- We're an average team
- Sacking Clark seems like the WRONG decision
- We'll be in the play-offs, with probably little or no expectations
- If we don't go up via the play-offs we'll lose Rhodes
- Alan Lee is terrible
All of these facts hit me with a horrible suddenness when Nile Ranger bumbled past Tom Clarke and swept the ball past the onrushing Alex Smithies. I put the question out there yesterday on Twitter, when was the last time you saw Town play that badly? I know there'll be those of you thinking Oldham away, Rochdale away, Peterborough away etc, but in a big derby match I haven't seen Town flounder like that in a long time. This blog entry will go over a few things, the match itself, Simon Grayson, and the play-offs, so i'll start at the beginning with the match that was.
The Town team read like this;
Clarke Clarke Morrison Woods
Ward Kay Arismendi
Novak Lee Rhodes
The line-up looked a particularly attacking line-up, if not leaving us a little lightweight in the centre of midfield. To compensate for this Novak dropped into the position of a defensive winger at times, he chased the ball down, harried defenders and worked hard. His affect however was minimal, he can't cross a ball and doesn't possess the trickery or pace to beat a full-back; therefore putting Novak in this position completely nullified his attacking threat. Danny Ward had potentially one of the worst games I have seen him have in a Town shirt, his crosses and free-kicks rarely beat the first man, and only met a Town player by sheer luck. His first touch was horrendous, on too many occasions he merely touched the ball ahead of himself and forgot to run. Recalling the match between these two at the Galpharm from last season completely highlights the difference between Pilkington and the man brought in to replace him. Ward can have good games, and good spells in matches and he can even hit the occasional screamer; but he cannot influence a match in anywhere near the same way as Pilkington could. Alan Lee continues to baffle me, his first season yielded zero goals in 28 league games.....for a striker, FOR A STRIKER!!!! Then this season he has amazed everyone and scored 7 goals, bringing his total to 7 in 51 league games. Yesterday he looked like someone who had won a competition to play with his heroes, as he bumbled into their centre-backs and on one occasion, fell over the ball. This left Jordan Rhodes relying on the supply from Lee, who could barely stand up, Novak who couldn't cross a ball, and Ward who couldn't control the ball, the outcome was barely surprising. On reflection of the game itself, I think the tone was set fairly early on, Wednesday looked very dangerous when they ventured into our half and our defence looked like headless chickens when they were trying to deal with them. Madine forced a good save from Smithies in the first 10 minutes, but from then on the half descended into a bit of a battle. We looked like gaining the upper-hand midway through the first-half when a string of Novaks attempted crosses hit the first man and went for corners. From these corners our centre-backs came perilously close to connecting but didn't, leading to plenty of 'oooohs' and 'ahhhhs' around the ground. Then came the moment of the first-half, excellent play by Rhodes led to Ward bearing down on the Wednesday area, he made space for himself and blasted narrowly wide. This was our best moment of the half, and brightened up a pretty dull 45 minutes of football. In the second-half it seems that Dave Jones had noticed our lack of numbers in the middle of the park, and informed his players to exploit it after the restart, and they duly did. Wednesday came out looking like a completely different team, as Arismendi tired and Kay missed tackle after tackle the Wednesday midfield ran through us with ease. The free-kick leading to the goal was debatable, and highlighted another decision from the referee that came under scrutiny in a pretty poor display of officiating. The goal felt pretty inevitable, Llera had his sighter in the first-half, and if a centre-back is going to take a free-kick you know he must be pretty bloody good. So he lifted it over the wall and placed it in the bottom corner, Smithies' positioning may have been questionable but I don't think we can have any complaints about the finish. After Wednesday scored we completely imploded, blunt, boring repetitive attack after attack followed, interjected by cutting and incisive Wednesday break-aways. However hilarious it was when Ranger hit the cross-bar and Antonio blazed over, it should be noted that this was an example of amateur defending. Minutes or so later Tom Clarke tried what can be only explained as a stupid ball, (it also beggars belief that the RB was trying to spray balls around the park from the centre of the pitch) Nile Ranger broke away, Tom Clarke feebly tried to take him down to no avail and the Wednesday man scored, ending the game. The rest of the match passed by and as I heard one Wednesday fan remark, our desperation was shown when we threw on Cadamarteri. Wednesday could and should have won by more in the end, and now they enter into an exciting showdown for second with their city neighbours. After yesterdays performance and their recent form I would definitely back them to pip United to second. As for us, it's play-offs and after that performance I wouldn't expect us to progress past the semi-finals. The lack of fight, organisation and skill from Town yesterday was almost as embarassing as the string of deserting fans been greeted to a chorus of 'IS THERE A FIRE DRILL?" by the away fans.
A lot of abuse has been aimed at him over recent weeks, notably after the two recent defeats and after the two horrendous disasters that were Stevenage and Bury; but I certainly don't think this abuse has been fair. He was instated as Huddersfield manager in late February, and has had the chance to make only one addition to the squad. On top of this he has had the pressure inadvertently placed on him by Dean Hoyle to gain automatic promotion, the stigma of being a Leeds man and the crazy boasts by Lee Clark about the certainty of promotion for the Terriers. He has performed certainly no better than you would have expected Lee Clark to do, and perhaps worse. The problem with Simon Grayson for me is that he was given the job at the wrong time, had Clark being dismissed in early January then it would have been perfect for a new man to come in and immediately stamp his authority on the squad. This however was not the case, Clark was allowed to bring in more players and because of this he should have been given to the end of the season, with perhaps the exception of getting Warnock in. I know that Dean Hoyle certainly tried to get in Warnock, but perhaps he could have tried harder. It's common place now for chairmen to consult other managers and test the water before they have dispatched the current manager; Dean Hoyle should have done this with Warnock, and if he wasn't interested he should have kept his faith in Clark. As it is we find ourselves in a position that would have been the least we expected from Lee Clark, and our future lies on the fate of the play-offs. If we go up via Wembley then sacking Clark will have proved to be the right decision by Hoyle, but it is a very big if.
It looks as if we'll be playing MK Dons in the semi-finals of the play-offs, a fixture which we have been very successful in over the last few seasons. A return to Clark's 4-5-1 formation would likely see us prosper in this semi-final as it has certainly done us well against the Dons in recent seasons. If we overcome the challenge of Milton Keynes, it would most likely be a trip to Wembley to face one of the Sheffield clubs, or perhaps one of the play-off gatecrashers (Carlisle, Brentford or Notts County). If it is the latter we will be facing a team high on confidence, and most definitely in form. If it is the former we will be facing a wounded team, hopefully still reeling from the race for second place. However if recent form suggests against the Sheffield clubs, then we will be hard pushed to emerge with a victory. I have slightly more faith in Grayson in the play-offs than Lee Clark, however on yesterdays showing I think this Huddersfield Town team will be very lucky indeed to be playing Championship football next season. Of course I hope we will go up, and I shall be at the play-off games, and I desperately pray that we can fulfill our potential and make it third time lucky, but all logic and common sense tells me we won't.