It's the unknown

Huddersfield Town 1-1 Leeds United: Tied up

Written by: Moxcowhite • Daniel Chapman
Pat Bamford sitting on the grass looking glum, not even cheered up by his pink kit. Same, Pat, same.

I would like to give whatever this was back to the people of Huddersfield and request that they send by return what was promised, ie a game of football for us all to enjoy. The Town followers in that town did at least get their enjoyment, but I don’t much envy their pleasures. This is the club that ground out promotion to the Premier League with a negative goal difference. Until recently, they were managed by Darren Moore, reputedly the nicest man in football. No wonder he couldn’t succeed in a town where Neil Warnock is revered like a god.

It is not Leeds United’s fault that Huddersfield Town have a dreadful team this season and could yet end up back in League One, but we still had to pay for it by crossing off one of our 46 scheduled Championship matches as a non-event. Leeds spent most of their two hours in the Terriers’ company on Saturday trying to convince them to play the game of football they’d agreed to host. Instead, Huddersfield’s players kicked United’s until they quietened down and agreed to watch while they tied their shoelaces. Their new manager, André Breitenreiter, used to coach Georginio Rutter at Hoffenheim and Wilf Gnonto at FC Zurich; he once reduced Gnonto to tears, apparently over being substituted, but I can’t rule out tears of frustration at being made to play this way. Gnonto and Rutter both retreated into their shells in Huddersfield as if wary of the reunion, but also of being hacked down if they went near the ball. The studs Matty Pearson raked down Crysencio Summerville’s calves seemed to be his own invention, though, while I don’t think Breitenreiter will have prioritised Junior Firpo’s chin, but that’s how Jonathan Hogg’s elbow got him sent off for a second yellow. His first was for a foul on Summerville that sent him crashing into Yuta Nakayama, so the next five minutes were spent watching Nakayama, hurt, being treated on the ground, like in a badly scripted episode of Casualty.

As the release of season ticket renewals reminded everybody last week, football is not a cheap sport to watch, and even at this level its players earn many thousands. Somehow, though, it’s acceptable to reward fans with 22 minutes of actual in-play football in a first half that was 55 minutes long. Not only was this acceptable to Huddersfield, the home fans revelled in it. It’s mystifying that results-at-all-costs football has deluded fans into thinking that, yes, this is what we want from a game, this is what we want when we go down to the stadium, we want to have an expensive horrible time. Last week in Glasgow, people paid for a Willy Wonka experience that was so bad they called the police over their £35 tickets and it became worldwide news. Meanwhile, in Huddersfield, football fans who handed over £20 to watch a Champo midfielder tying his shoelaces applauded gratefully.

The game itself was a draw. I realise I haven’t mentioned that yet. It hardly seemed to register. Take a point, go home. Daniel Farke said his players were “a bit slow in the head … not super quick in the head today” which I think means not smart enough to break down Huddersfield’s defences. He’d heard a lower figure than 22 minutes about the first half: “I would have at least used this eighteen minutes when the ball was in play to create a bit more,” he said. Leeds began, as they often do, with a beautiful, smart and creative move between Wilf Gnonto and Archie Gray that gave Glen Kamara a huge opportunity that he didn’t take. Then, as Leeds also often do, they ended up looking around at each other as if to say, well, if that didn’t work, what else is there? Lots of things, actually, but they weren’t occurring to Leeds fast enough for them to carry them out before a Town player kicked them. Then Leeds conceded from a set-piece after Illan Meslier saved a header and Michal Helik scored the rebound, because why not give Huddersfield more than a draw to defend? And Hogg got himself sent off, because why not give them even fewer reasons to attack and leave space? Every perfect thing was happening, from Huddersfield’s point of view, red card included. Hogg was a better player for them after he was off the pitch.

A lot of Leeds fans seemed upset about United’s failures in this game, but the equaliser demonstrated why success wasn’t easy. After Dan James and Connor Roberts added some maturity to the team, some speed in the head, Pat Bamford scored when Roberts got to the byline and stuck a low cross into the six yard box. That nearness to the goalline was instructive because, yes, Leeds deteriorated into sideways passing, but if they tried passing forwards, they were aiming for a ten yard gap or smaller between the Town backline and their goal. That, my friends, is not enough space to play football in. Even then, Crysencio Summerville almost won the match, making a few steps of room in the penalty area but pinging his shot off the outside of the post.

For all the difficulty of breaking Town down, Leeds were doing it, and had the game gone on longer, Leeds would have won. That’s the thing about the kind of dominance Leeds had – 81% possession in the second half, ten shots inside the penalty area – playing that way, you’re playing against the clock more than the other team. Dominance eventually leads to a goal, you just have to hope the referee hasn’t sent everybody home before eventually happens. That’s why teams like Town keep the ball out of play as much as possible. No game, no goals, and that’s what get results. Sometimes.

That’s probably why Farke didn’t sound worried when he was asked, after the game, if Leeds will need to get used to this tactic during the rest of the season. “I would say from the 35 games we’ve played, about 25 teams have played against us like this,” he said, “we’ve proven more than enough in recent weeks that we’re capable to win such games.” The thing about the way Huddersfield played this game is that they’re far from the only team to try it against Leeds, but we only notice when it works. And even then, Town didn’t win. There have always been teams like this trying to play like this, and they’re always the teams at the bottom of the table losing lots of games, because most of the time, it’s a tactic of failure. The margins this weekend were Glen Kamara’s unwillingness to shoot and Crysencio Summerville being three inches away from accuracy, and if you worry about those things too much you will soon feel insane. Leeds are capable of winning these games. Leeds are capable of winning nine games in a row. Leeds are capable of getting promoted and winning the title. It’s no wonder that back in 1919 Hilton Crowther wanted to close Huddersfield Town down and move it to Leeds. There’s only one place for football, and it isn’t there. And now Saturday is over, that isn’t our problem. ⬢

(Photograph by Jess Hornby/PA Images, via Alamy)

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