Huddersfield Town put in a much improved second half performance on Saturday to overcome QPR and secure three vital points. In this article our chief writer John looks back at three of the main talking points to have come from the game…
Boring, Boring Town?
It feels anathema to start a review of a 2-0 victory with conversation over playing style and the perceived ‘boredom’ of fans. However, it seems to be an issue that rears its head week in, week out, regardless of the full-time score.
Rather than addressing it in passing or attributing our current style to boring old tropes such as, ‘needs must’ or ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat’, I thought I’d delve a little bit deeper into the topic.
My research led me at first to the terrific Stacey West Blog, a fan run Lincoln City site which has received numerous plaudits from Imps supporters and those within the blogging industry.
Rather than trawling back through each and every blog post on the site I decided to utilise a few keywords in the search bar. There were a few results for the word 'boring' and its synonyms that linked into the Danny Cowley era at Sincil Bank.
Instead of stumbling upon article after article of criticism, what I found was well thought out and reasoned explanations of Lincoln’s style under Danny Cowley. The Imps, during their period of success, seemed to focus on winning their home games and not losing their away clashes.
They also seem to have started each game with the same attitude of ‘keeping it tight’, before pushing on in the second period, a tactic that ultimately served them well – promotion from the National League to League One in a short period of time is proof of that.
With all that in mind I embarked on a less than exciting journey into the statistics behind Town’s Championship season so far. The first thing I had to do was quantify exactly what constitutes boring football, to do that I stuck to the belief that boring teams pass it long and don’t have many shots.
Here’s what I found…
Huddersfield Town play an awful lot of long balls. In the league table of long balls, Danny Cowley’s side find themselves neatly positioned in the middle of the play-offs which perhaps, isn’t too surprising.
What was surprising however was the teams that were above them in the long ball table… Leeds, Fulham and Brentford have all played more long balls in games this season than Huddersfield Town.
All three of those sides have had praise lavished upon them at various times this season by football pundits who claim they play, ‘the right way’. Eager to delve into this a little more and find out what was going on, I took a look at the short pass statistics.
On average, Leeds United attempt just over 500 short passes a game and pump it long on 63 occasions. Conversely Town attempt 2 less long balls per game, but startlingly attempt over 160 less short passes.
Extrapolating this out across the league, it does appear that Town attempt a higher percentage of long ball passes a game than at least half of the Championship. What was most interesting though, was that Town appeared to attempt over half of their long balls in the first period of games.
From reading the Stacey West Blog and using my own two eyes when I’ve watched Huddersfield this season, one thing has always stood out – we’re not very good in the first 45 of games.
It appears to be a Cowley trait that we sit tight and soak up pressure in the first half of games before notching things up in the second period. Across first halves so far this season we have registered an average of 3.8 shots and an average of 0.4 goals.
In second halves those figures rise to 6.3 and 0.8 respectively, with a much greater percentage of our shots coming from within the penalty area rather than from range.
In a meandering way, what I’m trying to say is that this season Huddersfield Town have been boring, but only in the first half of games. After the restart in many games we have come out of the blocks firing and upped the tempo.
To some this may come across as boring and uninspiring, but to me and many others it is simply a marker of a pragmatic team. It is no secret that most sides tend to tire in the last half hour of games, so conserving energy and hanging in games for the first 45 is not a bad
Saturday’s victory over QPR was the textbook example of that particular tactic, with the visitors controlling most of the play in the first half. Other than hitting the post with a header from a corner, the Hoops best chances came from distance, which is what Town’s dogged performance limited them to.
In the second period Danny Cowley let his players off the leash, with the result being a pretty dominant 45 in which Town scored twice and consistently threatened. You may still think after reading this that Town are boring, but to that I would say, ‘needs must, and there’s more than one way to skin a cat…’
Regardless of the fortunes of a team on the pitch there always has to be one player that is the focus of the fans ire. During our promotion season it was the profligate and showboating Rajiv Van La Parra that took most of the flak.
This season the burden has been shared by a group of players, until recent weeks when the spotlight seems to have shone firmly on Elias Kachunga. ‘He doesn’t offer enough going forward’, some have said, and with plenty of justification.
The industrious winger has not been in scintillating form in front of goal this season and looks a shadow of the player he was in the 2016-2017 season, but why is that? Has he lost his mojo? Is it a result of playing in a worse team?
Perhaps it is a combination of those things, but for me the reason behind Kachunga’s reduced goal threat this season has been obvious – he’s playing in a different position.
The last time Elias Kachunga played in this division he scored 12 league goals from the inside forward position. His role in that team was to drift into the box after opening up space for his overlapping full back, Tommy Smith.
(Elias Kachunga excelling at inside forward during the 2016-2017 season.)
Once in there he would often find himself on the end of crosses or cutbacks from the overlapping full back on the opposite flank, or even at times a clever ball from Tommy Smith.
This season he has been unable to play that role as often as he would like, thanks to Town’s problems at full back. At the beginning of the season Florent Hadergjonaj was the overlapping right back behind Kachunga.
Unfortunately for the team and Kachunga himself, Hadergjonaj proved to be almost as bad at crossing as he was defending. As a consequence, Kachunga would spend the vast majority of his games covering for the inept Kosovan, and when he did manage to find space in the opposition half, he would routinely be missed out by a wayward Hadergjonaj cross.
Then in came Danny Simpson, who added a defensive steel to the team which enabled Kachunga to focus more on his offensive duties. The only problem however was Simpson’s inability to provide effective support in the attacking third.
Thus, Kachunga was forced to then occupy the role of a traditional winger, beating a full back and whipping a cross into the box. If you’ve ever seen the former striker play in the flesh before, you’ll know that that isn’t exactly his forte.
On Saturday, Kachunga got the opportunity to, albeit briefly, play in his favoured role of inside forward. It wasn’t down to a new found attacking gusto from Danny Simpson however, it was actually thanks to the ghosting runs of Emile Smith Rowe.
In the build-up to the first goal, the on-loan Arsenal man drops deep into a half-right-back/half-right-winger position and carries the ball to the opposite flank. Consequently the entire QPR team shift to that side of the pitch in an attempt to nullify the threat of the now in-possession Juninho Bacuna.
Then, just as he routinely did in the 2016-2017 season, Elias Kachunga starts slowly drifting into the penalty area, where he was able to head in a neat cross from Harry Toffolo.
Something similar, although less well-crafted happened in the build-up to the awarding of Town’s penalty, which was won by that man Elias Kachunga.
Whilst it is true that his offensive stats this season don’t make for great reading, it is important to understand the reasons why. He isn’t a busted flush by any stretch of the imagination, and we will perhaps see his goals and assists figures increase now thanks to the positional play of Emile Smith Rowe.
At times during his Huddersfield Town career Steve Mounie has flipped-flopped between looking like a real Premier League talent to one of the worst strikers to have ever graced the top flight.
The reason behind that would seem to be confidence. When he first arrived at the club we were surfing the crest of a wave, something which Mounie cashed in on, scoring twice on his debut at Crystal Palace.
However, that collective confidence soon ebbed away from the squad, and the focus on attacking and pressing soon gave way to a safety first mantra, something which Joe Lolley commented on earlier this week in an interview with The Athletic, saying in reference to the midway point of that first season in the Premier League:
“At the time, the manager – and he’s a brilliant manager, I would never criticsise him – didn’t want people to give the ball away; he wanted to play very safe. So then you go into the game more worried about making a mistake than doing something that’s great.”
It wasn’t just Joe Lolley that suffered from a crisis in confidence at that time, it was Steve Mounie as well. Something which he has arguably only just recovered from, scoring his sixth goal in nine games on Saturday.
(Highlights of Town's 2-0 win over QPR including a confident penalty from Steve Mounie.)
Mounie’s new found confidence was clear for all to see against QPR when he dominantly took the ball for the penalty before excellently slotting home. The Benin forward’s resurgence is heartening for all Town fans to see, and if he can improve on his link-up play - a pass completion of 58.2% this season is worrying – then perhaps we will see him truly thrive in the
remainder of the season.
I started out writing this article three hours ago with the intention of covering ‘five conclusions’ from the game on Saturday. Unfortunately we’re over 1,800 words deep and whilst some of you may enjoy another two conclusions, I fear the rest of you would slip into a coma if you were forced to read on for much longer.
So, I’ll conclude by saying that I was thoroughly impressed with our performance against QPR. Yes, it may have been dull in the first half but, after the break we really kicked on and controlled the game – playing some very attractive football in the process.
Cardiff, Derby and Swansea are the next three fixtures on the horizon, and whilst all may be in better form than us, I still think there is cause for optimism amongst Town fans.
Not only because of what I have mentioned already in this article but because of what I have also failed to mention. Jonas Lossl’s distribution and calm head, Juninho Bacuna’s incisive passing and Lewis O’Brien’s relentless and dominating performances.
Join me again on Wednesday when I’ll be providing a (hopefully) shorter review of the Cardiff City game, until then UTT.
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