Men against boys as Huddersfield Town are brushed aside by Middlesbrough

HUDDERSFIELD Town marketed Saturday’s game as Der Kindertag – Children’s Day – with kids able to attend for just a pound.

Second best: Danny Ward of Huddersfield Town is challenged by Jonny Howson of Middlesborough during the visitors' 2-1 win. (Photo by William Early/Getty Images)

Unfortunately for their sakes, that theme extended to matters on the pitch. It was child’s play for their opponents Middlesbrough. Men against boys.

The scoreline at the shrill of the final whistle was 2-1 to Boro. Do not be deceived. This was a 2-1 beating.

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Granted, a turnaround of less than 72 hours hardly helped the hosts. Arriving back in the wee hours of Thursday morning from the capital and then having to start planning for a Saturday game against an opponent with 24 hours more rest was not easy.

At the double: Duncan Watmore scored both Middlesborough goals in the win over the Terriers. (Photo by John Early/Getty Images)

But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Just over a month ago, Town travelled to a Cardiff side who had been in action in London on a Wednesday night and had the benefit of an extra day’s preparation. Huddersfield lost.

It would be doing Boro a considerable service to suggest that they were not the story either.

The glory went to Duncan Watmore, who showed what a thoroughbred he can be with two well-taken first-half goals, with his second strike being sublime.

Across the pitch, there was excellence. From Matt Crooks in midfield, a dominant force on terrain he knows well, to Jonny Howson, whose return to West Yorkshire was a favourable one.

Closed down: Isaiah Jones of Middlesborough challenges Harry Toffolo of Huddersfield Town. (Photo by John Early/Getty Images)

Sol Bamba stood tall and banished some midweek demons and then there was Paddy McNair – an immaculate player surely destined for a happy and rewarding time under Chris Wilder.

Wilder’s satisfaction at the end after witnessing elements of what he wants from a football team he manages was evident, particularly in the first half when some of his side’s inter-play was of the highest order.

After some very presentable aspects of his first two games in charge against Millwall and Preston, Boro married things together over an extended period and were very good at times.

It will have seriously whetted the appetite for the sell-out Boro contingent who have grown used to being let down too many times on their travels in the recent past.

Making an impression: Middlesbrough manager Chris Wilder. (Photo by John Early/Getty Images)

Yes, old habits die hard. Boro continued their habit of conceding daft late goals, courtesy of a silly concession deep in stoppage time when Lewis O’Brien’s near-post shot diverted off Onel Hernandez, hit the post and then trickled into the net off the back of Boro goalkeeper Luke Daniels.

But the fact that so many Huddersfield fans had left the stadium by that time to get an early get-away on a bitterly cold day and were not there to see it was just as telling.

It was Wilder’s day as a smart lad in Watmore came to the party. His work rate and movement was top-notch – as was that of his strike partner in Andraz Sporar – and his finishing, not always his best asset, was devastating.

His 16th-minute opener was clinical after fine build-up involving Howson and Isaiah Jones, whose first-time cross was a delight. His second seven minutes later was graceful. Crooks’s delicious dinked pass was a head-turner and Watmore’s lob after gliding between Tom Lees and Matty Pearson was perfection.

Should Watmore stay fit and sharp – something cruelly not afforded him at previous club Sunderland – he is the type of player who should excel under Wilder.

Watmore, who has a degree in economics and has just finished his Masters in business and leadership, said: “I have had a few ups and downs across my career and it is [about] perseverance. You have to keep going.

“There were times with my injuries when I didn’t know if I’d be playing again. Times where I genuinely thought that would be me and I’d have to do something else. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that.

“Whenever there were dark days, my family always believed I could get back fit and playing.

“For a while now, my body has held up and I did believe.

“I had doubts here and there, but you have to keep believing and keep persevering. I just feel lucky and grateful to still be playing.”

Aside from perhaps Danny Ward and Scott High, Town were a shadow of their usual selves.

Yes, their intensity levels increased after a desperately poor first-half performance – which prompted an apology from Town’s stadium announcer to those children who had attended for the first time – but it was still pretty lame in truth. A one-goal defeat seriously flattered them.

A squad rich in good, honest professionals who know the score, Town – who had a collective off-day and produced their worst display since losing to Fulham in August – will do what all strong groups do and take it on the chin and go again.

In their case, it is a derby on the other side of the Emley Moor mast at Barnsley on Saturday.

Ward said: “We knew they were going to be a tough side to play against. We said at half-time that our performance wasn’t good enough, both attacking and defensively.

“We showed a reaction in the second half but, overall, that first half killed us really. We didn’t create anything and they got in too easy.”