Huddersfield Town prove a turn-off on return to action
The Town manager, a real force of nature who lights up a room – with his glass usually very much half full – looked forlorn and with good reason.
Having seen his side fail to lay a glove on a superior Wigan team who displayed all the characteristics that you need in any successful survival fight, Cowley correctly drew no solace after being on the receiving end of the equivalent of a punch in the stomach.
In their first competitive game for 105 days, Town produced a witless display which lacked guile, flow and belief and harkened back to those unsatisfactory days of Jan Siewert.
That this performance arrived at the start of Town’s run home with there still being enough time to get their collective act together in the next month was perhaps one very slight consolation, allied to the fact that Fraizer Campbell and Steve Mounie are due to return shortly. But not too much.
Harry Toffolo was certainly in no mood to dress things up afterwards and attempt to kid the punters watching from their armchairs at home – eventually.
Always an individual who commendably fronts up, the left-back said: “We are not ones to hide behind it, we know it wasn’t good enough and hold our hands up.
“As a personal and a team performance, we weren’t at the races. I know the fans could not be here, but I am sure they were watching and they deserved a lot better from that.
“First of all, we will look at ourselves individually before starting to point fingers at other people. You look at yourself and get your own house in order.”
On playing a competitive fixture in front of a deserted stadium for the first time, he added: “I think it is very unique and you have to find a vibe. But the atmosphere was right before the game and everyone was in a good place and the build-up was right.
“I know Danny and Nicky will be severely frustrated as we can do a lot better. They know the potential of this group and we did not give it them. We take responsibility.”
A technical issue across the entire EFL Digital network meant that many watching Town supporters were unable to sign in and watch the opening 30 minutes of the game.
In truth, they missed nothing and it is a fair bet that they would have found it hard to resist the urge to switch off before the end anyway, with the outcome of the game pretty much over after Wigan’s deflected second goal early in the second half.
Town rang the changes, but still went through the motions as the visitors sauntered to a victory which would have been much easier than they envisaged.
Without being spectacular, Wigan were solid, well organised and possessed nous in the right areas, alongside a spot of devilment and penetration in the likes of former Town winger Anthony Pilkington, the marauding Nathan Byrne and the pacy Jamal Lowe.
It was Lowe who opened the scoring midway through the half when he chested in a cross from Kieffer Moore, which deflected off Toffolo obligingly into his path.
Wigan did not look back and aside from an all-too-brief spell of pressure just after the half-hour mark with former Hull goalkeeper David Marshall making a blinding save to keep out a whipped free-kick from Juninho Bacuna, they were in consummate control.
Playing behind Karlan Grant, who got scant change out of Wigan’s backline, Emile Smith-Rowe, Bacuna – operating as a No 10 – and Chris Willock struggled to get going.
Jonathan Hogg and Lewis O’Brien could not impose the will in the engine room either and were on the back foot.
Wigan had posted a warning before Lowe’s effort when Pilkington should have done better when he fired straight at Jonas Lossl when well placed, but Paul Cook and his staff were soon hailing an opener.
Cook and his cohorts had entered in a very lively discussion with a linesman earlier, with animation also displayed by the Cowley brothers with the fact that conversations between managers and officials are now clearly audible – due to the lack of crowd noise – being one colourful part of football’s ‘new normal’.
There was little animation, vigour or verve on the pitch from Town, who looked every inch a side in bother at the wrong end of the Championship and a bad day got a whole lot worse when a poor concession packaged the points to Wigan soon after the restart.
The hosts coughed up possession cheaply in midfield and Antonee Robinson swiftly supplied Lowe, whose low centre was latched onto by Pilkington, who showed nifty footwork before seeing his strike take a big deflection off the onrushing O’Brien and creep into the net.
Alex Pritchard soon entered the fray, but there was no catalyst for Town, with the closest they came to reducing the arrears coming late on when Toffolo’s shot stung the palms of Marshall.
Substitutes Lee Evans and Joe Garner had chances to add to the account late on for Wigan, with Cook having much to enthuse about after – even if he did not enjoy the sight of football played out in front of an empty arena.
He labelled it as ‘horrible’, but there was nothing wretched about his side extending their unbeaten run to seven games, allied to a fifth consecutive clean sheet.
The pain was all Huddersfield’s and inspection of the league table will further dampen their mood.
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