Yesterday marked our first match in post-Brexit Britain. I might have been waking up with a newfound sense of freedom but funnily enough the ‘shackles of Brussels’ have never had that much effect on me.
Instead I woke with the familiar nervous tension matchday brings wondering how we’d line up in the light of suspensions, ineligibility and injury. Remainers had argued trade would be more difficult on leaving the EU and in sympathy with this argument the club did no business at all on Brexit Day (or transfer deadline day, as it’s better known). To be fair, I wasn’t that disappointed as we’d already done sensible business earlier in the month with Hector now eligible, Kongolo arriving and Cavaleiro and Reid confirming permanent deals. It also suggested some of our injured players might be close to fitness and so it proved when the team was announced. Mitro was restored straight to the starting line up and with AK and Kebano on the bench, our attacking options looked healthier than they’ve been for some time. Denis Odoi slotted in at centre half as suspected in Ream and Kongolo’s absence with the rumour mill working overtime on Alfie Mawson and another possible long term injury. I guess the club aren’t obliged to inform us humble fans of all the goings-on at Motspur Park but it seems our treatment room this season is keeping more secrets than GCHQ and MI5 combined.
With TC and KMac back in the midfield, the team had a familiar feel about it but we started slowly in a cagey opening phase before the game suddenly burst to life in the 10th minute. There seemed little danger when a pinged pass found Bobby Reid hugging the left touchline. He expertly brought the ball under his spell before cutting inside, weaved this way and that and for the coup de grace arced a delicious curler into the far corner. It was another wonderful goal in what has been quite a catalogue at the Hammy End this season and it settled the team nicely.
Within five minutes we had another and although it wasn’t quite as breathtaking as Reid’s it was still a collector’s item. Cyrus Christie ran into space on the right and crossed low to Cairney whose instant control teed up a volleyed finish with of all things, his right foot. Tom’s familiar wand was employed on the half-hour with his left peg picking out Joe Bryan’s run down the left-wing. Joe clipped the ball in and Mitro expertly evaded his marker at the near post to steer the ball neatly into the roof of the Huddersfield net. At that stage, it looked like a case of how many as the visitors seemed all at sea. My daughter had predicted a 3-0 win over our pre-match pint (she has the optimism of youth on her side) but I feared at that stage she had underestimated our capabilities. However, within a few minutes, her bet had gone south for different reasons when Town’s first two excursions into our box ended in two entirely preventable goals. We had somehow managed to go from easy street to rush-hour gridlock in the blink of an eye and instead of having a chance to boost our goal difference we now had a game to win again.
I hoped the half time interval would give us a chance to reassess and re-establish control but it was Huddersfield who emerged with a renewed belief in the second half. Marek Rodak was far the busier keeper and had to make a couple of very good saves to keep our lead intact. The youngster has really made the jersey his own and is proving a real reassuring presence between our sticks.
A succession of substitutions ensued as AK bustled around a bit and could possibly have made the game safe when blazing over from a good position, but in truth, we never really looked likely to score a clinching goal. Instead, we made ‘Hudd’ work of it (pun courtesy of my daughter Beth – credit where it’s due!) to see out another single goal victory. It was by no means the perfect performance but we’re reaching the stage of the season where points are far more important than presentation. Before we played Leeds in December we were 12 points behind them and 14 behind West Brom as the top two positions seemed a distant dream. Just 8 games later we are now breathing down their necks despite us rarely firing on all cylinders. We’ve got all the contenders to play between now and the end of the season so our destiny is pretty much in our own hands.
We seem to have found a way to win ugly which may prove vital as the pressure builds. Leeds seem to be crumbling already in their familiar style and our recent run has no doubt contributed to that. Forest and particularly Brentford look menacing so the top two spots could easily end up not being occupied by either Leeds or the Baggies come May. A Jokanovic style unbeaten run would now be very timely. It should be a piece of cake-right..?