It was a drab and drizzly affair at the Macron Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Neil Lennon fielded an unchanged team after Monday's surprise 1-0 victory over Blackburn and overall there were positive vibes around the ground ahead of kick-off.
Wanderers started brightly, creating a hatful of chances in the opening 15 minutes. Gary Madine saw a glancing header narrowly off target and, after capitalising on a defensive error by the visitors, Liam Feeney chased down a loose ball and thumped a shot goalward, only to be denied by the woodwork. Minutes later, some brave Huddersfield defending thwarted an otherwise perfect Wanderers attack; once again Feeney was proving a handful down the right flank. The former Milwall man dropped his shoulder, nudged the ball to the byline and fired a dangerous cross into six-yard box, resulting in both Gary Madine and Zach Clough seeing their efforts blocked. We were very unlucky not to score in the opening stages of the game, but as I always say to my missus: you've got to score when you're on top. (Wink)
As the half went on, Huddersfield grew into the game. In the first 20 minutes they were there for the taking and Wanderers looked like they'd go on to win the game in emphatic fashion. We allowed them back into the tie, squandering possession and regressing to the team we'd been watching before the Blackburn win, almost mirroring the reverse fixture back in September. The aforementioned Feeney, who really did look lively at first, was having a tough time; struggling to beat his man and seeing the majority of his hard work go to waste. Darren Pratley was almost invisible - I would have forgot he was playing if it wasn't for him picking up a booking for a cynical challenge just before half time. Mark Davies was once again ineffective on the left-hand side of a midfield quartet, despite causing a few problems in the first 15 minutes.
Although our performance was dying faster than my 10-pint erection, there were a few shining beacons of hope wearing white shirts. Ben Amos pulled us out of the shit on various occasions, producing several smart saves to keep the score level. David Wheater was impressive once again - he really is having an outstanding season in such a poor team - and Rob Holding was equally as good as he was against Blackburn no more than a week ago. Josh Vela, playing in central midfield once again, was outstanding. He played with fight, passion and heart; something we don't see too often at the Macron these days. Nonetheless, we headed in at half time level pegging.
After the restart we looked like a completely different team. From the off we gave Huddersfield time and space on the ball, allowing them to dictate the pace and tempo of the game. During the first half we got in their faces, closing players down and forcing the Yorkshiremen onto the back foot, but such fighting spirit must've been left in the dressing room over the course of the interval. We lacked fight and urgency, plodding along as though we were 10-0 up. Darren Pratley was poor, Zach Clough was poor, Gary Madine was poor, Mark Davies was poor (there's a pattern evolving here), Liam Feeney hardly even touched the ball and Prince squandered possession more times than I care to mention.
It didn't take long for the visitors to take the lead. A long spell of possession allowed them to work a neat ball through the spine of our team, bypassing the almost non-existent midfield. The initial shot was blocked but Ben Amos failed to react to the rebound, allowing Joe Lolley to volley home into an almost-empty net in the 61st minute. Fuck. I really couldn't see a way back for us now.
We had no real attacks of note in the second half until the 65th minute mark, when a piece of smart play involving Gary Madine and Mark Davies allowed a loose ball to fall to Zach Clough, who tried to place it into the top corner with the outside of his right boot. As you've probably guessed, his effort was off target. Minutes later, a ball sat up kindly for Mark Davies on the edge of the box, providing a chance you'd expect him to bury. It needed to be volleyed that much I could almost hear it screaming, "HIT ME MARK, HIT ME INTO THE TOP CORNER NOW!" from my seat. Alas, Davies allowed the ball to bounce and Huddersfield scrambled clear.
Shortly after Davies squandered a decent chance to equalise, Neil Lennon made another of his ridiculous substitutions, rivalling his 'masterstroke' of replacing Zach Clough when we were 2-1 up against Fulham. Rob Holding (who'd been pretty solid up until that point) was hooked and replaced by Wellington Silva which shifted Josh Vela to right-back and Mark Davies into the centre of midfield. "Brilliant," I thought to myself, "he's playing our only quality midfielder out of position in favour of a young lad that's just come back from injury. This'll end well." Lo and behold, I was proved right. Wellington had an absolute stinker. Nothing came off for the lad - he was giving the ball away, overrunning possession into touch and being bullied and hassled into looking like a boy rather than a professional footballer.
The final nail in the coffin came three minutes from time when wave after wave of Huddersfield attacks finally resulted in them slicing through our defence once more, and after Amos' initial save, substitute Mustapha Carayol tucked home the rebound with only his third touch of the game.
What positives do we take from today's game? Not many. As I mentioned earlier, Vela, Holding and Wheater were excellent, but bar that there were no pluses. Ben Amos' part in both Huddersfield goals negates my earlier praise for him, as does his tendency to distribute the ball slowly when we're losing. If I were Neil Lennon I'd be taking a long, hard look at my senior players after today. Minus Wheater, the big names on our team sheet let him down. In my opinion it won't be a bad thing if Mark Davies leaves for pastures new in January; he hasn't done anything of note for as long as I can remember. Moxey was average - he did what was asked of him - but Darren Pratley was another level of shite. Slow, laboured and leggy in midfield, the man is a shadow of his former self and doesn't possess a single quality a club captain needs to pull his teammates out of the mire in a time like this. Although Zach Clough was poor, Josh Vela and Rob Holding are proof that we could, and should, be injecting a little more homegrown youth into our first team.
Next weekend's break from the stresses and strains of the Championship will be welcomed by Lennon, providing him with an opportunity to field a few of the younger players in our FA Cup tie on the south coast against Eastleigh. This afternoon we showed no grit, no fight, no determination. We were down and out after 20 minutes and that simply isn't good enough, not only given our league position, but given the fact we were the home team,. We have to win league games against teams that are in and around us, especially at the Macron, but today we should be thankful that we only conceded two. It could've been many, many more.
Onto the next one, ladies and gents.
Over and out.