Thomas erases doubts

In the end, Wayne Rooney was able to name an experienced first eleven after a week of drama as his boss tried to navigate around the sanctions he himself has brought upon the Rams, and the delusional predictions of an easy task for the Terriers predictably evaporated.


Town’s own, more short term, difficulties arose in the run up to the game and stripped them of a goalkeeper, two left backs and their most valuable asset (also a sometime, if misjudged, left back). With Corberán also isolating, the disruption was complete.


Defensively, Town look far more capable of overcoming injury and suspension this season, though that is a particularly low bar to clear, and the adoption of a back 3 in some games had been predicted, if not for the opener. With Turton on the right being significantly more defensive minded than Pipa, risks were reduced somewhat but at the expense of threat.


An ill prepared but experienced home side was pitched against a well prepared but disrupted visiting team and the eventual sharing of points was a fair outcome in a game lacking quality in most areas, but not effort. 


The fact that Derby didn’t visibly tire as the game wore on was admirable given their horrible circumstances and, indeed, they could have claimed all 3 points had Schofield not made up for a poor decision parrying a low cross in to a dangerous area with a good save from Sibley.


Minutes before that heart in mouth moment, substitute Campbell fired an excellent chance too close to Roos with Town looking increasingly more likely to grab a win.

The introduction of Campbell and Koroma introduced a better dynamic than the partnership of Ward and Rhodes. Neither of the original front two played badly but they lacked chemistry and produced little in the way of threat.


A disappointing first half, as the sides weighed each other up, was only brightened by Sorba Thomas’s vibrant and fearless efforts. None of his substitute appearances last season suggested the vertiginous raising of his levels he is showing, despite the obvious enthusiasm he displayed.

Somehow, Corberán needs to find a way of accommodating both Thomas and Koroma – the latter looked nearer to his own high standards when he came on than in his disappointing display at Hillsborough last Sunday.


Derby opened the scoring rather out of the blue, though an uncharacteristic error by Pearson had nearly let the home side in just before the half hour with Schofield doing well to close down the threat and the Rams had a brief period of ascendancy before their opener.


Giving away a corner following good work from Lawrence, the ball should either have been headed away by Holmes defending the near post or left to Schofield who came to claim it only to be thwarted by the ex-Derby man’s unintended flick on which flew to the back post. A combination of Curtis Davies and Levi Colwill bundled the ball over the line.


Encouragingly, Town were level by the break as the impressive Thomas delivered a superb ball in to the box from a free kick (he had delivered another to Rhodes minutes before which the striker didn’t quite connect with and the glance went wide). This one was met, unchallenged, by the towering Sarr and momentum switched back to the visitors for the second half.


Even before the half time whistle blew, High drew a good save from Roos and the subsequent corner should have caused more danger following another Rhodes flick.

A more interesting second half followed, with Town largely on the front foot but Derby looking dangerous on the break. The visitors played too slowly on the whole, though the penetration provided by Thomas was enhanced by the arrival of Koroma who carried threat down the right and Town began to look the more potent.


A corner resulting from another passage of attacking play found Pearson unmarked and the defender should have buried the chance rather than head over. Thomas, of course, had put the opportunity on Pearson’s head.


The outstanding player of the game then set Campbell free for another gilt edged opportunity but his shot was too close to Roos and, at that moment, it felt that the visitors’ chances of a winning start to the campaign had gone.


That final lapse and redemption by Schofield ensured that a positive, if slightly disappointing, result was achieved.


Playing their first competitive game ahead of the new season was sensible preparation, only to be ruined by the COVID problems, while the circumstances of their opponents, which will bite later in the season, added up to a game where conclusions are difficult to draw. 


The anticipointment (yes, this is a word!) which usually accompanies the first game was absent, though the joy of both sets of fans to be present was not.


Stiffer challenges await, particularly in the next 5 games, but the emergence of Thomas as a talent of great potential will be fascinating to witness. Goals look as scarce as ever, but a Thomas/Koroma combination may provide the ammunition up front to keep Town clear of trouble, if the former can maintain his progress and the latter can adapt to playing down the right.


Defensively, Town look more secure, though they need a calmer influence behind them than Schofield. Nicholls needs to be restored against Fulham, if his circumstances permit.


A strange opening day, then, but life apparently returning back to normal is to be celebrated. It felt good.

Shiny, happy people

The sights and sounds of a ritual paused for 513 days unfurled as, at last, a crowd descended on Hillsborough for a Yorkshire derby in a cup disrespected and abused for so long by the visitors. Not today.


Cars seeking out parking spaces around the venerable, yet haunted, South Yorkshire stadium, a waft of fried onions from a van from the outer edges of the street food fad, the anticipation on faces young and old with the latter wearied by experience but still clinging to hope, programme sellers doing brisk trade, lines clutching tickets for a game which would normally just attract the obsessed. Even concourse culture seemed acceptable (for now).


The welcome, if endlessly frustrating, distraction provided by iFollow through the long months of crisis was replaced by the real thing. 


Around 2,000 Town fans packed the upper tier of the Leppings Lane end and proceeded to be as loud, crude and (occasionally) funny as ever. 

It wasn’t difficult for either set of fans to single out a villain, with Jack Hunt’s parentage regularly questioned by the visiting support (much to the amusement of his former team mate, Ward, at one point), while Rhodes taking the first penalty of the shoot out which decided the affair rightly infuriated Owls’ fans who remember him conspicuously ducking out of the rather more important one in 2017.


The individual targeting Barry Bannan, for reasons known only to himself, provided more idiosyncratic amusement.


Who knows what disruptions lay ahead but, for now, let’s rejoice that, however disconcerting the return to old norms was for some, perhaps many, the long awaited event actually took place. Town reached the 2nd round of the League Cup.


Despite their travails, Wednesday provided tough opposition, literally and figuratively, though their threat was largely absent as Town controlled and dominated an entertaining first half long on the visitors’ possession but rather short on end product.


Scott High, who impressed again, forced a decent save from Bailey-Peacock and two other chances were created by effective pressing to force less demanding stops.


Defensively, Town coped comfortably with Wednesday. 


Colwill’s clash with Paterson was excellent experience for a young player with undoubted class in possession but still developing to meet the demands of facing aggressive centre forwards. Alongside him, and one unpunished error aside, Pearson provided strength and know how. 


A better team than Wednesday would have exploited Toffolo’s high position far more effectively as Town left too much space behind him at times, though Turton concentrated more on defence on the other side, providing a third central defensive presence when Toffolo was bypassed.


O’Brien, watched by Bielsa’s from the stands, was outstanding throughout. Last season’s poor preparation through injury and enforced positional changes diminished his obvious ability but, sadly, it looks likely that Leeds will benefit from the stable pre season he has enjoyed, if they are prepared to meet Town’s high price.


Up front, Ward looked sharper and fitter than at any time during his return and had some lovely touches but only one half chance late on when a shot on the turn was never going to bypass the number of bodies between him and goal. Encouraging though.


In contrast, Koroma was a little flat and not quite up to speed and his replacement, Thomas, continued his good form in pre-season with an eye catching cameo only slightly tainted by missing a good opportunity when put clear by High, though Bannon’s recovery and tackle was excellent.


Holmes provided some good balls through to front positions though carelessness in passing at times could’ve been costly.


Other than a ten minute spell in the second half, which brought one decent save from Nicholls, Town were largely on the front foot and regularly tested the Owls’ resilience. It will have encouraged Moore to see his side stand up to the pressure, though Rhodes, on as a substitute in place of Ward, found space in the area twice and should have won the tie for the Terriers.


His first header would have been routinely saved, but Hutchinson intervened unnecessarily and was relieved to see his sliced clearance loop over the bar. The second, however, was a golden opportunity provided by Thomas with an excellent cross. Rhodes’ disappointment was clearly evident, though this didn’t affect his composure in the shoot out.


It barely needs stating that Town won the penalty competition; the success over the years is nothing short of remarkable and this one was achieved with no German influence (unless Hefele’s presence inspired).


Every penalty was a good one with Wednesday’s keeper standing no chance with any of them. In contrast, Nicholls saved two meaning that the full complement of spot kicks were unnecessary. The chanting of a certain Argentinian’s name, which will surely accompany every Owls/Terriers clash down the decades, twisted the knife.


Despite failing to score, rather emphasising the fear that the defensive strengthening may be undermined by the lack of goals in the squad, the performance provided some hope for the season ahead and bringing  the tie forward a very useful innovation for both clubs.


For the many who have waited so long to witness professional football in a stadium again, the event was always going to be bigger than the result. Let’s hope the recovery doesn’t stall; the near normalcy was hugely welcome and refreshing.


Now on to the season proper….

Here comes the summer

3 years ago, Town players’ celebrations of a 1-1 draw down South were so epic, they made the pages of the Daily Mail. The hangover persists.


There are very few straws to be clutched after a hugely disappointing season which ended with a typically bloodless exercise in completion, but at least the point gained by a very late Edmonds-Green equaliser at Reading meant the campaign wrapped up with Town avoiding defeat.


The game itself featured a fine free kick by Koroma which gave Town the lead, a very promising full league debut by Scott High, a soft penalty given against the visitors and one denied Vallejo who had run half the pitch before being clipped then, ludicrously, booked, some poor defending for Reading’s second, a mixed bag of performances and Lewis O’Brien, yet again, at bloody left back.


It wasn’t the worst dead rubber game ever played, but the drama elsewhere was an easy distraction. Relief that Town were not involved in the nerve jangling horror as 3 sides jostled for the one survival place on offer was tinged with the fear and, for many, expectation, that it was simply being postponed for 12 months.


Occasional injections of energy by both sides provided some lift, but the lack of tension or peril was never far beneath the surface and tedious stretches of slow, unadventurous play were a regular reminder of the game’s fundamental banality.


Recently crowned player of the year, Jonathan Hogg, put in a curious performance with errors which led to the penalty and Schofield bailing him out with two good saves. In contrast, Vallejo played with a calm authority and signing him should be a priority in a summer crammed with priorities.


Koroma’s happy knack of scoring regularly is also key if Town are to progress away from flirting with relegation year after year. His free kick, which he curled in to the top corner to give Town the lead was a thing of beauty. High had hit the post moments before and was later to press very successfully, robbing a dawdling defender, before skying over the bar.


As ever, Town’s main problems were defensive. Hogg’s indiscretions were the main issue, though the penalty he conceded was harsh and coming just a few minutes after the opener, prevented the visitors gaining momentum and control.


Just before the half hour, Town were behind. Schofield made a good save to spare his captain’s blushes but the subsequent corner resulted in a deep cross which was met, unchallenged, by Meite who looped his header over Schofield and in at the far post. 


If the first 30 minutes had been relatively bright in the circumstances, the final hour of the season rarely bothered to pretend to be little more than an exhausted stroll to a finishing line yearned for by both clubs. Reading, whose stellar start to the season seemed certain to see them in the top 6, have collapsed in the past few months despite some genuine talent in their ranks and a pretty eye watering wages to turnover ratio.


For long periods of a dull second half, the hosts enjoyed swathes of possession while Town sat back and soaked up largely ineffective pressure. The appearance of Joao, who had destroyed them in the home game, was ominous but the Portuguese’s impact was restricted to a glancing header from a corner which flashed wide.


As the game drearily trundled on, Town began to show some flickering signs of life and finally ventured in to the final third with a faint, but noticeable, sense of purpose. It was no coincidence that Eiting had come on to the pitch, adding some desperately needed guile. Another substitute, Thomas, added some much needed purpose down the right which had been entirely barren while Aarons, who was woeful, had been there.


Vallejo’s long run from the halfway line to the box ended with the Spaniard being clipped, felled and then booked for non existent simulation. Town’s record from the measly 3 penalties awarded to them through the season suggested that even with an award, an equaliser was far from guaranteed.


The new found enthusiasm to chase a point included the appearance of Schofield in the area for a corner. Would that the club had shown as much urgency in 2021 rather than leave it until the final moments.


In the end, Town levelled through a clever ball played by yet another substitute, Bacuna, to yet another substitute, Edmonds-Green whose shot rather went through the Reading keeper. The influence of all these replacements cast something of a shadow over the team picked to start; Hogg owes nothing to the club and can be forgiven a dip in performance but Aarons and Holmes have a lot to prove. At least the latter works hard and energetically.


Falling short of the hastily adjusted target of 50 points, and miles away from the mid table progression which preceded the new objective, it is difficult to over state the size of the challenges ahead of the club. 


Patience and goodwill has all but expired, the promising first 4 or 5 months of Corberán’s tenure is buried beneath persistently puzzling tactics and repeated errors and there is little trust that recruitment will deliver the necessary transformation of a club steeped in disappointment and defeat.


With many departures expected, some tinged with sadness and many others with complete indifference, the opportunity is to rebuild, regain trust and create a new mentality. We can only sit back and see if the club is up to the job. If they are not, and the evidence doesn’t favour optimism, a much tougher Championship next season looks daunting.


There has been precious little to enjoy since Christmas and while it would be churlish not to acknowledge the injury difficulties which stripped an inexperienced coach of very important players, the worst defensive record in the division cannot simply be shrugged off. Horrendous capitulations at Norwich, Bournemouth and Blackburn did not have common causes; deliberately weakening the side on the south coast, overwhelmed by quality with little fight in Norfolk and a tactical disaster at Ewood Park suggest far deeper issues.


Yet another reset beckons, then, and the success of that will determine wether this horrible slog of a season can be consigned to history or be seen as a continuation of a long term and vertiginous decline. 


Have a great summer, and thanks for reading.

Safe, not sound

The collective paranoia surrounding that day in 2001 which condemned Town to relegation as an improbable series of results improbably happened casts a pall which refuses to clear 20 years later.


The victory at Forest a couple of weeks ago effectively confirmed Town’s championship status, logically if not mathematically, but the refusal to cement their position with supine performances since has simply added significant, perhaps immutable, pressure on a coach who fails to convince and a hierarchy labouring under a cloud of distrust.


It was fitting that the final point needed to scramble over the line was undeserved. The fundamental issues which have afflicted the club since the turn of the year were on full display, not least self inflicted defensive frailty which Coventry failed to translate in to a handsome victory.


From day one, with Stearman’s back pass handing Norwich victory, this season has been defined by defensive negligence leading to a shameful goals against record; more boobs than Razzle.


Yesterday’s culprit was Toffolo, who, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, decided that he could escape the attentions of 3 Sky Blues players without exposing the rest of the defence. His options were, admittedly, limited though one of them included clearing the ball away from danger which seemed the obvious choice to make.


In fairness to the left back, his poor decision making was punished, unlike the multiple attempts made by his colleagues to hand Mark Robins a victorious return to the scene of possibly the worst day of his managerial career. Town’s defending probably gave him flashbacks to that opening day drubbing by Bournemouth.


An evenly dull first half featuring two weak efforts by the home team and a fairly obvious penalty denied to the visitors when Keogh stopped a shot with his arm, was categorised as acceptable by Corberán post match, presumably on the basis that his team enjoyed decent levels of largely unproductive and painfully slow possession.


To be fair to Carlos, there wasn’t a great deal wrong with the left hand side of his team, the defence managed to navigate 40 odd minutes without handing chances on a plate to the opposition and Sanago proved once again that he isn’t a bad target man at times. Sadly, and remember that this was the coach’s choice, he completely exposed Rowe on the right hand side and received a quite dreadful performance in return. 


Compounding the decision to play him out of position, something of a Corberán feature, he paired him with Bacuna whose rare moments of brilliance never balance his lack of care, appalling decision making and staggering self indulgence.

The much maligned Holmes, who really needs to be taken off dead ball duties, including the increasingly ludicrous long throw which invariably falls short and never creates threat, did his best to spark life down the right but it was a losing battle.


Koroma, put through by O’Brien, should have produced a much better effort than the one easily saved and Keogh managed to completely miss the ball when presented with the best chance of the half, but Town’s lack of penetration on the rare occasion their approach play looked threatening epitomised a largely unremarkable first half. Comfort could be taken from the referee’s poor decision on the hand ball claim; at least they went to the break level.


Perhaps news that our hapless relegation rivals were again struggling to start to put together a sequence of wins which would have defied all logic, injected the carefree and apathetic attitude to fairly basic disciplines which allowed the visitors to dominate the first 20 minutes after the break.


Presented with a succession of chances as a more intensive press elicited all the usual errors, misjudgements and carelessness which has dogged this collection of players since Christmas, Coventry contrived to make hard work of putting their opponents to the sword.


Schofield, who endured a horror show at Ewood, made two excellent saves to keep Town in the game only for his colleagues to completely fail to sharpen up. 


Rowe’s nightmare afternoon came to an end after yet another error – how he re-emerged from the dressing room was puzzling unless he was going to be switched out left – only for Pipa, his replacement, to put Coventry through on goal with an errant pass shortly after his arrival.


Coventry were finally rewarded for their dominance when Toffolo’s ill advised slalom in to a brick wall released Shipley whose deflected shot wrong footed Schofield.


It would have been fitting for Town’s survival to be further tainted by a predictably ignominious home defeat, but Coventry managed to deliver a thoroughly undeserved equaliser for their hosts. 


An Eiting corner was fumbled by the keeper and half cleared by a defender to Ward who finally notched a goal after a quite horrible return to the club which has been blighted by injury and ineffectiveness. It was well taken.


In the end, the 47 points gained following the Forest victory was enough and the halcyon days of Autumn 2020 had delivered the points needed to slightly out perform two low budget opponents and two clubs clearly in financial crisis. It is no cause whatsoever for even the slightest celebration.


Support for Carlos’s continued employment is sketchy and perhaps founded on mistrust that Phil and Mark could make the right decision on a successor. The promise shown in the early months is also to his credit, though his tactics, selections and in game changes since have been puzzling to say the least.


It is difficult to view Town’s current trajectory as anything but downward (few would express any confidence that next season will be anything other than another grim relegation battle) and it demands a huge stretch of credulity to believe a turnaround in fortunes is just one summer away.


With just the festival of schadenfreude represented by the Derby/Wednesday death match to look forward to, a miserable season can be put to bed and not spoken of again. It seems unlikely that many will be tuning in to the meagre offering on show in Reading next Saturday, though it is the type of game Ward revels in so witnessing another pointless hat trick may be a draw.


Let’s see if Carlos survives the week (likely).

Bilge Hour

Despite a seismically disastrous performance at Ewood Park, which should, but probably won’t, send shockwaves through the club, Huddersfield Town’s survival chances were boosted, yet again, by results elsewhere.

Few care. The assumption, and one which is far more believable than the opposite, is that another relegation battle looms next season and relying on others’ failings to cover your own is just skating on paper thin ice.

A thoroughly unprofessional display, riven with basic individual errors and a total absence of collective spirit handed Blackburn a victory which should have challenged the Norwich debacle in severity. Even the most partisan Rovers supporter would not claim they are anywhere near the level of the Champions elect, rendering this result even worse than that horrible night in Norfolk.

The victory at Forest last week created the gap which will likely secure Championship status but had the home side in that game capitalised on Town’s nervous first 20 minutes, as they surely should have, defeat was extremely likely. Blackburn showed no such mercy.

With Toffolo, Pipa, Eiting and Koroma in the starting line up, Town were, on paper, at their strongest for months. Proper full backs, invention in the middle and increased threat up front, the scene was set for the collection of at least a point with 3 not far from the minds of the optimists among us.

The opening minutes held no clue to the disgrace to follow as Town saw two shots blocked in a reasonably bright start. Jonathan Hogg, of all people, began the rapid descent to farce just minutes later, losing possession in a dangerous area.

Schofield was called in to action early to repel Brereton effort after the big forward had been played in far too easily down Blackburn’s right. The subsequent corner was aimed at the young keeper who inexplicably flapped at the ball with an attempted punch which, even with the benefit of replays, remains entirely inexplicable. Adam Armstrong had the easy task of reacting more quickly than the dozing Bacuna and headed the hosts in to the lead.

Professionalism, composure and even the most basic levels of skill deserted the visitors and calamities ensued.

Naby Sarr seemed congenitally unable to make simple passes forward, Keogh suddenly imagined himself as a combination of Beckenbaur and Berasi and Bacuna played the role of, well, Bacuna.

There were other culprits; neither Toffolo nor Pipa seemed comfortable, Hogg’s influence was limited and often wayward while O’Brien failed to drive forward effectively.

Keogh’s faux pas, an attempt to cleverly extricate himself from a poor situation entirely of his own dithering making, was as comical as it was hugely negligent. Blackburn failed to capitalise, letting the veteran off the hook. 

Minutes later, and with Pipa missing in action, Keogh barely reacted to a wide open right flank and Sam Gallagher strode forward, picked out Brereton, Toffolo slipped and Rovers were 2 up.

Armstrong should have put the game to bed when played in following another raid down Town’s exposed right but fell over the ball. The visitors were collapsing and oozing mistakes all over the pitch.

Incredibly, after 45 minutes of an execrable, shapeless and error strewn clown show, Town, or more accurately, Koroma, grasped a lifeline. Somehow, Eiting turned a rushed and typically poor ball forward by Hogg in to threat by feeding the wide man who twisted opponents in the box before delivering a dangerous cross. Nyambe beat O’Brien to the ball and turned it in to his own net.

Entirely undeserved, a late goal before half time was a gift for the hitherto pitiable visitors and, as they have found to their own cost this season (hello, Wycombe), provides momentum and hope for the second half.

A period of decent possession, entirely devoid of penetration, offered a glimmer of hope that, for once, a Corberán team could show the character to come from behind.

A glimmer which was extinguished at the feet of the truly woeful Sarr who squandered possession as he dithered, managed to concede a throw in and then entirely ignored the fact that  Brereton was on the move behind him in to yet another vast expanse of space. A quick ball inside to Armstrong finished the weakest revival since Cats, the movie.

The collapse over the next 7 minutes was both remarkable and entirely predictable as Town’s weakness and lack of character was ruthlessly exposed by a Rovers side barely believing their luck at facing an opponent who persisted in playing to the strengths of their opposition.

Yet another attempt to play out from the back ended in disaster for the fourth goal. Keogh’s under hit ball found Armstrong who had the simple task of squaring to Gallagher who beat Schofield far too easily. The young keeper’s afternoon, already a disaster, was capped by pushing the ball in to the top of his own net.

On the hour, demoralised and bereft of ideas or fight, Town conceded a fifth in a typically lazy and disorganised manner as Armstrong was presented with an easy chance to complete his hat trick.

And there, dear reader, the report on this shambles ends. Unable to stomach another half hour, sun and ale called.

Corberán’s position is now looking increasingly untenable. The persistence with a style of play clearly beyond the ability of his players, particularly in central defence, while still uncertain of survival, was bad enough. To attempt a high defensive line against Rovers’ counter attacking ability – the single reason for their good start to the season and the denial of which by any coach with eyes and football intelligence their demise – was negligent. 

Sacking the coach would barely raise a protest from a support now thoroughly disenchanted support, but begs the question who would be willing or able to work at a club which simply cannot reverse the dire fortunes of the past 3 years.

The Pyrrhic victory of survival now has little, if any, value. Hoping for at least three clubs to be more catastrophic than our own is a malignancy we hoped was banished in the brief, brilliant period of success. The fact that it is back with a vengeance, last season and this, is a damning indictment of the whole management and structure of the club.

The descent appears inevitable.




Tarn tear Town new one

Barnsley’s barnstorming assault on the play offs, which suffered a pause at Coventry at the weekend, was back on track with an emphatic victory over a Huddersfield Town side which failed to resist the Tykes’ relentlessness. Though only a single goal separated the sides at the end, there were stark differences in application, organisation and tactical nous. 

Town’s own victory at Forest coupled with the failings of rivals leaves just enough breathing space to avoid the drop barring remarkable transformation in form by 2 of those below them. This may have influenced the decision to rest both full backs, Pipa and Toffolo, which fatally weakened the home side facing an ultra aggressive opponent well equipped to exploit any fragilities. 


With Campbell unavailable through injury and Vallejo still suffering the affects of concussion, Corberán adopted a 3-5-2 formation with Sanogo paired with the returning Koroma, making a very welcome return to action. Eiting also returned on the bench and a very different line up is to be expected at Ewood Park which was clearly seen as a better prospect for points than this Yorkshire derby.


A fairly even first half of low quality but high endeavour resulted in few opportunities for either side. Barnsley contained Town’s attempted attacks with some comfort and, up to injury time, mustered a couple of weak efforts easily saved by Schofield.

However, as the extended time began, Mowatt wasted an excellent chance following good work down the left which opened Town up for the first time.


For Town, a bright start by Sanogo, who used his physical presence well, brought Rowe and Koroma in to play but his influence faded after the first 15 minutes and the home side’s already sporadic threat disappeared.


If the first half stalemate had raised hopes that Town could contain Barnsley’s intensity and will to win, allowing them to collect a valuable if completely uninspiring point, they were quickly disabused in a second half dominated by the visitors.


The Tykes’ demands of their opponents are severe. Concentration, physical resistance and matching their drive add up to a formidable conundrum and while Town’s efforts to meet those demands held up in the first half, it didn’t take a great deal of imagination to foresee them cracking under the strain in the second. Which they duly did.


The match was played almost entirely on Barnsley’s terms; their threats, their physicality and their intensity. Town never looked like turning the tables as they clung on to the hope of a point and there was an inevitability about the breakthrough which owed as much to disorganised defending as the undoubtedly excellent improvisation by Barnsley’s American forward.


Dike has been a revelation since his arrival in South Yorkshire. While Town scrambled to locate out of contract strikers and ended up with a non scoring one and a non playing one, Barnsley recruited a young talent to immediately fit in to their style of play.


The goal arrived shortly after Town made a complete mess of a breakaway as the ball was lost cheaply with Koroma unmarked and ready to pounce. Barnsley’s counter saw Morris attack the left side of the box and attract several defensive Town players toward him for some reason known only to themselves. The disorganisation this created left a big hole in the box and the deflected delivery bypassed a poor attempt to intercept by Bacuna and bounced awkwardly for Dikes, who bicycle kicked the ball past Schofield. 


Inexplicably, Duane Holmes wandered away from the post where the ball entered. 


It was little more than Barnsley deserved as they had subjected Town to torrid pressure as they strived for the win to cement their play off spot. The belief and determination of the visitors threatened to overwhelm their timid hosts who could barely get out of their own half and had yet to register a shot on target.


Having softened up the Terriers in a forgettable first half, Barnsley’s turning of the screw illustrated and explained their success, which has seen them rise in direct contrast to Town’s fall since the Boxing Day meeting at Oakwell when both were on the same points total.


One up and turning the screw, the visitors let Town off the hook a couple of times as they searched for a second before Sarr made an excellent goal line clearance for the umpteenth time this season only for the ball to be headed back on to the bar.


Creaking like an outhouse door, the appearance of Eiting for the disappointing Holmes introduced desperately needed class to Town’s midfield and his cameo, which included a couple of good balls forward, provided a modicum of solace if not much hope for this game.


Bacuna was replaced by Aarons at the same time and it was the substitute who set up O’Brien for Town’s only worthwhile attempt of the evening which flew tamely in to the midriff of Barnsley’s under employed keeper.


The offensive output throughout was pathetic and a Barnsley second always seemed significantly more likely than an equaliser.


The return of Koroma and Eiting provided a shaft of light in a depressingly familiar evening when defeat always seemed inevitable and acceptance of it suspected.
For Barnsley, surely the story of the Championship season, exciting times lay ahead and it will be fun to watch them take their unique, if not entirely loveable, style to the other play off contenders. Swansea, in particular, will be hoping to avoid them but none of them will relish the challenge. Good luck to them.


After the past few seasons and the calendar year of 2021, Town owe a debt to supporters as this interminable season finally comes to an end. They can start by finally putting relegation fears to bed at Blackburn. Perhaps the commercial team can provide details of who we can turn to for the rest of the debt collection next season?

Breathing easier

Perhaps the reasonable showing in the second half against an excellent Bournemouth side who were, admittedly, playing well within themselves, injected some belief in to a squad reeling from a torrid week as they picked up 3 vital points at the City Ground.


More likely, the surprise and hugely welcome return of Toffolo finally allowed Corberán the luxury of two established and accomplished full backs. For all the ills of 2021, and they are legion, searching for a solution to Toffolo’s absence has severely hampered the struggle against the drop. 


That one injury could have such deep ramifications, with disruption unbalancing selection after selection, is a major problem the club must resolve in the Summer but, for now, the return of such a pivotal player for the last 4 games is a massive boost.


Not that it appeared so in a torrid opening 20 minutes for the Terriers who repeatedly handed opportunities to Forest with sloppy errors. Keogh, Holmes, Hogg and Toffolo himself misplaced passes, got caught in possession or failed to clear, only for the hosts to be as profligate as their opponents were negligent.


Ludicrously pedestrian possession along the back line simply pinned the visitors in their own half and Forest just had to wait for the errors, which duly arrived. Criticism of the back 4 should be tempered by noting the lack of movement in front of them. Even Hogg seemed reluctant to show for the ball in the spaces which would allow the opportunity to open up the game and the fear and trepidation was palpable.


Somehow, Town survived their torrid period with Forest’s openings ending in wayward shots, a decent Schofield save and general scrambling around to thwart the rampant hosts.


After the game, Corberán credited the switching of Holmes and Rowe as the turning point and Town did gain a foothold from around the 20 minute mark, and a likely looking defeat was postponed. Holmes, who was having an awful spell, seemed more comfortable on the left with the support of Toffolo and O’Brien, and improved to a level of adequacy, bar his set piece taking.


The team as a whole became competent and put together a few reasonable passing moves but not enough threat, though Holmes could have laid a ball to match Bacuna’s intelligent run rather than fire a weak shot towards Samba who saved easily.


Perhaps it was unsurprising that the breakthrough came through error, but it was ironic that Forest, who had spurned so many opportunities to capitalise on Town’s blunders, should be the ones to gift a goal. James Garner’s maverick ball behind his central defenders was seized upon by Rowe whose calm, excellent finish was a fitting example of his improvement this season. 


A half time lead was welcome if not entirely deserved over the 45 minutes, but it was a gift not to be the subject of a mouth examination.


Overall, Town earned their victory in a good, if not flawless, second half, by throttling Forest’s increasingly plodding attempts to get back on terms. The easy flow which accompanied their dominant spell at the beginning rarely featured and Town were able to disrupt and frustrate them for long spells.


On the hour, an attempted pass forward hit Toffolo and fell to Holmes who moved the ball forward to Ward. A replacement for Campbell, who had succumbed to a shoulder injury late in the first half, Ward finally made a telling contribution by setting Bacuna free and running at the home back line. There was still a lot for the mercurial midfielder to do, alone, as he took the ball nicely in his stride and advanced with menace before unleashing a shot from 20 yards with such power that Samba’s arms went up after the ball was past him.


Frustrating as he is, Bacuna is always capable of delivering quality strikes. The coach who harnesses his skills to discipline and intelligence will have a highly valuable asset on their hands. It remains to be seen if this will be possible, but the quality he possesses is beyond doubt.


Protecting the lead proved to be relatively straightforward and only a couple of self inflicted errors threatened it. 


Pipa, who was booked for that most infuriating and avoidable offence of kicking the ball away after being penalised, was lucky not to receive a second when he pulled the shirt of the tricky Mighten who had troubled the Spaniard on quite a few occasions. The referee’s leniency was arguably over generous, though he had witnessed Knockaert slap Toffolo a couple of times in a first half tussle so he may just have been in a good mood.


Late on, Schofield, otherwise secure, misjudged a high ball which he fumbled and dropped. Keogh covered the error well, allowing the young keeper to gather before a Forest player woke up to the opportunity.


For a team who had suffered a very poor week including a thrashing, a highly fortunate point against a relegation rival and a football lesson from Bournemouth, this was a good, valuable response. Their win was deserved – if anything, Town looked more likely to increase their lead with Keogh missing a very good chance and there were other opportunities.


Escaping relegation is not a cause for celebration (when it happens) but the end of a pitiful season, blighted by injury crises, cannot come soon enough. The inevitable rebuilding to come needs to be professional, comprehensive and shrewd. That is the opportunity for the Chairman and his team to begin rewriting their reputation and deliver on their progressive promises.


Safety, meanwhile, is close.

You lucky, lucky people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

7 (Seven)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pukki drove in the penalty for his hat trick.

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

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

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

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

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

Inching to safety

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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