Stoke City 2 Huddersfield Town 1: Town slip into bad defensive habits in the Potteries

HAVING regularly banged the drum about the need for better game management from his Huddersfield Town side for swathes of last season, head coach Carlos Corberan will have been pretty happy not to repeat himself so much in the early part of 2021-22.
Huddersfield Town forward Fraizer Campbell on the charge against Stoke City. Picture: Getty ImagesHuddersfield Town forward Fraizer Campbell on the charge against Stoke City. Picture: Getty Images
Huddersfield Town forward Fraizer Campbell on the charge against Stoke City. Picture: Getty Images

Unfortunately, old habits die hard and Town slipped into bad defensive habits for two key second-half moments and Stoke are too good a side to be handed gifts.

After taking the lead early in the second half, courtesy of an unlikely outlet in Harry Toffolo, a lack of concentration at the back soon gave an opportunity to level on a plate to ex-Barnsley striker Jacob Brown, who planied a free header from a corner from the impressive Mario Vrancic past Lee Nicholls and parity was restored.

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Fine close control from Vrancic was at the heart of Stoke’s winner on 63 minutes with Matty Pearson proceeding to divert his low centre into his own net in a wretched moment for the big defender.

After a quiet first half, the game burst into life in the second half and it will have perhaps come as no surprise that the newly-crowned Championship player of the month for August in Sorba Thomas was at the heart of it for Town.

His well-struck 47th-minute freekick, awarded following a handball from ex-Terriers captain Tommy Smith was blocked by the legs of new England under-21 number one Joe Bursik and the rebound broke kindly for Toffolo, who fired home the loose ball to record his first goal since December.

Unfortunately, the maxim that teams are at their most vulnerable after scoring rang true with Jacob Brown soon levelling it up.

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An inviting corner from Vrancic was attacked by Brown, who cashed in on lame marking to plant a firm downward header past Lee Nicholls and worse was to come with Pearson’s faux pas.

It was a game which promised so much with a side containing seven different goalscorers already in the league this season in Town facing hosts whose Championship scoresheet had included six names thus far in 2021-22.

In the event, two well-matched sides contrived to produce a first half high on shape and industry - where the respect between both was obvious. But there was little by way of inspiration.

Some morsels of quality did arrive from two poster-boys at the heart of some encouragement so far this term from Stoke and Town in Josh Tymon and Thomas, but those around them could not cash in.

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Thomas sporadically showcased his set-piece range, which yielded a couple of threatening moments midway through the half.

First, from the right, his inswinging corner found Pearson, whose downward header deflected wide off a home defender and from the resulting flag kick on the left, Thomas’ set-piece was flicked on by Jonathan Hogg, but Naby Sarr’s close-range header flew over.

Just before the interval, Tom Lees could not keep his header down after another probing delivery from Thomas.

At the other end, a brilliant cross from Tymon on the left just evaded Brown in front of goal, with the left foot of the former Hull City player looking the most potent weapon for Stoke, if they could get the ball to him quickly and in sufficiently dangerous areas.

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It was competitive, but had none of the chaos of the 4-3 game from last season in the Potteries.

Stoke did have a half-chance early on when Sam Surridge’s looping header sailed over following a first-time ball from Mario Vrancic, while Surridge also just failed to connect in front of goal following a good cross from Ben Wilmot which evaded Sarr.

In a half where both home keeper Joe Bursik and his opposite number Lee Nicholls were not called into action and were protected well, the question was which side would conjure the decisive play and potential game-breaking moment.

It looked like it arrived from an unlikely source in Toffolo soon after the restart, only for Brown to level soon after in a cameo of action which was as lively as the first half was sedate.

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Bursik was then called into action to keep out Campbell’s low drive, with his legs again, before a more fateful development arrived in front of the Boothen End.

Quality close control from Vrancic, a player with poise and elegance, saw him deceive Sarr and Lewis O’Brien and his low cross was horribly diverted into his own net by Pearson.

Town pushed for a leveller with Koromo shooting straight at Bursik after a weaving run,

Thomas looked the best hope and a low free-kick which flashed agonisingly wide tantalisingly hinted at an equaliser and another picture-book moment in his engaging story this season.

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At the other end, Sam Clucas ballooned a chance over to seal it.

Stoke City: Bursik; Ostigard, Souttar, Wilmot; Smith, Clucas, Sawyers (Allen 67), Vrancic (Doughty 86), Tymon; Brown, Surridge (Fletcher 80). Substitutes unused: Davies, Fox, Thompson, Ince.

Huddersfield Town: Nicholls; Pearson, Lees (Turton 67), Sarr; Thomas, O'Brien, Hogg, Toffolo; Holmes (Sinani 68); Koroma, Campbell (Odubeko 78). Substitutes unused: Bilokapic, Colwill, Ruffels, Vallejo.

Referee: J Smith (Lincolnshire).

Attendance: 20,447 (1,413 Huddersfield Town supporters).

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