huddersfield town 0-3 leeds united: close friendsBack
Neighbours, over the years, become friends, and it has been good of Huddersfield to be so kind to Leeds United in our hours of need.
That goes back a long way; to 1919, when Town chairman Hilton Crowther was much more interested in Leeds United’s rise from the remains of Leeds City than he was in continuing to run his own club in a town of disinterest.
More recently Huddersfield have been usefully helping Leeds enjoy football again, at times when we have been starved of fun. Last season, for example, they let Billy Sharp score a goal that he and everyone in the away end will remember for the rest of their lives; as he clambered onto the advertising hoardings to thrust a chest of celebration at the crowd, the poke of Sharp’s nipples through his tight Macron shirt represented twin high points of Neil Redfearn’s management and Sharp’s time at Leeds.
The season before, Town came to Elland Road to make sure Saturday was soothing after the sore wounding of Mad Friday. The crazy of that week had only really just begun, not to mention the crazy of the months that have followed Cellino’s first grand entrance, and a visit from Huddersfield was all we needed. No, really, it was all we needed: they turned up ready to mock Leeds United and Ross McCormack and Leeds United beat them 5–1 and Ross McCormack scored a hat-trick. Even Jimmy Kebe scored a brilliant goal, and for a few hours Huddersfield allowed Leeds fans to enjoy football again.
It hasn’t been easy to enjoy football this season when that football has been played by Leeds United. I’m sure Barcelona are still as good to watch as ever. Down at Elland Road, nothing Uwe Rosler could muster in terms of heavy metal football impressed; and let’s just check what Jurgen Klopp had to say when he was asked about heavy metal football this week: “The problem with my life is that I’ve said too much shit in the past and no-one forgets it.”
Steve Evans didn’t immediately lift the gloom, with draws at Fulham and Bolton, and then he plunged us deeper into the fog with the hideously inept display against Blackburn. Beating Cardiff was better, although I wasn’t as sold on that performance as some; but what was neglected in all these games was just how bad the opposition were, too, and the effect that had on the overall spectacle.
Blackburn, if they’d had anything about them, should have been five goals clear by half-time, and it became as frustrating to watch them struggle to string passes together as it was watching our players watching them. Cardiff, too, offered little, which doesn’t take away from our win, but doesn’t help when you’re looking for that old, forgotten ingredient of football, cruelly rationed at Leeds: entertainment.
That’s how it continued at whatever Huddersfield’s ground is called this season. This was to be expected, as Town have just sacked Chris Powell, partly because his team was too boring to watch. Caretaker Mark Lillis wasn’t about to inspire any sudden excitement, so Scott Wootton and Liam Cooper put on a circus display as Leeds tried to attack a corner, the former running into and knocking out the latter before the ball was even in play.
Wootton was the main man of a first half that didn’t have much going on. The debate worth having isn’t really whether he should have been sent off for his two heavy, late challenges on players bursting through midfield, but about how those challenges show up the weakness of Wootton at right-back. He’s not even a particularly good centre-half, but at right-back he’ll always be exposed when he’s upfield and a player goes racing by; and he’ll always scythe them down and hope for the best from the referee. Either we pray for Charlie Taylor’s recovery so Berardi can hurry back there, or we hope that Steve Evans’ plans to put the thumbscrews on Sam Byram about his contract make him available again.
One thing Wootton’s damage to Cooper did achieve was eight minutes of injury time at the end of the first half, that Leeds United used to injure Huddersfield Town. The first goal was a perfect storm of mundane players finding a spark. Wootton, again, started it, with the kind of cheerless lump forward that has kept Stuart Dallas out of games; this time Dallas found some space and a firm first touch towards Chris Wood. Wood, almost always second to the ball, this time was first, and he pushed it down the line for Dallas to chase. Dallas, who can look ponderous in the corners, used his first touch to fire a cross across the box as firm and accurate as Mowatt’s shot into the Cardiff goal on Tuesday; Antenucci, who has actually been among our least mundane players this season, was there to meet it with his left foot, the signal for yet another booking for celebrating with his top off.
I’d been searching desperately for a difference between the two sides in the first half, feeling that Huddersfield were having slightly better of it but not sure how or why, and come to the conclusion that they were kicking the ball harder, faster and more often than Leeds were. Then suddenly there was this move of swift zip — once Wootton had played his part, anyway — to show that Leeds could kick the ball as hard and fast as anybody. And they weren’t done.
A couple of minutes later a decent game of head tennis was poised at 15–30 when Luke Murphy sliced through the court with an angled pass from the middle of his own half to the left wing, where he hadn’t just seen space for Antenucci, he’d played the perfect ball for Antenucci to exploit it. Antenucci, as we all know, is a selfish bastard with an incentive-laden contract, but his one heavy touch was the one that took him around the goalkeeper, leaving him no choice but to look for a teammate to score. There inside the six yard box was £3m goalpoacher Chris Woo — wait, no, it was Lewis Cook, who couldn’t turn the ball in, but the advantage of Wood’s lumbering late arrival was that when the ball bounced to him, he couldn’t miss.
This sudden outbreak of football defied belief, and then eight minutes into the second half there was a sudden outbreak of Alex Mowatt. Mowatt scored some great goals last season from exactly this range, and he scored his best yet against Cardiff on Tuesday; but he has never kicked a ball harder, truer, or with such sudden savage violence as he did on Saturday. In the celebrations Berardi knelt to polish Mowatt’s left boot; when he stood up, his hands were aflame.
That was largely that, but for a couple of seriously impressive saves from Marco Silvestri, after James Vaughan came on to suggest a different selection from Huddersfield could have meant different problems for Leeds. Three moments of goalscoring quality in one game, from Leeds United? We can only have been playing Huddersfield. Cheers, lads.
Truthfully, these moments could have happened just as easily against Fulham, Bolton, Blackburn or Cardiff; it doesn’t have to take a Terrier to get the best out of Leeds. None of the last five teams Leeds have faced has looked much better or worse than another, and yet only Huddersfield have been soundly beaten. The Championship is known as an exciting league because people don’t like to acknowledge that it lacks quality, and teams beat each other all the time because there are few stand out players to take a match to the next level.
Leeds have quality; Mowatt and Cook on Saturday, hopefully Taylor and Byram on other days. We have players like Luke Murphy, who was the pits against Blackburn, but broke Huddersfield in two when his vision and technique combined for one sharp through ball. There are players who can make the difference, players that can deliver not just entertainment but victory, players that other teams don’t have.
But we can’t play Huddersfield every week.