Huddersfield Town must strengthen after a game too far against Reading
Not for the want of trying or heart, Huddersfield Town came up just short in their ninth game in 32 days. A game too far? Maybe.
Carlos Corberan has squeezed every last drop out of his squad until the pips squeak during their winter bottleneck with a precious spell of rest now likely to be gratefully received with Town back in league action on January 16.
Reading, by contrast, had juice left in the tank. They may have had a potent weapon in full view in the shape of the returning Lucas Joao, whose deadly second-half brace secured three points, but their bench also told a story.
It enabled them to make four changes following an impressive draw at Swansea. Other head coaches may have resisted the urge to play tinkerman, but Veljko Paunovic was wise.
He has not managed in England for long, but is smart enough to know that squads at this time of year come into their own.
Shortly after coming on, one of his replacements in the gifted Michael Olise, apparently on the radar of a number of big clubs with AC Milan being among that number, played in Joao for his splendid second strike which proved the game-breaker.
Olise had entered the field for John Swift, a silky player who was starting to pose problems for Town. No matter, Paunovic still elected to replace him and it bore instant fruit.
How Corberan would have wished he had a few of Paunovic’s options. Like Town, Reading may have major players out injured, yet their stocks are still vast in comparison to their opponents.
Town’s head coach named the same starting line-up for the fifth successive league game – something the club had not previously done since November, 2009.
The continuity is eye-catching. It also points to the fact that, at this moment, Corberan does not have a great deal at his disposal – with due respect to some emerging players on his bench.
His players are all receptive to his ideas. But sometimes you need help from outside – and some canny moves in this month’s window will augment the fine work that Corberan is doing.
The talk beforehand was of Town recording a sixth consecutive home league victory for the first time since October, 2003.
It would end with introspection after Huddersfield again failed to win a game after taking the lead. A new year, but old habits can die hard.
Town have shipped 15 points from winning positions this term – only Birmingham boast a worse record. Their comparative lack of options to change things around on this occasion was a mitigating factor, but there was disappointment, all the same.
In the final analysis, it should not linger too long. Under Corberan, Town have travelled a fair way fast and have cultivated a strong identity based on a relentless pressing game and are capable of playing some delightful one-touch attacking football. They are still a work in progress.
The Corberan style was exhibited in wonderful fashion by way of Town’s early opener, which lit up a raw winter’s day.
Reading midfielder Josh Laurent made a surge for the ball and got it wrong and Juninho Bacuna made the most of the chasm of space to pick out Isaac Mbenza.
His fine hanging cross was waiting to be attacked and it duly was by Fraizer Campbell, who rose above Tom Holmes to power home a majestic downward header. Another native of these parts blessed with prodigious aerial ability in Town ambassador Andy Booth would have approved.
For much of the rest of the half, Town, whose shape without the ball was top-notch, played the game on their terms. But there were still some warning signs from a capable Reading side.
Ryan Schofield grasped Sone Aluko’s low angled shot, with the ex-Hull City player also scuffing an effort wide when well placed.
Schofield’s save seconds before the break to somehow deny Holmes from Swift’s sublime free-kick had the potential to be key.
Reading did not despair and showed the quality associated with a top-six side on the restart.
Joao came to the party in a big way, although his leveller owed much to sloppiness by Town, who spurned a chance to add to their lead when Mbenza was inches away from turning in Lewis O’Brien’s low cross.
The hitherto composed Rarmani Edmonds-Green was given the slip by Joao – following Tom McIntyre’s long pass – and he coolly steered the ball home.
That bore the mark of a craftsman. His second goal was sheer class.
Fed by Olise, he turned on a six-pence to hoodwink Town’s rearguard before unleashing a ferocious right-footed drive which whistled past Schofield, his 16th goal of a stellar season.
Commendably, Town fought to the death with Mbenza going close twice. Once when he was denied by a fine reaction save by Rafael and then we had should have done better in agonisingly firing wide from Bacuna’s pass.
At the other end, Tomas Esteves hit the woodwork as Town’s bid for a milestone win was stymied. All good things must come to an end.
Huddersfield Town: Schofield; Pipa, Edmonds-Green (Phillips 87), Sarr, Toffolo; Eiting (Pritchard 70), Hogg, O’Brien, Bacuna; Mbenza, Campbell. Unused substitutes: Hamer, Vallejo, Duhaney, Crichlow, J Brown, Rowe, Jackson.
Reading: Rafael, Holmes, Morrison, McIntyre, Richards; Rinomhota, Laurent; Ejaria (Baldock 86), Aluko (Esteves 87), Swift (Olise 61); Joao (Semedo 81). Unused substitutes: Southwood, Watson, East, Puscas, Dorsett.
Referee: J Simpson (Lancashire).
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