What’s best, to focus on the positive or the negative? This was a game that could easily have ended with any combination up to perhaps 4-4. We were pretty much outplayed in the first half and, having switched to 4-4-2, looked ordinary. But we did improve in the second half and today was just about getting back to winning ways. Against a tough and capable team we did indeed win. Good enough for me. Time enough to consider the problems later on, as we look down on the rest of the division.
In the event Parkinson opted for the change in formation, despite McKenzie having a ‘setback’ and not being available. That meant Burton and McLeod up front, with loan signing Mooney on the bench, and Shelvey dropping out. Sodje was preferred to Llera in central defence and there was no immediate return for Semedo – a decision that, to Parkinson’s credit (and not a criticism of Spring), was rectified at half-time, a change that quite possibly won us the game.
If ever there can be a case of scoring too soon this was it. An early corner saw Sodje completely unmarked around the penalty spot and he buried the header. This may have encouraged us to sit back a little. Whatever the reason, Huddersfield went on to dominate possession, winning the midfield battle. That provided the platform for them to create a number of opportunities, while for us, with Sam having a poor half and Burton and McLeod getting little change from their defence – or the referee (and to be fair to him McLeod’s attempts to win penalties were rightly denied) – we had no outlets. Despite the efforts of Racon and Youga to get things moving, we gave the ball away cheaply and far too often. Huddersfield had half-chances and for a while it looked as though we might make it to the break in front, which for any neutral would have looked like something of a steal. However, a free kick was given for another trip, by Spring, and their guy from some way out smashed a shot in off the post. Elliot had no chance, the only question arising being whether someone on the line would have been better (well, it couldn’t have turned out any worse).
At the break it appeared that the switch in formation left us looking ordinary, with two forwards struggling to get involved and a lightweight central midfield being overrun. Better finishing and but for some resolute defending, including from Bailey, and we could easily have been a couple of goals down. A change was needed and Semedo came on for Spring. Again, it’s not a criticism of Spring that it was a necessary move. We had to get more muscle in midfield and to Parkinson’s credit he didn’t wait.
The result was an evenly contested second half and a more entertaining one. It was of course helped by the fact that we again scored early, from another set piece (Shelvey not taking them and suddenly we start scoring from them). A ball into the box was headed on by Sodje and on again, over the keeper, by McLeod. Good goal, well taken. Just a little surprising to see the shirt come off again and another yellow card; do it when you score after a long drought, like a couple of weeks ago against Exeter, but don’t make a habit of it, even after last Saturday’s misses.
After that both sides could/should have scored more. For us, Sam, who improved in the second half, played in Racon, but he delayed the shot and allowed a defender to get in to block. McLeod was played through but couldn’t get the shot away and was left once more appealing in vain for a penalty. But Huddersfield had enough chances too, especially one at the far post that should have been buried. They had the ball in the net but the referee had already blown for a foul. Sodje and Dailly were dealing well with the succession of long throws and corners and if anything, as they became more desperate and increasingly resorted to long balls hit forward, Huddersfield became less effective. That they were no longer going through our midfield had a lot to do with Semedo. Wagstaff came on for Sam and almost created a goal with a good run and cross, while late on Mooney replaced McLeod and looked lively. Despite five minutes of added time (probably the minimum we could have expected, given five substitutions and a number of injury breaks) we were able to see the game out.
The pluses? Elliot had an excellent game, with some good saves and no errors with high balls; Sodje and Dailly stood up extremely well to the task at hand, while Youga was impressive at the back and going forward. And again, Semedo made a key contribution. The negatives? Burton and McLeod didn’t look like a partnership waiting to take off, Racon was not as effective as previously in a tough encounter, and perhaps most telling the jury has to be out on whether the chance in formation worked. It seemed to me that it exposed more weaknesses than enhanced strengths and could be seen as an over-reaction to last Saturday’s game. Perhaps the key message is that if we stick with it there’s no place in the starting XI for Shelvey and Semedo (or Bailey) becomes essential to stiffen the central midfield, especially against teams like Huddersfield.
Let’s take the win and move on. Especially as after having managed to make a complete pig’s ear of cooking last night (smoked duck is a delicacy, but burnt duck, chicken, pork and potatoes is inedible) it’s dining out for Suzanne tonight.
Elliot: 9/10. No chance with the goal and did everything else right.
Richardson: 7/10. Caught out some times, especially in the first half, but overall not bad and played his part in a sterling defensive display.
Youga: 8/10. Sometimes goes forward as if to show how it’s done. But today the defensive work was equally important and he stood up well.
Sodje: 8/10. Scored one, gets the assist for the other, and headed away countless balls.
Dailly: 8/10. Especially impressive first half, when we were under pressure.
Bailey: 7/10. For defensive work the mark would have been higher as he made a number of timely challenges and interceptions, but had little impact going forward.
Spring: 6/10. The physical limitations of Spring and Racon together in central midfield were exposed today; not really his fault.
Racon: 6/10. Never stopped running, but has to take as much of the rap as Spring for the first half performance.
Sam: 6/10. Disappointing game. Failed to threaten in the first half, or to make the most of extra space and time in the second, but gets an extra mark for hte pass through to Racon which should have brought a goal.
Burton: 5/10. Struggled with little to feed off and usually brushed off the ball by strong defenders.
McLeod: 6/10. Scored the winner well, but didn’t take other opportunities and went down too easily.
Semedo: 9/10. His half-time introduction made the difference for the second half.
Wagstaff: 7/10. One very good moment and did his part in running down the clock.
Mooney: 7/10. Not much time to impress, but looked lively enough.