What a difference a week makes ey? This time seven days ago, Huddersfield Town were languishing on a measly two points in the league, looking increasingly likely to be cut off from the rest of the pack. Today, as I write this we sit on eight points, just above the relegation spots with four more goals and two clean sheets to our name.
During our 4-2 loss away to West Bromwich Albion, we could see the small green shoots of recovery, particularly in the first half. However, when our collective mental frailties crept back in and we went on to squander a 2-1 lead, I’ll admit to feeling highly pessimistic.
I wondered if the Cowley’s would be able to pick these players up, to beat the bad habits out of them and reinstill some much-needed confidence. Yet here we are - still a long way off a complete recovery - basking in the wake of a 3-0 home win over Hull which was preceded by a gritty 1-0 win away to Stoke.
Our at the moment, temporary resurgence is all down to the work of Danny and Nicky Cowley on the training pitch. There are quite simply too many players to name in the squad, who now look twice the players they were even a month ago. Collectively, the biggest impact that the Cowley’s have had on the squad so far are…
I wrote not too long ago about the damaging effect that Florent Hadergjonaj was having on our defence and the players around him. The flying full-back was over-zealous in attacking areas, often neglecting the defensive side of his game and as a result, putting too much pressure on Tommy Elphick and Christopher Schindler.
The Cowley’s seem to have identified that flaw in Flo’s game early on in their tenures, signing Danny Simpson on a free and immediately putting him into the squad ahead of Hadergjonaj.
That signing, along with the undoubted work on the training pitch has utterly transformed our defence. No longer is the back four lop-sided and easy to navigate for attacking players, rather it is compact, solid and hard to break down.
Elphick and Schindler have both had more time to concentrate on their roles as centre-backs, rather than a mishmash between their natural positions and that of a covering full-back. Two consecutive clean sheets are a testament to the team's newfound defensive grit and belief.
(Town's defensive heatmap against Hull - barring the odd foray forward from Danny Simpson, Town's shape was fairly tight and defined.)
It was very rare to hear the word ‘transition’ in football prior to Euro 2016 when the term first came into common football parlance. During that tournament, transitions came to the fore as many teams sat deep, invited the opposition onto them and then sprung a counter-attack.
The thinking behind that tactic is that when a team wins the ball back they can exploit the opposition, who are disjointed from maintaining possession and attacking, therefore hitting the opposition on a transitional phase.
Town’s game has been all about that in the past two matches, with the best example being Juninho Bacuna’s winning goal at Stoke last week. Town sprung from defence to attack in a matter of seconds when their opponent's defence was all geared up for a nice patient attack.
The same happened with at least two of the goals on Saturday. Twice Town sucker-punched Hull and left them flat out on the canvas, which is encouraging to see as we certainly have players suited to that style of play.
What’s more encouraging is that it’s the first time since, perhaps Bournemouth at home in 2017-2018 that we have seen a Town team play like that. In between then and now, Town have played attritional, moribund attacking football with more focus on not getting caught out than on actually scoring a goal.
I’m glad that has changed, and from what I’ve seen so far, I’m confident Town will continue playing quick, transitional football.
It always feels wrong to criticise David Wagner or to look back on aspects of his management style in a negative light, such were his achievements at the club. However, one key difference between Wagner and our current manager stood out in the post-match comments after the Hull victory when Danny Cowley said;
“I could probably be a little bit critical once we went 3-0 up because we played for the end a bit.
"They committed players forward and we just had to keep the ball in their half.
"If we had done that we would have had more control than we did, so that is something to work on.
"But to score three goals and keep a clean sheet, most importantly, back-to-back clean sheets, in fact, bodes well for what is to come."
Under David Wagner, we were accustomed to the manager dishing out praise to his players following a positive result whilst reminding us, as fans, that we were underdogs and were consequently punching above our weight.
Now, I’m well aware that I’m speaking with almost perfect hindsight here, but maybe those consistently made comments created a comfort zone for the players. What I liked about Danny Cowley’s comments was his clear ambition to constantly improve and demand more from his players.
After watching his side win at home for the first time in over seven months, it would have been easy to be all smiles after the game and wax lyrical about the performance. Of course, Danny Cowley was clearly happy with the result, but he also knows there are several areas for improvement.
That attitude has perhaps caused several players to up their work rate and their levels in training. Something which seems to have borne fruit on the pitch with Bacuna, Diakhaby and Hogg all upping their levels in recent weeks.
The only negative thing to come from the weekend was the realisation that we now have to wait a while for our next game. It will be tough getting through the international break, but how good does it feel to be looking forward to a Town game for once?
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