Huddersfield Town fell to a 3-0 home defeat to Cardiff City last night, leaving Danny Cowley’s side five points ahead of the Championship relegation zone with 14 games of the season remaining.
Cowley and his side were looking to build on an impressive victory over Queens Park Rangers, knowing that three points against Cardiff would’ve moved them eight clear of the relegation zone.
However, despite a positive start, they were up against a confident Cardiff side, who have the play-offs firmly in their sights heading into the final third of the season.
The game was practically won in the space of five first-half minutes, with Josh Murphy and Will Vaulks firing in goals either side of the half-hour mark.
Callum Paterson rounded off the scoring late in the game, with Town offering little hope that they could claw their way back into the contest from Vaulks’ strike onwards.
Here, we take a closer look at what we learnt about Town on a tough evening at The John Smith’s Stadium…
Lack of quality hurt them early on
Prior to Murphy racing onto Lee Tomlin’s threaded pass and lifting Cardiff into the lead, Huddersfield were the better side and Cowley will have been frustrated that his players couldn’t break the deadlock.
Juninho Bacuna and Emile Smith Rowe made promising starts, whilst Elias Kachunga had plenty of ball down the right side. However, that attacking trio struggled to work any clear-cut chances for Steve Mounie.
Karlan Grant remains on the sidelines due to an impact injury, and without the 13-goal attacker, Huddersfield do seem to lack that real quality in the final third.
Yes, Mounie had scored six goals in eight games prior to last night, but for all the effort of the trio behind him, there wasn’t enough conviction to Town’s attacking display inside the first 30 minutes.
Murphy punished that, before Vaulks pretty much put the game to bed with a volleyed finish from a Marlon Pack corner.
From there, Cardiff had Huddersfield where they wanted them.
Smith Rowe shows promise, but plenty of room for improvement
Arsenal loanee Emile Smith Rowe has settled into life at Huddersfield well, with Cowley placing faith in him in the No.10 role.
He picked up some extremely clever pockets of space last night, and for the opening half-hour, Pack and Vaulks were struggling to deal with his movement.
However, it was the opposing No.10 – Lee Tomlin – with the standout piece of play to break the deadlock as he fed Murphy on 28 minutes. That was Tomlin’s first meaningful involvement in the game and from here he bossed proceedings.
Smith Rowe came again in the second-half and forced Alex Smithies into a save with an effort from distance, whilst other shots were blocked and skewed wide. The 19-year-old was eventually replaced in the 75th minute after his craft had failed to carve an opening for Huddersfield to get back into the game.
The talent of the teenager is there for all to see; his touch and ability to find space on the half-turn impress, but there’s a need to be more like Tomlin; picking the right pass and setting your side up for victory.
Cowley’s process is still young
Before Cowley arrived at Huddersfield, there was genuine fear that the side could be facing another relegation, with Town’s start to the season nothing short of woeful.
Cowley and his brother, Nicky, have got things moving in the right direction, with breathing space now between Huddersfield and the relegation zone.
There’s a focus on the ‘process’ more than results for Cowley, with the Town boss fully aware of the need to get some consistency.
Pre-match, he told the fans: “For us, it is always about the process and we have now put together four consistent performances that have earned us seven valuable points.
“While this is a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go to get to where we want to be.”
Championship survival remains the main objective in the coming 14 games, but Cowley is a manager that won’t get ahead of himself when his side string two or three wins together. He will go back to his process and look to improve further, just as he consistently did at Lincoln City as he dragged them up the Football League.
Recruitment will be important to that, and his first transfer window looks to have been a fairly successful one: Smith Rowe (although Arsenal’s player long-term) and Harry Toffolo were bright last night, and mixing these youngsters with the likes of Danny Simpson and Fraizer Campbell, will help, then should eventually get Huddersfield to a middle ground.
Last night was frustrating, but a sign of where Huddersfield are under Cowley: improving, but still inconsistent.
What can be said, though, is that by sticking to this process, the team will be in a better place in another 12 months.