IT is the pantomime season so when Huddersfield Town players claim they are not in a relegation fight, many fans will respond ‘Oh yes you are.’
They certainly will be if they produce any more performances like Saturday’s.
Town are just five points clear of the drop zone yet winger Sean Scannell and left-back Jack Robinson believe they remain capable of becoming play-off contenders.
However, they need a swift transformation to their away form which has brought just two victories this term, starting at Rotherham on Boxing Day.
After a seven-match unbeaten home run had been brought to an end by a limited Birmingham City side, who are resurgent under new manager Gary Rowett, the Town duo remained in positive mood.
Robinson, on a season-long loan after being snapped up by QPR from Liverpool, claimed: “We are miles away from a relegation fight. We have got a good enough team to be up in the play-offs but results are just not going our way. I don’t see why we can’t force our way back up there.”
Scannell added: “We are not even thinking about being in a relegation scrap. In this league you can win three games on the spin and you are challenging for the play-offs.”
Both knew full well, however, that this had been a disappointing display against a side content to sit back and stifle their hosts.
Robinson continued: “We found it difficult. We just couldn’t keep the ball well enough and ended up conceding. We were slow and didn’t play as well as we have been doing. It just wasn’t our day, we couldn’t keep the ball for long enough spells.”
After a match of misplaced passes throughout from both sides, Scannell confessed Town prefer to match their skills against ‘footballing’ sides, but admitted: “We need to be the team that gets that one goal in tight games.
“You saw against the top teams like Wolves and Nottingham Forest that we played them off the park because they are footballing teams, but when you come up against sluggish sides you have to play a different way – it is within ourselves to do that. In those kind of games you have to make sure you don’t do anything stupid.
“From the start to the end it was a sluggish game, more of a fight than a footballing game.
“Birmingham sat off and every time me or Harry Bunn got the ball, we had two men on us straight away so it was tough.
“In a way, it is a compliment to me because I have had a good season so far and I just have to keep it going. I’m going to have to change up my game a little bit because before I was playing the same way all the time as it was working, but now teams are starting to double up. It’s not just me but it is also a team thing, though I obviously have to work on my movement.”
Somewhat bemused to be clutching a bottle of bubbly from the sponsors, Scannell added with refreshing honesty: “Although I have got the man of the match, I will hold my hands up and say it was a hard game for me.
“When I had the ball, it was as tight as anything and it proves that I have to do something better.”
Of the goal that sunk them, both Town players had sympathy for goalkeeper Alex Smithies, who had only one save to make before being beaten by David Cotterill’s 70th-minute free-kick which flew over the wall and into the roof of the net from 26 yards.
“You could see Alex had gone to palm it away, but it just moved at the last second away from his hands and he was unlucky. But it was silly play from us leading up to the free-kick and we have only ourselves to blame,” said Robinson of the set-play conceded when Anthony Gerrard obstructed Clayton Donaldson after being played into trouble.
Scannell added: “It took something special to win the game. It swerved and he hit it well with power.”
Former Doncaster winger Cotterill had produced Birmingham’s one other effort on target as they sat back with two men protecting the back four and moving out wide when necessary to protect their full-backs from Scannell and Bunn, back after a three-game injury absence.
Grant Holt was left to plough a lone furrow up front and met his match in Michael Morrison while receiving next to no support as Town’s 4-3-3 formation failed to function.
Town conjured just one chance in the first period when Darren Randolph did well to block from Holt after Scannell had scuffed his 40th-minute shot from right-back Lee Peltier’s low cross.
Their response after Birmingham’s strike was tepid even though strike duo James Vaughan and Nahki Wells came on.
The closest they came was in stoppage time when Randolph went full length to keep out a shot from Town’s third substitute, Joe Lolley.
Town had made three changes to the side which lost 5-0 at Norwich with Bunn in for Wells, Gerrard replacing banned Murray Wallace, who had been sent off with the game scoreless at Carrow Road, and Tommy Smith losing out to Peltier.