It was a night for reunions at the John Smith’s Stadium.
David Wagner and Stuart Webber returned to the club that established their names and reputations, while Jordan Rhodes and Waghorn (Martyn not Rick) both played south of the border, each remembered by City fans for very different reasons. And of course, there was Colin – back in football management.
Wagner made three changes from the loss to Sunderland. Onel Hernandez was deemed unfit, and Marcelino Nunez and Teemu Pukki returned to the bench. Lungi Sorensen, Josh Sargent and Marquinhos were named in their places.
Huddersfield seemed to have a clear plan. Waghorn and Ward pushed up on the City back line as they played out of defence. The midfield tried to crowd out the second ball. It nearly bore fruit in the first minute. A ball out found Sargent whose woeful first touch was seized by Rudoni. Ben Gibson scuffed it away for Angus Gunn to pounce on gratefully.
From then on, Huddersfield seemed to forget the plan. Waghorn and Ward didn’t get close enough to the defenders and their midfield were second to every ball. City seized control and had almost complete domination of the ball.
The Terriers backed off and got deeper and deeper. Unlike Sunderland, City were finding a few more touches and flicks around the edge of the box and looking more dangerous as a result. On the left, both Dimi Giannoulis and Adam Idah were given acres of space but were unable to find that killer ball.
City were also noticeably patient in possession. After a long spell of shadow boxing, a quick 1-2 between Kenny McLean and Sargent saw the Scot curl a ball across the face of the goal and just past the far post.
It was 20 minutes before Huddersfield had much more than a single touch on the ball. It didn’t last and they quickly put the ball out for a throw.
By this point, the home team defence were dropping off so deep that on three or four occasions, Gibson was able to stroll forward with the ball to just outside the penalty area. Then on 22 minutes, he unleashed a thunderbolt shot from 25 yards that the keeper had to tip over the bar for a corner.
On 25 minutes, City finally made the possession count. A ball won at the back was played out, knocked down and then forward to McLean. His perfectly weighted ball found Idah who out-paced the full-back, cut back and crossed to find Gabriel Sara. The Brazilian hit a downward sidefoot volley and tucked it between keeper and post to give City the lead.
The goal galvanized Huddersfield. A goal kick somehow went between the jumping Gibson and his opponent, and through to Koroma. Hanley did well to catch him and hold him up. When he did cross, McLean had got back and cleared for a corner – the first of three in quick succession, all of which were cleared.
After the last, Gibson called the referee and just sat down in the area. Andrew Omobamidele was stripped and ready to come on almost before the physio got on the pitch, and eventually came on and, unusually, took the left centre-back slot.
The game then went through a patternless phase with neither team really on top. Then, on 37 minutes, Idah went down clutching his ankle. He had treatment, came back on but went straight down again. With the ball in play, City had to play on with 10 men for several minutes.
Initially, they had the ball and were making decent progress, until Sargent gave the ball away. He was let off the hook though as Huddersfield played a dreadful ball forward out for a goal kick.
On 44 minutes, Marquinhos embarked on a good run through the middle. He picked out Sargent with a neat through ball but as the American took a touch, he was tackled and the ball went for a corner.
The final action of the half saw Pukki and Sara combine dangerously, the Finn’s shot being blocked for a further corner.
The second half started in the same manner as the first – City looking strong down the left. McLean first did well with a sliding challenge before Sara shot wide. Then Giannoulis got free and crossed – straight to the keeper.
After the first five minutes though, Huddersfield had a concerted spell of pressure. Max Aarons was forced to bring Jackson down as he advanced dangerously infield, earning a yellow card. Waghorn shot well over from the free kick.
Huddersfield had now pushed a third body into the front line of the press and pushed more bodies into the midfield in order to stop the second ball. The result was scrappy and frustrating but very effective.
City found themselves unable to play through the press. Gone was the patient build-up of the first half and instead, too often they resorted to balls over the top that raced away on the slick wet surface.
It looked ominous for City as they were unable to get the ball out of their half. And so it proved. On 64 minutes, City lost the ball in midfield again. It was blasted forward through to Waghorn who lifted it over Gunn. As the ball bounced off the post and away from the goal, it hit Hanley and was deflected into the back of the net for the equalizer.
City were stung by the goal and tried to regain some control. Eventually, Pukki won a corner which, like most of City’s this evening, was cleared. The ball came to Giannoulis but his woeful cross was straight at the keeper.
It was the Greek’s last action. He went off with Sargent and Sorensen, and Sam McCallum, Christos Tzolis and Liam Gibbs replaced them.
Gibbs tried to inject some urgency into the proceedings and burst forward, laid it back to Sara who turned and shot, but it was deflected for a corner.
Then a long ball from McLean put Pukki through, but too wide to be a direct goal threat. His dangerous cutback was cleared for another corner.
And that was just about it from City. As the minutes ebbed away, the harder they tried to get out of their half, the harder Huddersfield seemed to make it. The final effort came on 88 minutes when Pukki played a neat ball to Tzolis, but his shot was well saved by the keeper.
But that was not quite it. One minute into the added five, Hanley played a long ball forward. Marquinhos and Ruffels went for it and the Huddersfield player went to ground clutching his face. Referee Keith Stroud brandished a straight red.
Even removing my yellow and green tinted specs, I couldn’t see anything in it, but on the replay, the Brazilian jumped with his arms out. To me, it looked like the ball hit his arm onto Ruffels’. I would imagine the club will appeal. I imagine also the red will stand. They always do.
A baffling performance, with such dominance in the first half followed by a complete inability to cope with a simple tactical switch.
The second half was similar to Sunderland before they scored and the City players lacked the nous to figure out what was going on and adapt.
From the heady heights of 10 days ago against Millwall, City now look to be floundering, with a potential injury and suspension crisis looming too.
Can we still squeak into the play-offs?