Wolves Caught Napping
As I have a friend who is a Huddersfield supporter, the match was an opportunity to catch up and watch WW on the road for the first time this season. Somehow, Huddersfield and, more locally, Crystal Palace, Brighton, Watford, Charlton and ... er ... Milwall don`t have the same ring as Chelsea, Arsenal and Fulham, but as a lifelong WW supporter I have no choice.
I set out from home at 6 a.m. on Thursday morning (I had work to do on the way up), intending to spend the following evening with my friend, downing a pint or two of beer at his local and engaging in a little light-hearted banter about the game.
While I successfully managed those tasks, the rest of the trip was a disaster. My camera malfunctioned, wiping out two days` work, and I got stuck in Friday`s rush hour traffic in Stockport, even though my friend had emphasized that under no circumstances should I go anywhere near the town at that time of day. Trying to extricate myself, I only managed to spend ninety minutes crawling back to the spot where I had gone wrong in the first place. I also lost my WW wallet with most of my weekend allowance in it, though I did find it in my back pocket later that evening.
At 1 pm on Saturday, we arrived at The Head of Steam, one of the two pubs on Huddersfield Station, where we had arranged to meet two other guys from the South-east. One, a friend of mine, is a WW supporter, while the other one is Huddersfield fan (though he possesses a Fulham season ticket). Both 'sides` felt confident about their team`s chances in the game.
Even Simon Grayson, the Huddersfield manager, was worried enough to warn his players about the threat posed by our team. It`s just a pity that Stale did not reciprocate that piece of advice. Never mind the matches against Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich or Peterborough, this was the real banana skin ... and so it proved.
From the kick-off Huddersfield established the pattern of play, pressing forward, forcing the pace and generally knocking our players off their stride. While Huddersfield built up momentum, we seemed content merely to tap the ball casually around the back and midfield. There was no bite. To appropriate the animal metaphors of the respective sides, the Yorkies were snappy terriers, whereas we were toothless wolves. It`s one thing to be cool and composed on the ball but it`s an entirely different matter to be complacent. We did not even come out after the break with added determination.
It therefore came as no surprise when Huddersfield took the lead in the 9th. minute in a manner that was reminiscent of the worst moments of the MM regime. Hunt charged down the right wing with Ward nowhere in sight and with only a retreating Sako in front of him. With space to swing his boot he delivered the perfect cross, one that flew over three WW defenders and to the head of the unmarked Vaughan at the far post.
Surely, now that our back four were aware of the danger, that ploy would not work again? Wrong! In the 26th. minute Huddersfield scored a carbon-copy goal, apart, that is, from the ball flying from Beckford`s boot not his head. Once more, Ward was out of position, forcing Berra to engage Hunt, whose prod forward bounced off the Scotsman to the onrushing Clayton. Surrounded by three WW players, he managed to flight the ball over two WW defenders and land it on virtually the same spot as Hunt had done beforehand. Unmarked and with his back to the goal, Beckford`s shot rocketed into the net.
Ikeme had no chance with either goal. This was shoddy defending. Someone should have kept an eye on the Huddersfield player threatening the far post. And, given the problems that Beckford and Vaughan were causing our defence, Huddersfield could have scored more. Johnson had a particularly difficult time. And, if Ward proved adept at going forward, his forays do leave gaps behind him.
Of course, it`s not solely the fault of the back four because our midfield had a bad day too. We really missed Henry, who, for all his faults, shores up the midfield. Unfortunately, his replacement, Davis, has regressed and is not the enforcer he promised to become last season. The fact that at least a couple of Henry`s yellow cards were frivolous only increases the pain. But, I suppose that`s what happens if one gains (I almost wrote 'enjoys') a reputation as a 'hard` man.
Edwards, who replaced Davis at half-time, improved the situation and added greater urgency. Only the woodwork saved Huddersfield from one of his headers. We also need a dominant Doumbia in midfield but he was affected by the general lethargy of the team. It`s been suggested that he is carrying an injury and that could be the answer. A long range shot of his went just wide in the 10th. minute and then he disappears from my notes until he was fouled in the 70th. minute.
Sako was not at his best either. Admittedly, he was shackled by his double markers but he was far less incisive than is his norm. Nonetheless, he produced the cross that SEB bundled into the net off the post. He also hit a screamer over the bar and his cut inside from the by-line in the 71st. minute should have resulted in a goal. No wonder he hung his head in shame. It also took me some time to realise that Pennant was playing. He started slowly but gradually worked his way into the game, showing some flair driving forward with the ball at his feet. It was from his corner kick that Edwards headed against the upright.
Upfront, we still lack a cutting edge, the inability of SEB and Doyle to threaten the goal being magnified by the stand-out performance of Huddersfield`s strikers. And, according to my Huddersfield friends in the pub, they were playing against their side`s weakest links. SS has written that Doyle was unlucky, going close on occasion and failing to get a penalty award when sent sprawling in the box. Even so, there is a limit to the length of time that one can make such allowances and it is clear that the partnership isn`t working. Personally, I would start with Siggy but at whose expense I am not sure. And should we give Nouble- tall and fast but with a lack of co-ordination - a chance? Ideally, we should look for a loan signing, one who fits the job spec.
The result spoilt a good, convivial weekend out, though my Huddersfield friends would beg to differ. At least, they had to sweat for the victory when we finally came to life after SEB's goal. Sitting in the Huddersfield designated stand, I had to smile at the anxious faces of the home supporters around me. How many times have I felt the same way. That's not to say that I would have passed the ball around as some of them in the opposite stand did in injury time.
But, I probably should not have stood up, shouted and waved my arms in the air when we did score. Fortunately, I was sitting in the Huddersfield equivalent of the Billy Wright Stand and the rebukes were remarkably mild. Mental note to myself: don't attempt this at the New Den.
At least, results elsewhere were kind to us and we still snuggle in a play-off position. And the beauty of the Championship is the instant opportunity to put matters right. Bring on Bolton on Tuesday. However, as their victory after falling behind yesterday, proves, they will be no push-over (unless they have appointed MM, of course) and we have to learn the lessons of our defeat. Ironically, a little bit of MM spirit to set alongside a dollop of SS guile would work wonders.