Updated: Oct 24, 2019
Huddersfield Town may have grabbed a point at Ewood Park on Saturday courtesy of yet another decisive substitute appearance from Juninho Bacuna, but that’s not really what I want to discuss in today’s blog.
I will briefly touch on Tommy Elphick - the defender whose second high-profile rick of the season cost Town a goal in the Blackburn game - but I would rather focus on the two upcoming fixtures against Middlesborough and Barnsley.
Personally, the joy and elation at recent positive results have given way to a serious trepidation about Town’s next two games. Without sounding like a PR executive for Sky Sports I believe we have a Super Wednesday and a Super Saturday on the cards (I couldn’t think of appropriate alliteration for Wednesday…)
The outcome of these next two games will go some way to answering a couple of questions I’ve had on my mind recently…
Are We In a Relegation Battle?
Danny Cowley has repeatedly said that we are in a relegation battle, and I get that completely. Realism is needed, not only to temper the expectations of the fans but to focus the minds of the players at the club.
You may call me naive, a blind optimist or any other derisory title you see fit, but I’m unsure as to whether or not we’re actually in a relegation battle. It’s always been my opinion that this squad of players is good enough to compete in the Championship without necessarily bothering the top spots.
The emphatic victory over Hull and the nature of the point gained at Ewood Park helped to confirm this belief. However, I’m well aware of the fragility in our squad, a mindset that is the result of almost 18 months of constant disappointments on the pitch.
If we come out of our next two games with a return of 4 points and performances to be proud of, I think we can start to really believe that we are not in a relegation battle. Anything less than that though and I think our backs will be really up against the wall.
Whose Gone In January?
I’m not professing to have any extra insight than anyone else, but I think it’s still quite clear to most fans that there are at least one or two rotten apples still in our squad, despite the sale of a few mushy Golden Delicious' over the summer
I won’t speculate as to these players state of mind or their reasons for not wanting to be at the club, that’s not fair. Although what I will say is that we can make a pretty good guess as to who wants to stay and who wants to leave from the Cowley’s squad selections over the next two games.
Saturday’s game against Barnsley will be our third in 7 days, so under normal circumstances, you would expect some element of squad rotation from the manager. If a certain two players formerly of Ligue 1 fail to make an appearance in either game, I think the writing will be very much on the wall for them.
Is Elphick All That?
Perhaps the wording of that question comes across as harsh, but I do want to convey the full weight of fans scepticism regarding Tommy Elphick. From conversation in the stands and on social media, it’s clear to me that the former Villa man is currently the most under-scrutiny player in the current starting 11.
When Elphick signed, as part of my research for the blog I spoke to a number of people about him, including fans of his former clubs Aston Villa and Brighton. There was a consensus amongst both sets of fans that Elphick is a leader and a talismanic figure that can inspire others around him.
However, there were also concerns raised about his concentration levels, particularly by the two Villa fans I spoke to, “he always looks capable of making a ridiculous mistake” said one, before effusing about Tyrone Mings and suggesting Gareth Southgate would be foolish to not include him in an England squad this season.
I received a text from the same Villa fan midway through the first half of our season opener against Derby saying, “told you” and then a rather more simple, but slightly more cutting laughing-crying face emoji on Saturday.
Personally, my judgement on Elphick is somewhat reserved at the time of writing. I can, of course, recognise his influence on his teammates, and believe that he has been a huge part of Christopher Schindlers recent return to form.
The mistakes though are becoming a little hard to ignore. There have been small, positional misgivings, notably away to Cardiff when I think his failure to step up contributed to the winning goal and thrust Schindler into an unenviable position.
Then there have been the big mistakes, which are harder to avoid. The chest-bump pass back to Grabara, the terrible ball from the back that was intercepted at Ewood Park. These ricks are harder to forgive simply because they were easy to avoid and would not have happened had Elphick played it safe.
If Elphick can play with a clear head and avoid simple mistakes that will elicit groans from the Town fans against ‘Boro and Barnsley, I will feel much more confident about his ongoing position in the starting line-up.
If, however, there are more gaffes or ricks that do not even necessarily lead to goals, I’ll have to concede that Elphick doesn’t deserve a starting spot in this team. Rather, he will have to play a supporting role to Christopher Schindler and Terence Kongolo.
There's a lot left to be answered by this team, but I am confident that the questions will be answered positively by the team over the next two games.
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