Sunday, 13 January 2013

Huddersfield 1-1 Blues: a bit of a sickener

Heart wrenching. Absolutely heart wrenching. I was on the verge of tears when Huddersfield's injury time equalizer flew in, because over the course of this horrible, horrible, cursed season for us, it would have been great to get some kind of reward for my persistence with the team. The late goal was a real kick in the teeth and it took me a couple of hours to get over it.

 It's strange, because in fact a draw wasn't actually a bad, bad result. It's true that I was hoping we'd win beforehand, but with Bristol City and Peterborough losing on Saturday, we're still 5pts clear of the relegation zone and a point is sort of okay. But when you're 40 seconds away from all three points - and a very rare clean sheet - you really want to hold out. Just wasn't to be.

In all honesty, Huddersfield wasn't the most fascinating town to explore, so the pre-match amblings consisted mainly of a disappointing pub lunch, whilst watching the early kick-off, QPR v Tottenham. That turned out to be a pretty dull match, so I hoped the football would be up to more.

The first 20 minutes didn't suggest that it would be, as neither side were able to find their rhythm in the opening exchanges. An interesting tactic though, and one which had the feel as if it had been worked on in training, was that when Butland had the ball, he invariably kicked it direct to the left flank. This looked like a ploy to exploit Nathan Redmond's pace going forward and/or to lure Huddersfield's defensive unit to gravitate more towards our left, thus creating more space for Chris Burke on the right.

On both accounts, the ploy was fairly successful. Once Jack Butland had made a fabulous one-handed save from Sean Scannell's acrobatics, which seemed to me to border on world-class, we started to grow in confidence and play some tidy football. Wade Elliott worked quite hard down the left channel to control Jack's high balls, and either flick them on for Redmond to chase, or hold it up and pass the ball inside, helping us probe down the other flank through Burke, in order to pick our way through.

I have to say that I'm not normally a fan of route-one football, I've become accustomed to being frustrated watching hopeful high balls to a target man and then giving it away, but this was different. Behind this style of football, there was a sense of planning, understanding and confidence within the team, and it was largely effective. The team knew that if Butland could get the distribution right, Elliott had the strength, first touch and composure to ensure that we could to start an attack. If Gerrard, the full-back was out of position, Elliott could play it through for Redmond to make use of the space, if not, he could pass it inside and we would assume control of the game. With Huddersfield's unit moving towards our left, Burke would therefore be in more space and if we could get the pass out to him early enough, the Terriers would have to work hard to retake their position. With our system in place, they had to be fully focused throughout the match.

It was this method of approach that led to our opening goal. From drawing Huddersfield's shape towards Elliott on the other side, we then claimed control of the midfield and Morgaro Gomis,  who has played well now Clark has taken a shining to him, passed it out wide to Chris Burke. The space he had due to this tactical manoeuvre, meant that he was granted enough time and space to pick out a superb looping ball to the back post towards Elliott, who had made a dart forward. The cross cannoned off the defender marking him and it fell perfectly for Callum Reilly, who hit a sweet shot into the bottom corner. A thoroughly deserved, and pleasing, lead to take into the interval.

However, sitting there at half-time I knew that I couldn't be truly comfortable in the game until we'd scored our second, or possibly even third goal. We'd only kept 4 clean sheets from 26 games at that point, Huddersfield aren't exactly prolific goalscorers, but just the one goal lead never seems to be quite enough for us.

For the majority of the second half though, I actually felt hopeful that it would be. Alex Smithies saving a one-on-one chance for Nathan Redmond was the only real drama for a long period, as we looked to be almost too much in cruise control mode, to be defending just the one goal. We appeared surprisingly, unerringly comfortable.

However, with 10 minutes to go, we lost a bit of our grip on the game. It may have had something to do with Marlon King, who wasn't fully fit, coming on as sub for Nathan Redmond-  an unfit King wasn't able to lead the line and work the flanks as well as Redmond did.  For one reason or another, we lost the ease of our passing and Huddersfield went for our throats, they'd brought on veteran striker Alan Lee and playmaker Adam Hammill in place of the more defensive minded Oliver Norwood.

Lee's predatory snapshot in the 6-yard-box required a Butland save from point blank range, before we had to defend a series of corners that had my heart in my mouth. We managed to do so and after that, into the 3rd minute of stoppage time, I felt that a fifth clean sheet of the season and an even more important 3pts were in the bank.

How wrong I was. Simon Grayson's decision to bring on Wolves loanee Adam Hamill, who's loan contract expired after that match, paid dividends. Though I hate to admit it, it was a good goal. His persistent dribble, which may have perhaps been regarded as greedy had he not scored, dragged most of our defence out of position. Then, refusing to pass, he turned on his heel and fired a firm, left-footed strike into the far corner of the net, to deem all of Butland's previous saves in vain.

It was painful to watch, especially as we had controlled so much of the match and our performance warranted so much more than a point. In my opinion, it's very important that Clark learns from this result - and the other ones of a similar nature when we've deserved more than we'd got - and assigns more time to the defence in training on their organisation, structure,  ability to hold onto leads and see out matches. That's clearly what's going to get us up the table.

It still feels a bit like a defeat, but having had a day to reflect on the match, I can see the positives that we can take from it. I wholeheartedly disagree with those on the BCFC Facebook page saying 'Clark out' after the game finished. The same people never make their point with any consideration of the bigger picture and they never do it after we've won a game. I would bet that had Adam Hammill not scored his wonderful goal at the end, we wouldn't have heard from them.

I feel that the team spirit has always been there under Clark, and as evidenced by Saturday's game, he is beginning to find a tactical system for the team, he is gaining a clearer picture of what the strengths of his side are, discovering some hidden gems amongst the academy graduates, particularly in Callum Reilly and I'm always seeing committed performances from the players. 

The game is, if nothing else, a sign that we're improving because we played well from the outset, unlike previous matches. If we can continue to put in the kind of performances that we did on Saturday on a consistent basis, and firm up at the back towards the end of matches, I personally don't think relegation will be on our minds come April.

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