Saturday 28 February 2015

What A Difference Goals Make

There were enough games between November and Norwich when the abiding thought was 'we didn't score/take our chances, so we can't complain'. Today's game, if we didn't know it before, was about chances being taken - and really having two forwards capable of scoring, which shifts the balance completely. On the balance of play and chances this was not a 3-0 game. Huddersfield had enough opportunities for the result to have been very different, but they failed in front of goal (and when they didn't Henderson was there to pull off an outstanding save at 2-0) and we scored when it mattered, including a third to kill off the game that was entirely of Watt's making. What a difference goalscorers make.

Let's deal with Sir Chris first, because this was a special occasion. Exactly why the club opted to have so few turnstiles open for the East Stand when everyone knew the attendance beggars belief. I only got in after the game had started, along with many others. So be it. The tribute was decent and I hope heartfelt for him too. But once done there was a game to be played.

The team lined up much as expected (given the continuing absence of Jackson and Wiggins) other than that Gomez was given his chance in central defence alongside Johnson (ahead of Bikey-Amougou and Onyewu), with Ben Haim apparently injured. Cousins returned from injury with Wilson back on the bench, after the apparently unsuccessful experiment of him in central midfield. It was to be 4-4-2 against 4-4-2.

Huddersfield probably shaded the first 10 minutes or so in terms of possession, but there wasn't much in it as both sides probed without grabbing the game by the throat. We looked rather more mobile going forward, with the front two and Bulot and Berg Gudmundsson linking up well, they had the physical presence and threat of Miller (but the rather less threatening Vaughan alongside him). It was nip and tuck and as the game progressed the first goal increased in importance. We fashioned probably the better of the chances, with two falling to Vetokele. Good play down the left saw the ball squared and passed on to him, but having to turn back in on his left side his shot was weak, while another decent opportunity also went begging. Watt looked a constant threat, showing an ability to fashion something out of nothing and keeping their defence on the back foot. At the other end the occasional mistake (a misplaced pass by Fox and a misdirected header by Gomez, plus a couple of misjudged attempts to head clear by Johnson) stretched us, with some decisive blocks put in, and Miller was able to turn inside the box and almost get a decisive effort in.

However, heading towards half-time neither goalkeeper had been called into serious action. That all changed when we won a free kick outside the box, in a position that was very nicely set up for Gudmundsson. Far enough out to get over the wall and under the bar, central enough to go either side. He didn't disappoint, curling it over their defensive line and away from their keeper into the left corner of the net. It was a situation that called for precision and he delivered just that.

Not long after they had a free-kick in a not dissimilar situation but failed to clear the wall. Another effort from them went just wide of the post, while the moment when they put the ball in the net was always a foul on Henderson. So at the break we were ahead but the game looked like it could still go either way.

It turned very much in our favour not long into the second half. Another move fashioned down the left saw us choose good passes in a tight situation and the ball moved on across the box to find Watt in space and he provided the finish. That stung Huddersfield into accepting that there wasn't a great deal for them to lose by sitting back - and they enjoyed probably their best period of the game. Gudmundsson seemed to have picked up a knock and was replaced by Wilson, and for a while they looked the more likely, without seemingly having the cutting edge to convert the chances.

They did fashion one: a ball into the box and a smart effort low to Henderson's left. But he stuck out a strong arm and turned it around for a corner. It was an excellent and decisive save. They get one back then, with fresh legs on the pitch, and the game's back in the balance. Instead being kept out seemed to sap them a little, and we - or rather Watt - put the game to bed with about 20 minutes left.

It was a routine pass to a forward outside the box with his back to goal, nothing obvious on. But he turned it past one defender and with the space opened up hit crisply into the bottom right of the net. A goal, like the other two, of real quality, which contrasted with Huddersfield's efforts in the final third (Henderson's save excepted).

The final 15 minutes or so were something of a stroll. Diarra came on for Bulot, presumably to shore things up, with Cousins going wide left, then Eagles came on for Watt, who may have been a little miffed at being denied the opportunity of a hat-trick but had previously picked up a knock. The only other change I might have considered would have been taking off Gomez, not for a bad game but just because he had picked up a yellow and committed a few fouls after that. It would have been silly for him to get a second yellow in a game that was by then won. Huddersfield, genuinely mid-table, were never going to come back from three down and the real interest in the final stages was in how well Diarra would shape up and whether Eagles would be able to beat their keeper with shots from the space he enjoyed. There was also a splendid save by their keeper from a Wilson effort from close range, followed by a Buyens effort deflected wide (if I'm honest I can't remember whether we were two or three up by then).

We deserved the win because on balance we had the better chances and took some of them. Just how the game might have gone if they had scored first, or if Henderson hadn't pulled off the save at 2-0, will forever be just conjecture. All that was left was to applaud Sir Chris off the pitch, give the players the applause they too deserved, and bask in the position of being some 11 points now above the third relegation place. If someone had suggested to me after the Norwich game that we would be in this position, after three 3-0 victories out of four, I would have suggested they needed their bumps felt.

Player Ratings:

Henderson:  9/10. Mostly routine saves, a couple of dodgy moments clearing the ball and one dropped cross, but that superb save was as important as any of the goals.

Solly:  8/10. Solid game, nothing dramatic going forward but not necessary today.

Fox: 7/10. Generally played well, encouraging. Occasional error in posession and notable that once he was very easily brushed off the ball against a physically stronger opponent.

Gomez:  7/10. Also not error-free and was on the edge having picked up a yellow, but for a guy playing his first game in central defence for the first team also encouraging.

Johnson:  7/10. Some errors judging the flight of the ball to get headers away, but able to lead the defence and generally assured, despite the threat of Miller.

Berg Gudmundsson: 7/10. The decisive strike of the first half, didn't last long into the second.

Cousins: 7/10. Calm in regaining and in possession, decent enough game.

Buyens: 7/10. He has been off the pace of late and today wasn't perfect, but he made his contribution.

Bulot: 7/10. Seemed to have problems early on keeping his feet, but showed enough to justify his retention in the side after the poor Norwich game.

Vetokele: 7/10. Always a threat but today didn't manage to convert the two decent chances that came his way in the first half.

Watt:  9/10. Two goals, almost a third (when their keeper was nearly caught out at his near post), and clearly making a very big difference to the team.

Subs:  Wilson (7/10 - nothing dramatic but at least wasn't expected to play a central role); Diarra (7/10 - came on when the game was won); Eagles (7/10 - ditto, but both look capable of making material contributions to the rest of the season).


Anonymous said...

Happy, happy, happy happy BA. Loved it so much today. I also thought Henderson's save was pivotal, as they were putting us under a lot of pressure at that stage. Chatting to someone from the west stand they said Luzon explained to Gudmonnson why he was subbed with a hand gesture of "tying it up" - in other words Wilson has the better defending ability. Also said how well Luzon explained to Gomes about how to stop Millah turning him. May be I got Luzon wrong. Hope so.He is playing all the players in the right places. And has two fantastic strikers linking together.

If I haven't already said so, very happy...

Pembury Addick

Geoff said...

The "Occasionals" - two sons - were with me yesterday. They are used to witnessing either a defeat or a bore-draw and "happy" would be insufficient. Make it "delirious".

One minor gripe. The ref being conned for Gomez's yellow. A couple of other visiting players had manners not normally associated with Sir CP, notably Vaughan. Perhaps his ethics take time to bed-in.

The Stadium authorities were not the ony ones to get the numbers wrong. Surely S-Eastern managers would have known the ground was sold-out in home areas, but did they put on longer trains???????

A guy on the train home suggested that we only need 8 more points. That's pushing it. Was it Peterbro' who went down with 53. In any case, if they carry on playing like a real team, one that moves, backs up, takes its chances etc we'll get more than another eight. Cousins in the middle makes SUCH a difference.