Strength in depth can steer Huddersfield Town to safety
Seeing the Terriers move clear of the bottleneck at the bottom of the Championship will have provoked emotions of relief from the home faithful at the final whistle, but it was not the most significant development in truth.
It should come as no surprise whatsoever that Town’s most comprehensive win of the season coincided with a teamsheet that was abundant with attacking game-changing options from the bench.
At this time of year when fates start to unravel, it is a thoroughly healthy development.
In stark contrast, manager Danny Cowley was down to the bare bones in terms of his options for the game at Charlton in mid-December.
Town started that match with 11 right-footed players and Cowley’s substitutes included the lesser-known surnames of Daly, Harratt, Austerfield, High and Jackson.
By contrast, Mounie, Pritchard, Bacuna, Kachunga and Quaner are names that most in the Championship will instantly recognise and not just those of a blue and white persuasion.
The sight of old boy Karlan Grant helping himself to two well-taken goals may have been painful for Charlton, but the Londoners were also left to rue the bench interventions of fellow goal-scorers Steve Mounie and Juninho Bacuna.
It ensured that the game ended in a rout as Town feasted on a decimated Addicks defence that was minus first-choice centre-halves in Tom Lockyer and Naby Sarr.
Mounie – who took his tally to eight goals since December 21 after netting with his first touch to make the game safe 15 minutes from time – acknowledged: “It was a strong bench and when you are on the pitch now starting, you are like: ‘Hey, if I don’t play well, there’s these guys on the bench who can come in and score goals.’
“Everyone now is focused in one direction and pushing each other.
“I knew I was capable of scoring goals in this league. I did not have the chance in the first half of the season and now I have the chance.
“I can play and score goals and everyone can see that. I will try and do that for the rest of the season as that is my job – scoring goals.”
It was an occasion, understandably, when talk will gravitate towards Grant, but there was so much more to be enthused about from a Town perspective as they registered back-to-back wins for the first time since November 2 and emphatically avoided the perils of an ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ moment after the exhilaration against Bristol City.
Loanees Chris Willock and Emile Smith Rowe, in particular, showed some delightful touches that were first harnessed in the Arsenal academy and the indefatigable Harry Toffolo provided further ample evidence to suggest that he will turn out to be the shrewdest of signings.
The rewards may not have arrived on the goal-scoring front for Fraizer Campbell, but his softening up of Charlton’s defence before leaving the stage is the sort of thing that managers notice – alongside the contributions of other senior professionals such as Danny Simpson.
A rough day for Charlton – still reeling from their punishing late loss at Hillsborough three days earlier – began on 25 minutes with some crossed-wires defending from Erhun Oztumer, George Lapslie and Deji Oshilaja.
Their attempts to play out from the back on a wind-swept day against a relegation rival were asking for trouble with Grant’s eyes lighting up as he seized on the ineptitude to coolly steer home his 15th goal of the season.
It was the prelude to a chant of ‘He’s electric’ from delighted Town followers and it was a half when Grant could have secured claims to the match ball.
In a flash, he latched onto a rebound after Dillon Phillips parried Smith Rowe’s low shot, but hit the outside of the post and should have done better after glancing wide following a brilliant cross from Simpson.
Grant and Town’s rewards were to arrive later.
After a lame first period, Charlton’s intensity improved on the restart, but they were blown away late on in a deluge of goals prior to the arrival of Storm Jorge in the evening.
Appeals for a penalty were rebuffed after Campbell went down under pressure from Pearce before a big moment arrived in the context of the game when Josh Cullen fired over after fine work from Deji Oshilaja. It was a miss Charlton were to regret.
Cowley promptly sent for the cavalry and it reaped a harvest.
Moments after coming on, Mounie diverted the ball into the net off his chest after a marvellous cross from Toffolo following a deft flick from Pritchard, making his first appearance since late November.
It was the prelude to a party.
Fellow substitute Bacuna teed up Grant to fire home Town’s third and the best was yet to come in a classy moment that the watching Frank Worthington – sat in the main stand wearing his trademark fedora hat – would have appreciated.
Bacuna’s strike from distance was a beauty as Town warmed up for this weekend’s West Yorkshire derby with Leeds United in fitting fashion.
Bacuna may have looked striking with a natty pink hairstyle, but his glorious long-ranger and Town’s rousing triumph was the true head-turner.