Calamity!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Running on fumes

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Naby drives Rovers wild

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Happy New Year everyone.

Tarn down

It is almost 25 years since Tom Cowan scored direct from a throw in at Oakwell, in a 3-1 defeat, so it was vaguely poignant that an ugly and messy Yorkshire derby should be settled as a direct result of another dubious long throw.


Not that Town should have any complaints at conceding just as the clock ticked over the 3 minutes added. The additional seconds resulted from the time taken for the visitors to utterly waste their own injury time free kick; rather than managing the dying moments to take a point they only deserved because neither side were worthy of maximum points, they lost possession, discipline and organisation.


Rarely allowed any sort of fluency, Town didn’t take advantage of a brief period of ascendancy in the first half which should have seen them take a 2 goal lead. A lively opening 5 minutes from Barnsley needed good interventions by Schofield to prevent the hosts taking the lead, but Town grew in to the game after that.


O’Brien, whose decent first half performance descended badly in the second, made trademark driving runs at the opposition and deserved better than Campbell’s efforts to convert one particularly dangerous ball in the box – as did Pipa, later – but another of his runs led to the corner from which Town took the lead.


A short corner routine nicely created room in the box for a cross which was met by Edmonds-Green for his first goal for the club, and a foundation was established.


Unfortunately, it wasn’t built upon in the only period of the game where Town looked remotely in control and capable of beating Barnsley’s insistent pressing. Hogg, outstanding again in a game which demanded his football memory kicked in, played a beautiful forward pass in to space for Campbell who really should have chipped over the advancing keeper rather than slide the ball wide.

Already guilty of not being sharp enough to capitalise on two excellent balls in to the box, the hard working but less than clinical forward could have established a 2 goal advantage which was unlikely to be overtaken.


The equaliser followed soon after as a Barnsley corner found a free man beyond the far post, with the header back across goal causing inordinate panic as Sarr, who reverted back to unreliability as easily as he dons the cloak of invincibility in other games, managed to aid the opposition by pushing Edmonds-Green in to Schofield and then failing to deal with the resultant mêlée. 


Back on terms, Barnsley dominated the visitors for the rest of the half and, with the exception of Hogg, Town’s midfield evaporated under pressure. The enigmatic Eiting, struggling again to influence a game clearly foreign to his experience, wilted away while O’Brien’s passing capability collapsed. Bacuna worked hard enough defensively but had little influence in the little forward movement Town were mustering.


Eiting did, however, produce one inspired back heel to Campbell which arguably should have resulted in a penalty for the Terriers just before the break.


As the weather deteriorated, the game followed suit. Town had Schofield to thank for a good save from an overhead kick and one or two more routine interceptions, but were unable to trouble the home keeper whatsoever in a pretty dreadful second half display punctuated by error and poor decision making.


Barnsley weren’t much better but looked slightly more capable of grabbing the winning goal the game simply did not deserve.


The home side, however, were able to call on a bench presumably capable of changing the momentum while Pritchard and Dhiakaby were, yet again, entrusted to make a difference from ours. They did not, and surely it is time for something other than this irredeemable pair even with a bench as thin as it is currently.


Losing a point which was only deserved in a negative sense is not the end of the world and hardly unusual for a squad which is punching a little in mid table, however bizarre and annoying the manner of defeat. It is another learning curve for Corberán in a season of rebuilding and it is to be hoped that January recruitment, particularly in forward areas, will be judicious and progressive.


Having heard and read the EFL media’s excitement with Barnsley, their unrelentingly ugly football came as a bit of a shock, but perhaps the circumstances of the day, not least the weather, dictated the style. Their energy could not be faulted, however, and subduing Town down the flanks for all but a 15 minute period in the first half earned them the 3 points.


Until the Terriers learn to cope with the physicality of the Championship, progress will be a long time coming. Solutions needed Carlos.

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.