Darren Moore must turn psychologist again after a 4-0 defeat as Huddersfield Town's fragility shows
Huddersfield Town's 4-0 thumping by Cardiff City did not come with the safety blanket of a second leg.
The keys to turning around Sheffield Wednesday's play-off semi-final against Peterborough United with a 5-1 second-leg win and penalty shoot-out triumph were all in the mind. The psychological rabbits Moore and those around him pulled out of the hat have already become the stuff of legend.
With a daunting trip to Elland Road on Saturday, it feels like a lot of Huddersfield's problems are in the mind too.
The teams entered a strangely flat stadium on Tuesday. A minute's applause for Sir Bobby Charlton did nothing to gee things up once the traditional roar of encouragement when it ended subsided.
And the football only made things worse. Much worse.
The Terriers played like poodles, standing off men when tackles needed, playing safe passes when ambition was required. One to goalkeeper Lee Nicholls from about 35 yards midway through the first half drew probably the third outbreak of boos that night with more to come.
Town had only lost one game in eight and had none at home since Norwich City won 4-0 in August.
Granted, there are a lot of draws in that sequence, but Huddersfield's confidence looked completely out of kilter with that. Even in Saturday's 2-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers, my colleague Tom Coates described them as "unspectacular". At 2-0, Moore said his team "almost hit the pause button".
In the previous game, at Hillsborough, they were so inhibited the Championship’s worst team claimed a second clean sheet this season.
Having lost a very popular manager in Neil Warnock, Town fans are just not on board with his successor. A large section of the Owls fanbase struggled to warm to his football.
Tuesday's game started badly, Yuta Nakayama standing off Josh Bowler, who got to the byline and cut a ball back for former Sheffield United striker Callum Robinson to backheel goalwards. Had Michal Helik been at his back, it would have been smothered but it bounced off Matty Pearson and into the net with less than two minutes gone.
After Nakayama and Helik's poor play, the goal itself was bad luck. But there were more than 90 minutes to do something about it.
"We scored two very early goals on Saturday and we saw what it did to QPR," said Moore. "On Tuesday, they scored early. We had efforts at 1-0, 2-0 and 3-0 and they just didn't happen. Once the first goal went in, it just didn't feel like we were right or good enough."
He was right about the chances but Huddersfield’s finishing lacked conviction. Three times at 3-0 Jack Rudoni got into excellent positions to head in and wasted them. He was by no means the only guilty party.
Goals two and three were disgraceful, Dimitrios Goutas gifted a free header in the middle of the six-yard box at one corner, Yakou Meite pulling away from a crowd to thump home at another. Perry Ng's curling free-kick to make it 4-0 was brilliant, giving him the chance not clever.
Having gone in at half-time 3-0 down, it was hard to judge how much the improvement – including a Rudoni shot against the bar – was down to Cardiff easing up but Moore's quadruple half-time substitution and change of formation from 3-1-4-2 to 4-4-2 played a part.
"We just tried to spark a change, get some different personnel on and change the shape," he explained.
"We got players in positions which nullified the areas Cardiff were getting into freely. It stopped them building any real momentum.
"They'd got the scoreline but certainly we felt the tactical change brought us a bit more impetus."
It was certainly food for thought but as he was that night at Peterborough, Moore was unwilling to let rip with the sort of reaction Warnock almost certainly would have had he still been conducting Huddersfield's post-match press conference.
"You've got to let the emotions subside," he said, repeating his London Road mantra. "The boys are disappointed as we all are."
Not everyone got the memo.
"An unacceptable performance," owner Kevin Nagle posted on X straight after the full-time whistle, another falling back on what he said after his last 4-0 defeat (Norwich).
In fairness, his intervention was intended to deflect the blame from Moore and his players – "vent to me, I can take it" – but Nagle's post-Norwich "unacceptable" tweet drew a response from Warnock that underlined this relationship was not going to last. Three weeks later it was over.
What was left behind is a group who look mentally fragile. Winning at Leeds United could do wonders, but on Tuesday they looked far from capable of that. To turn poodles to Terriers by Saturday would be another huge Moore turnaround.