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Friday, 3 March 2017

Fog on The Kilner

Good morning, welcome to another crunch match day for Huddersfield Town. Today we welcome Newcastle United to The John Smith's stadium, who are fresh of the back of a morale boosting winning away at Brighton. Whilst we've our reserves have just been given a bit of a lesson by Manchester City. What effect will this have on the game? For us, zilch, nada, the only thing to have come out of the midweek trip to Manchester, is that our first-team players will be fit, refreshed and ready for today. Newcastle however, will surely be on a massive high. Let's start by analysing our opponents.

Newcastle United

Fresh from relegation, Mike Ashley secured a massive coup by somehow convincing Champions League winner Rafa Benitez that Rotherham and Burton are must-see destinations. He promised the Spaniard investment in a bid to book an immediate return to the greedy league, and boy, did he back him. Scottish international Matt Ritchie and Howard the Duck impersonator Dwight Gayle both joined for £10 million each. Ciaran Clark, Mo Diame and Grant Hanley came in at around £5 million a piece, and Newcastle finished their spending spree at a modest £54.74 million.

Then the season began and the #RafaRevolution was underway, kicking off with back to back defeats, away to Fulham and then at home against, you guessed it, us. What a fantastic day that was, "Jack Payne, bottom corner, f*ck off" as one of my friends repeated for a solid two hours on the way home. Since then however, Newcastle have galvanised and moved to where they really should be. On Monday night they leapfrogged Brighton into top spot and currently sit 8 points clear of us.

The last time they were in this division, they walked it, never once looking back and rising back to the Premier League with consummate ease. This year though, there seems to be a different narrative amongst fans and pundits with comments such as;

  • "They should be p*ssing this league with what they've spent"
  • "They're on a bit of a wobble at the moment"
Well firstly, they're well on course to finish with over 100 points this year and probably won't be too far off the total figure (102) they finished with almost seven years ago, not that bad, and they actually haven't spend as much money as say Aston Villa. Which, just on a sidenote, gives me the opportunity to say, isn't Steve Bruce an ugly man? Yes, he is, let's move on.

Secondly, if Newcastle are on a wobble, I'd love to see them in top form, for the past 10 games in the championship they're 2nd in the table, only behind ourselves. When you consider the teams they've played in the last 10 it's even more impressive: Brighton (A), Norwich (A), Derby(H).

They do present a very real threat to us today and probably should be considered favourites, all things included. Which reminds me, their away form...

Played 17, Won 12, Drawn 2, Lost 3....Ominous

Enough of the ominous stats and the fawning now, back to focusing on ourselves, something which the manager and the team have done very well this season. Maintaining our identity, the terrier spirit and sticking to our overall plan.

Christoph Schindler, Izzy Brown and Chris Lowe all look set to return to starting line-up this evening and perhaps even more importantly Jonathan Hogg could be set to start a match for the first time since his injury. If he does start the match I think it will be a massive boost to our chances of success in this game. The man is everywhere, he touches every blade of glass, mops up loose balls and cuts out attacks before they've even begun. For me he is our most important player and his work in the centre allows our flair players to monopolise the ball and work the opposition defence.

David Wagner has called on the crowd to make another special atmosphere in the stadium, akin to the one that we had last month when we beat the champions of Europe 2-1. A loud, rocking stadium, out singing the Geordies will enable us to get on the front foot as we've done in many big games this season. I believe the key to this game will be starting with a high intensity and ripping into Newcastle as soon as possible. We all know that Benitez is an astute tactician and will be instructing his team to continue their swift counter attacking game plan put to such great use at the AMEX.

But if we get into them quickly, unsettle them, get an early goal and muzzle Dwight Gayle the three points can be ours, cutting the gap to the leaders by 5 points with a game in hand and further putting the frighteners up Brighton. I fully expect us to do this, and can already hear Oggy screaming, "Ant and Dec, Paul Gascoigne, Gaz Beadle, youuurr boyyyss toook one hell of a beating!!"

Until next time, UTT

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

FA Cup Dream Dies

Well that's that, the FA Cup dream died tonight away at Manchester City, and in truth, who really cares? I for one, certainly don't mind too much at all. With the team that City put out, and the team that we put out, there was only going to be one winner tonight.

Fantastic play by Billing in the first half ended with Harry Bunn sending a squirming shot through the legs of Claudio Bravo, that was six minutes in, and I must admit, it felt 'BUNN-tastic' (sorry, I couldn't help it!). I was dancing around the living room at this point, high on the drug that is the Wagner revolution. I dared to dream, to believe.

Within ten minutes however the reality set in, Manchester City are a fantastic team and after all this is our second string. Cranie looked shaken, caught out of position at times, Lolley looked clumsy, Stankovic, well the less said the better really.

The Citizens began to stamp their authority on the game, within eight crazy minutes a combination of terrible defending, lack of composure and quality play by the opposition had seen the scoreline change to 1-3, and then the game was over. It was a matter of damage limitation.

In the second half I was calling for the introduction of Hefele, but Wagner stuck to his plan and kept his team the same after the break. City slipped from fifth gear back into third, they held us at bay and controlled the game for 20 minutes. Yes there were chances, and Lolley should really have scored but the Citizens displayed some great game management.

Hogg, Smith and Van La Parra were all introduced as the second half wore on, largely to add some solidity to the team and try and keep the score down. There were two more goals for City and a glaring miss from Collin Quaner. As soon as the fifth went in, the referee rather kindly blew the full-time whistle, and the game finished 1-5.

Now, here's 4 things that we learnt from this evenings game;

1) Stankovic Isn't Ready

A rather unsurprising point if you follow me on twitter (@terrierblog btw). The 21 year-old Slovenian has given Town fans many hairy moments this season when he's played and tonight was no different. Miss-placed passes, poor positioning, weak challenges and silly decisions summed up his game. He was punished for nearly every mistake he made tonight. The one bonus is that for all of his misgivings tonight, they are avoidable and can be worked on, he has natural ability and with more time under Wagner he could well turn into a decent centre-back.

2) Billing Is Budding

Whilst Danny Murphy waxed lyrical about the Dane, to me, he confirmed something that he has been showing us all in the absence of Hogg. He is an excellent player, and he's maturing fantastically with his tactical awareness and positional play. Cutting out dangerous balls, mopping up loose passes and then, offensively playing defence-splitting passes. This boy is on his way to something very special, whether it is with us or not, he will play at the top-level.

3) Middling Quaner

I think we all want to love Collin Quaner and get thoroughly behind him, but whilst we do I think we also have to accept his limitations. Whilst he's energetic, powerful and a real presence, to me there are three key limitations to his game;

  • His Gait: Collin's running style, wide, limbering legs, hunched shoulder and head down really do limit his effectiveness, often leading him into blind alleys and meaning he falls short of a through ball.
  • His Composure: With almost every chance that has been presented to him in his short time with us, he has chosen the wrong option. Whether that's not hitting it first time against Leeds, taking an extra touch at Oakwell or getting under the ball tonight, he just doesn't seem to have that natural ability to adapt his finishing.
  • Hesistancy: No matter if it's a shooting chance, a pass or a chance to run at a defender, his brain seems to work one freeze frame behind the rest. The ball comes to him in the box rather than the other way round, a gap will appear and he'll race into it once it's gone.
Yes, these are things that can be learned and worked on, but it strikes me that he just misses that natural air and confidence to his game. He has something to bring to the team and can help us going forward, but he is some way of Wells.

4) The League Is All-Important

Whilst it's nice to be on the television and receive all the praise from the pundits and the media for pushing City all the way or pulling of an upset, it doesn't mean zilch in the grand scheme of things. Promotion is the only thing on our agenda, and if we beat Newcastle on Saturday, or achieve promotion in May no-body will give a Witch's tit about the result of this game. That's how it should be, yes it feels strange, as in recent years we'd have gone bonkers if we'd played our second string in a game like this, but it's right. We need all of our players fit, fresh and ready for the weekend.

Until next time UTT.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Manchester City (A) Preview

This evening the team travel to the Etihad Stadium along with around 8,000 Town fans, most of which travel there with hope rather than expectancy. In the first game, both teams fielded rotated squads and played out a 0-0 draw with not much incident.

The way that Town's rotated squad coped with their more illustrious opponents was highly commendable, and had it not been for a mistimed wander from Van La Parra we may just have emerged victorious. The replay, for me, is a hard one to judge.

Obviously if we had of got this tie in recent years, I would have been brimming with excitement, barely able to contain myself and hoping that we give a good account of ourselves and sing our hearts out. Now though, my concerns are not suffering any injuries and not been on the wrong end of a confidence draining defeat. The ideal situation is of course a Huddersfield win in 90 minutes, but if we leave with a 0-1, 0-2 defeat with a rotated team then I'll be happy and ready to move on to Newcastle.

Make no mistake about it, the game against Rafa's men at the weekend will be the biggest game of the season, at time of writing (I generally do these the night before) 'The Toon' are losing 1-0 at the AMEX. If the result stays the same and we win at the weekend we'll have our metaphorical foot fully on Newcastle's neck.

Right enough of the hyperbole for now, let's get on to the match at the Etihad itself. Pep perhaps dropped a reference that he could use this match as an opportunity to blood a few younger players, in his pre-match preview challenging the youngster's, "Show me what you can do".

We know already that Wagner will favour a weakened starting eleven, and some players, such as Kachunga and Van La Parra seem in need of a bit of a rest. We can only hope that City do give a chance to more of their academy players; the last time they did this in the cup they were on the end of a hiding away at Stamford Bridge.

Amongst his joking about his touchline ban, Brexit and fines in his pre-match preview, Terriers chief Wagner said that Huddersfield will go to the Etihad and "play with total freedom" and "show their identity". Town's identity has been clear for all to see this season and if we show it this evening then there is absolutely no doubt we will make everyone associated with Huddersfield Town proud.

Mark Hudson, Stankovic and Coleman are all likely to be recalled to the squad and will need to be in fine fettle to repel a rampant City. Their players come into this game on the back of a 5-3 hammering of Monaco in the Champions League and a break in Abu Dhabi. Whilst the 5-3 might be ominous, we all remember what happened last time City took a mid-season break before an FA Cup tie. Let's hope we benefit in the same way as Bamford, Karanka and co did that day.

Until next time UTT

Wagner Handed Touchline Ban

Today the FA confirmed that David Wagner will serve a two-match touchline ban for his conduct in the derby day victory over the champions of Europe. Wagner was reprimanded by the FA for entering the field of play for the second time this season without permission: when he hurtled onto the pitch to celebrate the late winner.

The Terriers head coach will be forced to watch on from the sidelines as Town take on Manchester City on Wednesday and face off against Newcastle on Saturday. Both clubs were given a £10,000 fine for failing to control their players in the incident initiated by Cardinal Garry Monk.

Whereas whiter than white Monk received a £3000 personal fine, Wagner was slapped with a £6000 fine for having the audacity to contest the charges against him. I think we can all agree that Wagner was in breach of the rules when he entered the pitch and that perhaps placing his hands on Monk was a misjudgement. However the timing of the ban certainly rankles a bit, for the coach to miss an important cup game and one of the biggest remaining league games is frustrating indeed.

Garry Monk, who received a one match touchline ban, will watch from the stands as his side face Birmingham on Friday. Missing your managers presence against a terrible team manged by the witless Zola doesn't seem to be too much of a hardship.

Zola will undoubtedly be delighted though, that he doesn't have to share the touchline with Monk and risk having his humility called into question in the form of a shoulder charge. The effect that the bans will have on the teams remains to be seen, I'm confident Town can continue their good form and use this as an opportunity to rally around a man they clearly respect.

Until next time UTT

Friday, 24 February 2017

Barnsley (A) Preview

So, tomorrow we travel to Oakwell for a Yorkshire derby, which is sure to be full of thrills and spills, and once again, will be hugely important. On Tuesday we overcame a rugged, determined Reading at the John Smiths with a late Billing goal sealing the three points for Town.

It was a game that was relatively low on real quality, but in so many other ways it was remarkable. The wind was howling around the stadium, rain was going horizontally and for large parts of the game the ball was at home 15 metres in the air. Town adapted to the conditions and the opposition fantastically, after an assured first 20 minutes the game became fractured and awkward, then Rajiv Van La Parra did what everyone thought he would do, and missed our only penalty of the season.

After that Town would have been forgiven for losing their heads and losing the game as a result, but they weathered a brief Reading storm and came out in the second half in fine spirits. Schindler was amazing, heading and kicking anything that came anywhere near him, Billing was dominant, barely missing an interception and Wells was constantly threatening.

The result was great testament to the belief and tenacity of this team, a further badge of honour for Wagner and his men. It keeps the pressure up on the top two and makes us almost nailed on to finish at least in the play-offs. The courage, character and belief of this team will be tested greatly on Saturday in what is sure to be a fiery affair.

Barnsley are a team that are eyeing the play-offs themselves, even in the face of worrying player sales, Winnall, Hourihane and Mawson have all left the Tykes this campaign, yet they still continue to linger around the play-off spots. They will be looking to keep up their good home record in Yorkshire derbies this season, after hammering Rotherham 4-0 and dispatching Leeds 3-2.

There is talk of the game been a sell-out crowd, a chance for Barnsley to show their fans they're still up for the battle this season after losses at home to Brighton, Wolves and Blackpool since the turn of the year. They will be geared up for this game, ready to make it a fight and get in our faces from the off. It will be important for the players to win their individual battles before they try and take control of the game. Tom Bradshaw will undoubtedly provide a big threat to our defence, the Tykes leading scorer has been in fine form this season.

Having said all of that, there really is nothing to fear, we are in the form of our lives, six straight wins in the league, including very impressive performances. Barnsley have been in stuttering form at home in the league since the New Year as well. With all things considered, if we play our game and to the levels that we have been recently, we should come home with three points. Tick off another tricky away game and continue in our pursuit of Brighton and Newcastle.

Whatever the result, I know we'll see maximum commitment, effort and passion from the players, and that is very satisfying in itself. UTT

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Reading (H) Preview

After holding Manchester City to a goalless draw at the John Smith's on Saturday, we now have a top of the table clash to look forward to. Even writing the previous sentence seems utterly surreal, considering where we were as a club this time twelve months ago.

Wagner rung the changes for the cup clash against City, and many of the squads understudies stepped up to the plate and performed admirably. The risk with Wagner's team selection was that we would take a hiding on Saturday and therefore be low on confidence for the visit of The Royals. This wasn't the case, in fact the entire squad, management and club should take enormous confidence from their achievements at the weekend. I expect the team to be back to full strength today, refreshed and ready to get at Reading from the very off.

As is the case with every game from now on, tonight is massive, win and we reaffirm our ambitions to catch the top two, lose and that becomes a tad more difficult. In Reading we are facing a strong team, perhaps buoyed by their very own last-gasp comeback last week at home to Brentford. Danny Williams and Roy Beerens sealed a stunning comeback for the The Royals on Valentine's day, and as we are high on the crest of a wave following Tommy Smith's last minute winner, they will be too.

Reading's last five games highlight their strength, after slipping up at home to QPR and narrowly missing out against Derby they have won 3 of their last 5, drawing the other 2 against Barnsley and Ipswich  respectively. Although they are in good form, they haven't been beating the best teams in the division. Also, their away record at some of the better teams makes for interesting reading (no pun intended!);

Derby 3-2 Reading
Leeds 2-0 Reading
Fulham 5-0 Reading
Newcastle 4-1 Reading

Add into these, their cup performances and their heavy defeat to Brentford, they seem shaky against better opposition, out of their comfort zones and under pressure from the off. Whilst we also took a tonking at Craven Cottage, Reading seemed to struggle enormously with the high press employed by Fulham that day. On their trip to Elland Road, their propensity to keep possession without any real purpose saw them countered ruthlessly twice by Leeds. At Newcastle, their defence completely surrendered and fell to the relentless pressure. All of this makes good reading for Town fans, if we get at them from the very beginning with our usual pressing style and the crowd creates a good atmosphere then Reading could buckle quite substantially, a view shared by many of their supporters.

My feeling on this game however is two-fold, looking at the form of the teams, their styles and past results this season I feel there is only one winner and that Town will prevail, however there is a part of me that knows our recent good run can't go on forever, and tonight could be the night that it ends. If Jaap Stam is looking for any inspiration he may study the approach of Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the season. The Owls came to Huddersfield, were strong, organised and penetrating on the break. They bullied us that day and took their opportunity when it arose. If Stam sets up a team in his own image, with a solid defence and two holding midfielders they may well frustrate us and come away with the win.

Until next time UTT

Friday, 17 February 2017

Manchester City Preview

Today, we welcome one of the giants of English football to the John Smith Stadium, Manchester City, coached by the fabled Pep Guardiola and boasting a squad of internationals. Over the past 10 years The Citizens have risen from mid-table mediocrity to a European giant, make no mistakes this will be a tough, tough game.

In recent years, many fans, including myself have bemoaned our poor FA Cup form and our less than inspiring draws, with Birmingham and Arsenal been the two stand-out ties of the past 15 years. As Dean Hoyle mentioned on TalkShite radio earlier this week, our FA Cup run has come at the time we least wanted it. Flying high in the league and chasing down the top two, added fixtures and the possibility of a heavy defeat in the cup aren't exactly what this squad needs.

However, this is a huge opportunity to boost confidence, raise our profile and test our wits against some of the best players in Europe, and probably the best manager on the continent as well. It is for this reason that I don't want to see drastic squad rotation from Wagner, a much-weakened eleven will do a disservice to a sell-out crowd and put us at peril of an embarrassing reverse. There will be no Mooy, we know that already, and certainly no Hogg, the two players who have been at the heart of much of our recent positive work, how their replacements fare will have a huge impact on the final result.

Firstly, let's analyse City and their potential approach to this game. With hopes of the premier league all but gone in Pep's maiden season, the champions league surely takes on much greater significance to them than the pursuit of glory in an increasingly devalued cup competition. On Tuesday evening they will take on Monaco in the last 16 of Europe's premier competition, eager to avoid the same fate as Arsenal did a few years ago. Exit at the last 16, to a second tier European club would be seen as a massive underachievement for Pep, so all of their focus must turn to Tuesday's game.

In the City chief's press-conference yesterday, he alluded to the possibility that rotation may be at the forefront of his mind when speaking about the injury to Gabriel Jesus;

"It's not easy for the players who do not play for a long, long time in many cases like Kelechi Iheanacho and Nolito, their behaviour has been more than professional, it was perfect"

Highlighting the idea that Pep will view this as a game to give more minutes to some of his fringe players, with the hope of keeping them happy and fresh for the rest of the season. The fact that Guardiola is highlighting Iheanacho and Nolito indicates that Sergio Aguero will not feature, surely a massive boost for messrs Wagner, Schindler and Hefele.

When asked about the Terriers in the press conference, after watching their victory over Leeds on television Pep said;

"Huddersfield right now is in a big moment, playing really well, big results in the last minutes and a lot of confidence. Yesterday was a rugby game on their stadium, so you can imagine the condition of the pitch."

Explicitly this snippet of analysis does not provide too much, but implicitly I feel it reveals quite a lot. The question asked by the reporter referenced the fact that Guardiola had watched us on television against Leeds. He hadn't been to the stadium, he hadn't watched us against Rotherham, QPR or anyone else. He had seen us in a West Yorkshire derby, a game with blood and thunder and thumping challenges. He then qualifies this with questioning the state of our pitch after a recent rugby match. All of this signals to me that he is expecting a very different game to the one he is going to get.

Perhaps to the Catalonian, this is a trip to a lower league tub-thumping, heavy-handed traditional English club, instead of a match against a team well-versed on the tactical nuances of Gegenpressing, high on quality, skill and footballing intelligence. Maybe he's expecting to see Alan Lee elbowing Otamendi, Tony Carrs two-footing Delph and David Mirfin snapping Nolito in two, if he is, he will certainly be in for a shock.

All of this provides me, and us with a real cause for optimism ahead of the game, as do recent trends. We all know that Guardiola teams like to monopolise possession, wear their opponents down and employ a fast, sharp press high up the pitch, but so do we. None of our current players will be shocked, or flustered to find three Manchester City players pressing them at once, none of our players will be shy of keeping control of the ball and countering City's dominance.

Guardiola has done exceptionally well as a coach, dominating Europe with his Barcelona team and sweeping all before him as head coach of Bayern Munich, therefore, trying to highlight weaknesses in his style seems absurd, but there is one constant theme. The high press, this has proven to be the most successful tactic employed against any Guardiola team in the past seven years. In Germany, Bayern under Pep and Dortmund under Klopp faced off against each other eight times in total, sharing the spoils with four wins each. No team in the Bundesliga, barely even in Europe came close to this level of parity with the Bavarians, with Klopps high energy and high intensity pressing game seeming to disrupt the flow of the Tiki-Taka. Take this forward into the premier league, teams who have tried to outplay City or sit deep against them have come undone, notably Arsenal and a host of others. Whereas the teams that have pressed them and got at their back four have had great success, Liverpool, Spurs and Everton.

This has to be our blueprint going into the game, living up to our identity and leaving everything out on the grass as Wagner says will be our biggest key to success. With the right tactics, team-selection, desire and backing from the stands little old Huddersfield have every chance of taming one of the big beasts of English football. I'll leave the final words of this post to David Wagner;

"To say that we will beat Manchester City is unrealistic, this is totally unrealistic, is it possible? Yes it is possible, because in football nobody knows the result before the game"