Saturday’s game pitted a side seeking their fifth successive home league win in all competitions in Stoke City against a rival in Huddersfield Town who had just won three Championship matches in a row for the first time under Carlos Corberan – with both afforded generous words in the international break.
The talk regarding Town referenced a growing aptitude to manage games well with improved decision-making, seemingly.
Unfortunately, that reputation was sullied in Staffordshire. Claims about Town’s renewed steadfastness still remain exaggerated and spurious, a bit of an old wives’ tale, some might say.
For the most part, this was one of those typical early-season games where the margins were tight and the industry, organisation and shape of both sides largely reflected well upon both Corberan and Michael O’Neil.
Yet at this level, games are very often decided in moments and small windows of action and this was certainly one of those.
In open play, Town were largely comfortable and kept the ball tidily for spells, 44 per cent of possession at an away ground is decent. Corberan could point to being happy in that regard.
As a coach who is fastidious about the finer details, he should have been far less enamoured about the two moments in the second half which ensured that Huddersfield left with nothing to show for their day’s exertions.
Ahead early in the second half through Harry Toffolo’s first goal since December, Town’s need to pay heightened attention in its immediate aftermath was paramount against hosts who have shown their wherewithal in front of their own fans in 2021-22.
What was required was a 10-15-minute spell to keep things tight and allow uncertainty to creep into the Stoke mindset and dim the enthusiasm of the crowd.
Sadly, Town’s lead lasted all of a couple of minutes and the Boothen End were soon belting out a chorus of ‘Delilah.’
Teams as savvy as Stoke should not be handed gifts. In the event, they were bestowed with two, not just one.
The maxim that you are never more vulnerable than just after you have scored rang true when Town switched off from a corner from the impressive Mario Vrancic and ex-Barnsley striker Jacob Brown emphatically planted a free header past Lee Nicholls.
Admirably, the good professional in centre-half Naby Sarr fronted up afterwards and took the blame for leaving Brown free in the box to make it 1-1, but there were no words needed after a second indiscretion from an away defender on 63 minutes.
Again, the goal owed plenty to Vrancic, a midfielder of poise and cunning, whose close control got the better of Sarr and Lucas O’Brien down the right.
His centre spooked Matty Pearson enough into horribly flicking the ball into his own net, when his natural instincts should have been to put it into Row Z.
Pearson had gone as close as anyone in a Town jersey in the first period, with his header deflected wide from a quality centre from the newly-crowned Championship player of the month for August in Sorba Thomas.
His set-piece prowess was exhibited at interludes and he comfortably looked to be the player most likely to make things happen and hurt Stoke.
The impact of Josh Koroma, who had one of those days where little really came off and Duane Holmes was negligible, by contrast, while Fraizer Campbell huffed and puffed, threatening Stoke goalkeeper Joe Bursik just once with a second-half shot.
Earlier, Bursik blocked Thomas’s low free-kick with his legs just after the restart, with the rebound hitting Jonathan Hogg and falling straight into the path of Toffolo, who tucked the ball homto become Town’s eighth different scorer in the league this term.
It was then that Town reverted to bad defensive habits after few moments of alarm in the first half, aside from one early looping header from Sam Surridge which drifted over.
With Tom Lees marshalling the backline nicely, all was set fair, but it proved an illusion with a momentary lapse from Sarr changing the game’s complexion.
By the midway point of the half, Lees – on a booking – had departed and Town were 2-1 down and looking susceptible as opposed to solid at the back, while at the other end, Stoke were happy to drop in and wait for any opportunities on the break.
A free-kick at the feet of Thomas, inevitably, hinted at a leveller, but his daisycutter flew wide.
It was a day when Town’s display was not bad, but neither was it sufficiently good enough to win. In a game of moments, Huddersfield’s mask slipped twice and they lost. The end.
Stoke City: Bursik; Ostigard, Souttar, Wilmot; Smith, Clucas, Sawyers (Allen 67), Vrancic (Doughty 86), Tymon; Brown, Surridge (Fletcher 80). Unused substitutes: Davies, Fox, Thompson, Ince. Huddersfield Town: Nicholls; Pearson, Lees (Turton 67), Sarr; Thomas, O’Brien, Hogg, Toffolo; Holmes (Sinani 68); Koroma, Campbell (Odubeko 78). Unused substitutes: Bilokapic, Colwill, Ruffels, Vallejo. Referee: J Smith (Lincolnshire).