Battling defensive performance doesn’t get its rewards

The international break. To us fans, it seems like the longest two weeks in history, but to David Wagner and other championship coaches it is a valuable extended period to reboot fitness levels of the players and work on the training pitch without any significant focus on match preparation. The build up to Saturday’s Yorkshire derby against Sheffield Wednesday was met with impatience and when it finally came, it was, to most an anticlimax.

This game marked a return to the opponent that David Wagner began his managerial tenure at Huddersfield Town against, and therefore would provide a measure of how far the side has progressed since. There is no doubt that Wagner has changed the team’s identity, attitude and performance considerably, however the results at times haven’t reflected this. His counterpart for this game was Portuguese coach Carlos Carvalhal. He, like Wagner has gained a positive reputation for his success at Wednesday, and there is clear parallels to draw from the two. Carvalhal (admittedly with a much larger budget and a full pre season) has transformed the South Yorkshire club into a potent attacking team who play attractive football, and along with a large number of quality squad additions, ultimately a top-six team.

Huddersfield lined up in a similar way to how they did in their previous match (a 4-1 win at Elland Road) with just Van la Parra and Paterson dropping out to be replaced by Bunn and Matmour. Sheffield Wednesday were without midfielder Barry Bannan but were able to field a strong line-up including Gary Hooper, Fernando Forestieri and Aiden McGeady. It was a slow start to the game, with both sides knocking it about cautiously – Town with the majority of possession, however in fairly safe areas of the field. The first chance of note came after 15 minutes when a corner was almost scrambled home by Billing and Wells, but Wednesday managed to hack it away. It was a half of few chances, however it was a livley affair, as both Loovens and Hudson were booked for challenges on Wells and Forestieri respectively. After half time the pace of the game improved – on Town’s part largely due to the introduction of Jamie Paterson, however neither side could gain a foothold in the game. This was despite Joel Lynch magnificently heading off the line from McGeady’s shot, and a number of ambitious efforts from Joe Lolley. The decisive moment came on 83 minutes, as Wednesday substitute Joao found Forestieri, who played the pantomime villain all game, who prodded home from close range, to send the 3,800 strong away fans into raptures. Up to that moment, Town, like their opponents, had defended very strongly, but one piece of quality looked to have decided the match. Late drama though followed 2 minutes later, as Lynch’s header was handled on the line by Lee, just for the referee not to give a penalty. It ended 1-0 to the away side, who look set to consolidate a play-off spot. As for town, they slipped a place to 18th, but they certainly weren’t disgraced.
It could be argued that this was the best defensive performance under Wagner, but in the end it didn’t bring any rewards. It was however an improvement on the 30 minute capitulation at Hillsbrough earlier in the season, and on another day, a point could’ve been taken. Joel Lynch was the major positive from the game, his man of the match performance was a further indication that he is back to his best and thriving under the new regime. Town and Wagner will undoubtedly be unhappy with the attacking efforts, as they only managed to fashion 3 shots on target – something unheard of in the last 5 months. This is something they must put right if they have ambitions of getting any points at Middlesbrough (Tuesday) or at home to Hull (Saturday).

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