Huddersfield Town ought to have bounded into their home game against Nottingham Forest after four wins in five league matches, but on an afternoon used to highlight the terrific work their charitable foundation does for those in need, the players caught the mood a little too enthusiastically.
It took an alarmingly long time for the Terriers to get going, long enough for Forest to lead through Lewis Grabban. They were outrun by Brennan Johnson, they lost the tactical battle, their passing was disappointing, their attack blunt. A subdued Sorba Thomas withdrew a little of the huge credit he has built up lately. Ollie Turton’s was not the game-changing substitution coach Carlos Corberan planned. They even missed the target twice at set-pieces, the saving grace which has covered up the shortcomings (and injuries) of those supposed to score the goals.
Their timing stank, not just in terms of when they conceded the second goal but particularly when they played Forest, two days after a home defeat against Middlesbrough bad enough to hammer the final nail in manager Chris Hughton’s coffin. Changing leader so often energises and motivates players better than their league position suggested.
Perhaps it betrayed a lack of confidence which comes from being bottom of the Championship – even after the 2-0 win, they still are – but Forest came off the gas after each goal yet the self-belief Huddersfield ought to have had to swarm all over them was missing. Okay, they did not score, but to not even loosen the kitchen sink, never mind throw it, was disappointing.
Once Joe Lolley scored against his old club it was perfectly legitimate for Forest to sit back and ask Huddersfield what they were going to do about it, especially when the answer was very little.
It was a step backwards in a division where it is nigh-on impossible to constantly march forward. Maybe there was just not enough left in the tank of an unchanged team after Tuesday’s impressive 3-0 victory at Blackpool.
Corberan cannot just cross his fingers and hope next weekend’s trip to Swansea City is different, but neither, as he was keen to stress, can he panic.
“Sometimes finding a reason is complicated but we didn’t start well enough,” he said. “We need to talk to the players and find out why. We also didn’t start the second half well enough.”
In his first interview for the job, caretaker manager Steven Reid outperformed Corberan.
Hughton’s back four was abandoned for something on paper identical to Huddersfield’s 3-4-2-1 but subtly different. Where Town played wing-backs, Forest’s were full-backs, and where Danel Sinani and Josh Koroma provided width, Johnson and Lolley started tight to Grabban.
Johnson swapped to the right and began running from out to in behind wing-back Harry Toffolo. And boy can he run.
It made for a tough afternoon for centre-back Levi Colwill, who just about kept up midway through the first half, but could not get in front of the cross Grabban threw his head at to score.
Corberan spoke before the game about trying to carry an equal threat in all three “corridors” of the pitch – left, right and centre – but in the first half Town were definitely strongest and most vulnerable down the side Toffolo and Koroma linked up in once the visitors timidly rested on their laurels at 1-0.
Seeing it was unsustainable, the Spaniard introduced Turton to a 4-3-3. Before he got chance to see if it could work, it had failed.
Turton lost the ball and when Lee Nicholls made a good low save from Ryan Yates, he and the goalkeeper touched Lolley’s shot but could not stop him forcing it through from a tight angle. From there it became defence versus attack and defence won easily.
“We haven’t played a compact game like that yet this season and we struggled to attack without spaces available,” admitted Corberan. “They were 5-4-1 and more compact in the defensive half. The last game was (against a) 4-4-2 with more pressing. When you break the press you are going to attack more space.
“We didn’t the find the right positions or the right behaviours to break the defensive structure.”
Breaking down packed defences needs adding to the Canalside to-do list this week alongside starting games better.
Not much happened once Forest went 2-0 up.
Substitute Duane Holmes was behind much of what did, prompting from the left. He hit a dipping shot against the stanchion after 71 minutes and had he scored from so far out, Huddersfield probably would have won, because they would have had to have had Lady Luck on their side.
It was not luck, though, that stopped them making the most of the corner Holmes’s shot produced 10 minutes later or another flag kick in stoppage time. Neither Tom Lees, Turton, or most other people could comprehend how they headed wide.
The answer was it was just one of those days. Or at least we hope it was.