brien won the ball back and fed Bacuna who brought a spectacular but routine save from the home custodian.

With both sides enjoying brief flurries of pressure, an entertaining battle seemed likely but soon descended in to a scrap of low quality punctuated by poor tackles, misplaced passing and little shape from either side.

Pritchard had an effort from outside the box which troubled Lumley rather more than it should have, but the half descended in quality as it went on and boiled over following a sequence of events featuring Bacuna. 

First, he was felled from behind rather crudely by Cameron, who should have been booked, and was refused entry back on to the field of play with the ball deep in Rangers’ territory. Stupidly, the young midfielder took out his frustration on Manning with a high, late challenge which had the home fans near the incident howling for a red card. Replays suggest their ire was not simply partisan.

It made for a bad tempered end to a half from which neither side really deserved to take anything.

While far from exhilarating, the visitors had performed competently, bar Bacuna’s stupidity, with O’Brien enjoying a good debut and Elphick restoring his reputation alongside Schindler with a solid display.

Sensibly withdrawing Bacuna who was one poor decision away from dismissal, Siewert switched Pritchard to the middle and brought on Kachunga to play wide.

Within minutes of the restart, it seemed that the manager had been dealt a winning hand for once as the German was released by an excellent flick by Grant behind the home defence (and possibly a tad in front of it). Driving forward, Kachunga was bundled over in the box and neither the linesman nor the referee were in much doubt as the latter pointed to the spot.

Lumley’s antics; complaining to the linesman and, illegally, banging the crossbar as Grant lined up failed to distract Town’s main goal threat and the penalty was despatched nicely.

This was as good as it got for the visitors who failed to register a single shot on target for the rest of the game, and barely threatened at all from the hour mark.

The hosts enjoyed the majority of the possession for long periods yet rarely looked threatening until the closing stages. Town seemed to be on their way to a scratchy and barely deserved 3 points largely through the inadequacies of the opposition who could only point to easily blocked shots as evidence of territorial dominance.

Elphick was again proving solid and stopped one powerful Eze shot with his head when a goal looked certain and despite one or two scrambles, a decent save by Grabara and a shot which just flew over from Samuel, the hosts seemed destined to draw a blank.

At this point, Siewert decided to replace Diakhaby with Quaner; a decision he will surely now rue as the erratic German managed to give away a dangerous free kick, get booked and lose his man at the free kick which brought Rangers a deserved equaliser in a disastrous cameo.

Difficult as it is to guess which Quaner you will get either as a starter or a substitute, you can always be certain that his aerial ability, despite his size, is virtually non existent. To have him mark an opposition central defender on the back post was grossly negligent and as Grant Hall met an admittedly well delivered free kick which Collin had ducked under, the elusive 3 points were lost.

A second half which had started so brightly descended as it went on. Seemingly playing by instinct (and, sadly, not the instincts which bring inspiration), there seemed little in the way of a plan other than to smother the game. Forays forward were rare and mostly snuffed out with ease. Grant nearly drew a foul for a second penalty following a ball from the hard working but limited Kachunga and a lovely move down the left found Diakhaby released in to space but otherwise the home side took control.

As time wore on, Town visibly tired and while the equaliser was down to an individual’s defensive error, the free kick given away by Hogg was avoidable in the first place.

The visitors held on for a point which was barely celebrated by a following deeply sceptical of the performance of the manager. Lincoln and Fulham represent the thinnest of ice for a coach haemorrhaging support from the fans and increasingly in the hands of a Chairman holding his own poisoned chalice.

An interesting week ahead.

Reality rammed home

Within 25 minutes of the season opener, Town had been dismantled by a Tom Lawrence inspired Derby County and the balloon of optimism inflated by two relatively competent final Premier League performances and a positive pre-season was brutally popped.

Disjointed, sloppy in thought and deed and with little discernible commitment to a plan, the Terriers allowed Lawrence to dictate the whole game and his appreciation of space, timely passing and eagerness to be involved in everything the Rams were attempting contrasted starkly with the home midfield who appeared disinterested out of possession.

Lawrence earned two free kicks with bursts in to space, fired one just wide and one in to the wall, and revelled in the freedom given to him as no home player took responsibility to stem his glaringly obvious threat.

A good run by Diakhaby which ended with him taking an ill advised shot rather than find a better placed colleague and some decent work down the right by Hadergjonaj which invariably saw the Kosovan find the first defender with aimless crossing was the extent of Town’s threat. 

As early as the first minute, Lawrence had a shot which appeared to strike Elphick on the hand, but Town’s new central defender was to hand the Welshman the opening goal with a weird attempt to direct the ball back to Grabara which hit his shoulder, then his head and forced the Liverpool loanee out of his area to try to clear with his head. 

The attempt gained little purchase and fell to Lawrence who still had plenty to do to score the opener with a deft lob. Elphick’s lack of awareness of the danger his fluff had caused meant that he didn’t get back on the line quickly enough where he could have affected a simple clearance. 

Within minutes, Lawrence struck again but in contrast to the freakish if well taken opener, his second was sublime. The initial danger was caused by a rushed Hadergjonaj attempted clearance, executed for no apparent reason, which was picked up by Derby to launch another attack on the fraying home side. Working the ball across the face of the penalty area, Bogle shaped to shoot but found Lawrence in a pocket of space. With quick feet, the game’s stand out player bamboozled a combination of Elphick and Hadergjonaj before hitting a superb finish past Grabara.

Derby fully deserved their lead and despite Town grabbing a life line before the break with an excellently taken Grant penalty – awarded for a foul on Bacuna, whose turn in the box was just about his only meaningful, positive contribution in the first half before going off injured in the second – their superiority should have seen them restore their 2 goal advantage only to be thwarted by a good save by Grabara and, to his credit, a significant block by Elphick and a similarly effective intervention by Kongolo. The last of these also injured Lawrence and rather muted his contribution for the remainder of the game.

With the midfield trio barely functioning during a first half which was both sobering and worrying, Town were fortunate to still be in a game dominated by a team of genuine threat and tight discipline.
A decent Pritchard effort which cleared the bar, an excellent couple of pacy bursts by Diakhaby and the Bacuna turn which brought the penalty were over shadowed by a dysfunctional overall performance directly contrasting with Derby’s shape, purpose and discipline. 

The main threat was Hadergjonaj’s probing down the right, including one excellent turn to set himself free, but the threat disappeared with woeful final balls which hit the first defender with laser like precision. This was not about to improve in a better team performance in the second half.

After the break, Town had their best spell with an intense 15 minutes which brought chances and significantly more cohesion.
A Bacuna effort resulted in a corner which found its way to the back post and an unmarked Schindler. The captain’s shot was saved at close range by Roos to maintain the visitors’ lead.

A wild Pritchard effort following good work by Grant confirmed Town’s temporary dominance which ended with a fantastic half volley by Mooy which fizzed just wide. The Australian’s influence grew after a below par first half as Town established a tighter grip in the middle, perhaps as a result of Lawrence’s diminished threat.

An injury to Bacuna disrupted Town’s rhythm and energy; aside from one woeful attempted pass straight to a black shirt, he had looked better after the break and the game in general became scrappy following his departure.

Rarely emerging from their defensive shell, Derby were content for Town to have the ball, but launched one or two dangerous looking counter attacks including one which resulted in a painful collision between Kongolo and Grabara. On the whole, however, from the hour mark, niggly fouls and over officious refereeing blighted the flow of the game to the home team’s disadvantage.

All would have been forgotten, however, had Kachunga buried a glorious chance with 10 minutes to go. An otherwise rather out of sorts, and out of position, Kongolo swung a good cross in which fell to the second half substitute in space. His shot was snatched and quite horrible, sailing way over the bar.

The chance of rescuing a probably undeserved point vanished with the woeful effort.

Kongolo on the left had seen less of the ball than the over employed Hadergjonaj who covered lots of ground but remained cluelessly inaccurate with his deliveries, including one in to an area entirely bereft of colleagues.

Derby defended very well on the whole but their comfort was built on Town’s ponderous  attacking, predictability and poor decision making in the final third; deficiencies which pre date Siewert but show little sign of improvement.

The big moments were overwhelmingly in the Rams’ favour but they had earned the three points with good organisation, a clearly identifiable plan and a first half hour dominated by Lawrence, supported by good movement around him.

Town have talent in the squad but aside from the 15 minutes after the break, they were unable to develop momentum and were telegraphing virtually every move to a comfortable opponent. That talent, which included a good but frustratingly unproductive performance from Pritchard, must be harnessed by Siewert in to a far more potent unit that was on display last night; Grant’s isolation cannot be allowed to persist and the over use of Hadergjonaj until he learns how to deliver in to the area must cease.

Elphick’s debut to forget – he improved after the break but couldn’t really decline – is unlikely to see him replaced but Siewert should make some brave choices for the next game, including moving Kongolo to centre half.

It is far, far too early to panic – Derby look a good, competent outfit – but the patience afforded to the team and the management last season is unlikely to last long. The next few weeks could be very challenging for Siewert and the games look far from straightforward.

Town kop another beating

In the run up to this ridiculously mismatched contest, the media applied the epithet “already relegated” to Huddersfield Town. While it made a change from Huddersfield Town nil, it was also a message to Liverpool – drop points here and bottling would be redefined.

Conceding within 15 seconds, with Stankovíc trying to play out from the back as two rather decent footballers breathed down his neck, that notion was instantly buried.

Kieta robbed the over casual Slovenian, received a pass from Salah and beat Lössl with some comfort to record Liverpool’s fastest ever Premier League goal. The visitors had managed to turn kick off in to a golden opportunity for opponents hardly reliant on such a gift.

If there had been even a glimmer of hope for Town, and this is a stretch demanding a lot of imagination, it was to frustrate the Reds and jangle their nerves as they strived to put pressure on the other outstanding team in the division vying for a title both deserve to win.

Ironically, rather than being a prelude to Liverpool asserting their overwhelming quality, Town produced 15 minutes of decent football which almost lead to an immediate shock equaliser as Stankovíc found himself in space and side footed an attempt goal wards which deflected wide off Lovren for a poorly delivered corner.

Mbenza had an effort blocked and also delivered a dangerous cross which Mouníe failed to convert, and the striker nearly connected with another corner as the visitors took the game to their hosts.

As ever, the bright spell faded away quickly but it should be noted that there was more adventure in that brief period than in the whole of the last visit to Anfield.

With a palpable yawn, Liverpool woke up to the fact that they needed to put away this upstart and, lead by the imperious Van Dijk who, striding forward in to a space he created for himself by disdainfully swatting off any attempt to intrude upon his elegance set up Robinson to swing in a perfect cross for Mané to bury.

Any pretence of competition disappeared with the doubling of the lead and the home side set their eyes on the one area where they are well behind City; goal difference. The Terriers had contributed to the discrepancy in their 6-1 capitulation with a scratch Wagner side in the second game of the season, so this was the Merseysiders’ lamb slaughtering catch up opportunity.

As the injury time board was held up showing just 1 minute to be added, Alexander-Arnold played a sumptuous ball through to Salah who expertly lobbed Lössl to salt the visitors’ gaping wounds.

Anfield, a little more atmospheric than last season, applauded off their team who had barely broken sweat for their 3-0 lead and could even afford 15 minutes of complacency  against a team consistently exposed as massively out of their depth. 

Only the dynamic Bacuna – who was taken out 3 times by Kieta without a word to the Guinean from a typically indulgent referee – provided comfort to the visiting supporters though Grant’s fearless if not flawless work out of position on the left promises good things as well.

Liverpool could, and probably should, have closed the goals gap on City to the point of parity in a second half played in an increasingly swirling, cold wind. As it was, Mané planted a fine header past Lössl following an excellent Henderson cross and Salah steered home a low cross from the excellent Robinson after a defence splitting Shaqiri pass had played in the Scotsman on the left and the hosts went nap.

Shaqiri had been brought on as a substitute. Oxlade-Chamberlain was brought on as a substitute on his return from horrific injury at the back end of last season. We brought on Löwe, a left back, to replace alleged striker Mounié.

With Mané hitting the post, Lössl saving well from Oxlade-Chamberlain and the hosts rather over elaborating at times, the score was a little way off humiliation but still humbling.

Town had actually been the first to get the ball in the net in the second half but the excellent Bacuna was deprived by a correct offside call – Sturridge was similarly denied minutes later.

Before those judgements, however, Mounié managed to encapsulate everything which has been wrong with the Terriers all season. After exposing Lovren with a decent attack featuring Grant, a loose clearance allowed the Beninese a clear run on goal with both Grant and Bacuna free to his right. Mounié took so long to weigh up his options you could almost visualise the confused thought bubbles. Mané – a guy who plays up front for the equal best team in the country, vying to be the best in Europe – got back to dispossess him.

There have been many situations which could have been the final straw for the immobile, indecisive non scoring striker – his failure to play in Matt Daly last week, for instance; surely and finally this piece of ineptitude will be it?

For supporters, the yearning for an end to the relentless punishment endures. There is a certain joy in the gallows humour which masks the humiliation of being one of the most inept teams in the top flight (going back way beyond 1992), but neither is there any comfort in looking to the future at a level at which we should be able to compete, there being little evidence – Bacuna and Grant aside – that the decline can be halted.

Two theories about Siewert compete amongst the fans; he is either hidebound by the circumstances in to which he was plunged and worthy of a transfer window to transform our fortunes or an entirely unproven naïf who has shown little discernible aptitude for the job.

Successful succession planning rather assumes a smooth transition in calm circumstances, not parachuting in an inexperienced (in fact, non experienced in terms of first team football) coach to take over from an emotionally drained miracle worker. Town have done themselves nor Siewert any favours at all when Hudson could have guided the club down without the apparent friction created by a man, understandably, trying to make his mark.

A heavy defeat to an elite club and team has to be viewed in context, but as another chapter in an appalling, exhausting season of hopelessness, Town’s incessant failure cannot simply be ignored.

Perhaps the future ownership will be clearer by the end of this week, if rumours are to be believed, which may, finally, lead to some evidence of planning for the rigours of the relentless Championship season ahead. 

The club, which barely deserves the number of season tickets sold, must start communicating messages beyond the banalities emanating from them at the moment (like a picture of the away dressing room before the game last night). Even a little reassurance would be welcome, if not universally believed.

Still, it’s nearly over, thank God.

Quality gap exposed again

That a youngster from League One has become Huddersfield Town’s top scorer in just a few short months as he adapts to life at the top level tells you all you need to know about a squad which continues to fail to deliver even scraps of hope to a remarkably supportive fan base.

As has been the case for nearly a season and a half, Town faced opponents with much greater quality, application and coherence playing within themselves for much of the game and finding thwarting the sporadic threat the home team could muster all too easy.

An early goal for the FA Cup finalists – it would be due reward for a great season if the Hornets overcome the City juggernaut – augured badly for the Terriers who, in time honoured style, rather gifted the opportunity to the talented Deulofeu when a ball from Lössl to Hogg put the ex-Watford man in some trouble. 

His attempt to extricate himself saw him robbed and left defenders in big trouble behind him. Kongolo made a great block from Doucouré only for the ball to rebound to Deulofeu. The Spaniard bamboozled the recovering Kongolo and planted the ball in off the post with a marvellous piece of skill.

A pretty dreary first half followed with a Mooy free kick and a decent effort by Mbenza which was too close to Foster to cause much concern briefly enlivening proceedings. The shape and composition of the team was much better than last week’s horrendous mistake and there were one or two encouraging releases of Smith down the right and Durm down the left by the lively Bacuna but gloom largely pervaded.

Hogg, on a booking and near the edge of a red was withdrawn for debutant Daly and the youngster acquitted himself pretty well – had Mounié played him in during a bright period in the second half, he could well have capped his debut with an equaliser.

After the interval, Town were a little brighter and a little more competitive but rarely troubled Foster in the Watford goal as the final third failings which has engulfed all the other efforts throughout the season were exposed once more.

Grant, on whose shoulders next season appear to be weighing, replaced the disappointing and fundamentally immobile Mounié just after the hour. Other than his failure to release Daly in a momentarily dangerous looking counter attack, the Beninese had overhead kicked a loose ball over the bar and failed to connect with a decent Mbenza cross. His overall contribution was marginal, however.

Another feature of many games this season has been the obligatory 10-15 minutes of decent play. It rarely leads to a goal, never changes the course of events and cruelly tantalises supporters who wonder why these brief sparks of competence cannot be sustained and never deliver anyway. 

As hope is crushed on impact with the final third of the pitch, it is only a matter of time for the invariably superior opposition to counter and when Watford broke up Town possession halfway in the home half, alarm bells started ringing. Sema made a strong run past Durm before his dangerous low cross was deflected to Doucouré who brought out a good save from Lössl only for the ball to fall to Deulofeu to place a killer second past despairing home defenders.

A late consolation by Grant, who seems to have significantly more instinct in the box than the rest of Town’s failing strikers put together, put a little gloss on the predictably dispiriting affair – the goal means we have equalled the record low scoring season in the Premier League, held by Derby County. One more and the tiniest scrap of comfort can be drawn.

With ownership uncertainty, doubts over the new manager and one or two players going through the motions before inevitable departure, it remains incredible that the club receives the vocal support heard in the second half – some time soon, they need to see a plan to halt a debilitating decline which seems inevitable as things stand.

On the positive side, Bacuna and Kongolo performed excellently for the whole game, Grant looks like the type of poacher who could thrive in the Championship and Lössl reminded us what a good goalkeeper looks like.

It is anybody’s guess what sort of team Siewert will put out at Anfield but the challenge looks monumentally beyond any combination. 

Dazzled and befuddled

Town’s latest gig on the tour of forlorn futility rolled up to Tottenham Hotspur’s gleaming new citadel in North London to provide the Lilywhites with some light relief between their Champions League quarter final match up with Manchester City.

Feasting on the doomed Terriers in a ludicrously one sided first half, Spurs dictated the tempo of the game with measured ease. Pochettino had the luxury of resting his major players knowing that he could have picked a team out of a hat to secure 3 points. His counterpart Siewert appears to have actually followed that plan with another failed experiment which managed to add a new level of frailty to his so far entirely uninspiring tenure.

The timorous visitors approached the game with a debilitating level of fear and should have been buried well before a quick double between the 24th and 27th minute gave the score line a semblance of reality. For the first, Stanković was embarrassed by Llorente on the edge of the area before the Spaniard fed Wanyama to waltz through the little resistance there was in front of him. Minutes later, Durm lost the ball on the halfway line allowing a lightning fast counter which ended with Lucas Moura firing under the hapless Hamer.

Revelling in their sumptuous new surroundings, Tottenham strolled their way through a first half without, remarkably, adding to their lead leaving the away support with no choice but to stick around in the unlikely event that the old adage of 2-0 being a dangerous lead came true.

In fairness, Town showed more fight in the second half and had an excellent cross by Hogg been guided in by Mounié on the three quarter mark rather than creeping agonisingly wide, the game may have become interesting. By that point, the home side had contrived to miss a plethora of chances and their profligacy may have come back to haunt them. 

Prior to the miss, Bacuna had released Grant with an excellent ball only for the youngster to run out of steam at the vital moment. These two combined again later to no avail but they represent just about the only hope that the club can be revitalised next season.

For the time being, we look hopelessly out of our depth even against lesser lights than a scratch Spurs team who scored two late goals through Mauro, allowing the Brazilian a first Premier League hat trick. The record books won’t have an asterisk denoting the appalling opposition he faced to achieve the feat.

A raucous celebration of our lamentable team at half time in the concourse provided just about the only entertainment for the visiting support – once it was broken up by stadium staff the beleaguered travellers had to go back out to endure yet another humiliation in a season of desperate, dreary tedium.

Growing and serious question marks now surround Siewert. Not because he has picked up just one, streaky, win since his appointment or because he has been unable to produce miracles with a squad destined for relegation long before he arrived or that he lost to a team on a completely different financial plane, but because there has been no discernible improvement in tactics or performance; pretty much the opposite, in fact.

Our identity was lost before he took over, but the path from dogged, aggressive Terriers to supine poodles has been accelerated rather than reversed. The pride we had in a team battling overwhelming odds has been replaced by the shame of humiliation, disguised with scathing self mockery.

The club is in a dangerous place and the decline is becoming malignant.

‘72 Revisited

Huddersfield Town were predictably dismantled by a Leicester side brimming with talent and confidence and they added a twist of cruelty by not emphasising their massive superiority in the first half with more than a slender 1-0 lead.

A bright start in the second half saw the home team achieve a semblance of threat before Vardy made it 2-0 following the Foxes’ first serious foray.

Reflecting the horrors of a season which has trashed the legacy built by Wagner and Hoyle, home supporters were given a glimmer of hope when the first penalty of the season was converted by Mooy only for the visitors’ overwhelming superiority to be reasserted as Town’s forlorn search for an equaliser was foiled.

Hogg, who picked up a cheap booking pulling back the excellent Maddison, tried to be calm on the edge of the area when a clearance was demanded and fouled Vardy as the ex-England striker nipped in to dispossess him. Maddison curled the free kick past a poorly constructed wall and the worryingly execrated Hamer to seal the points.

Vardy’s late penalty gave the score line a more realistic representation of the yawning gap of quality, organisation and resilience between the mismatched teams. By that point, many had left the stadium for pursuits elsewhere wracked with fear and doubt over the future of their club. 

Financial stability is the consolation but the stench of failure is beginning to hang heavy around a club which still does a hell of a lot right off the pitch – the invite to the girl from Texas inspired by Mooy was typical of that – but for how long will they be able to roll this turd in golden glitter?

Parallels with 1972 and probably the darkest period in Town’s history become stronger and stronger. Experienced, well remunerated players sidelined after making their departures public, disintegration on the pitch as dismal failure permeates and destroys confidence and the ownership, through no fault of his own this time, appearing to be ready to go. Gallows humour is just about the only thing left for a brutalised support.

Jan Siewert’s tenure has not gone well. One win over Wolves, a club seemingly and bizarrely hexed by the Terriers, doesn’t begin to mask his unremitting failure to offer any signs of hope despite some pretty brave decisions which are unmistakably experimental. Brief glimmers of excitement are all too easily buried by the cruel realities of a division far beyond the capabilities of many in the squad and the ease and propensity of collapse during games reflects a potentially engulfing chaos.

The appointment of Siewert is looking increasingly like an attempt to reheat a soufflé. There was undoubted logic in formulating a Wagner succession plan, but that surely presupposed a smooth transition rather than the quite horrible circumstances pertaining in January and since.

Where once the underdog Terrier identity was defining and useful, dropping down to the Championship with riches beyond the imagination as recently as 3 years ago has to mean change. We cannot pretend to be the paupers we once were – while geography and image still mitigates against established, quality players choosing the club, money does talk. That reality must be grasped and turned to advantage rather than ignored as being too vulgar.

Town’s situation surely demands an experienced manager to oversee a well recruited squad through the rigours of the Championship, but the reality is that the Siewert gamble will be played out to its conclusion. There is little evidence that the conclusion will be joyous, but maybe the planets will align as perfectly as they did once Wagner got the squad he wanted?

For many, the drop down barely registers as a disaster, and there are many aspects of the Premier League which won’t be missed – not least the Sisyphean futility of staying up – but this acceptance could easily translate in to a further relegation. It has happened to bigger clubs than us.

The unlamented Rebbe has yet to be replaced at a time which could be being used productively to source the players to make us competitive, which is an added worry to a pile of concerns over the short term future.

Back to the game itself; woeful passing, wasteful free kicks and corners and an all pervading lack of cohesion doomed Town from the start and a 3rd home win never looked like happening. To his credit, the much maligned Hamer kept the first half score down with some decent goalkeeping to deny the ever dangerous Gray but it was only postponing the inevitable.

Improved after the break, Town finally perturbed Leicester’s back four but ……. ah, who cares.

On to Spurs to look around their new home ahead of another thraping.