Huddersfield 2-2 Blackburn Rovers.
On the final home game of the season, Town went into the game on the back of a enthralling 4-4 draw against Derby as Chris Powell’s side looked to push on and end the season strongly. Blackburn came into the game having beaten Millwall 2-0 at Ewood Park and were 9 points above Town in the table. There was an emotional tribute prior to the match for the victims of the Bradford Fire which was respected by an impeccable minutes’ silence.
Chris Powell had been awarding the team’s excellent run which meant that they’d been unbeaten for six games however Reece James had picked up a groin injury meaning that academy graduate, Joe Wilkinson made his debut for Town. It seemed strange that although he has played right-back, he looked more comfortable playing centre-half and despite this, he started at right-back. Blackburn’s set up by Gary Bowyer was more conventional with a dangerous partnership of Gestede and Jordan Rhodes.
Tale of the Tie:
Town started the game well as they looked to go on the attack early and within the first minute, Town had won a corner. Although Town didn’t have Reece James who created two goals from corners in the last home game, Butterfield’s delivery found Mark Hudson who’d climbed highest but his downward header was parried away by Simon Eastwood and Blackburn survived the early onslaught however in the 4th minute, Town’s early dominance faded away and Martin Olsson charged through the centre of the park unchallenged but his long-range drive went just wide of the near post. Despite that chance, Town were on top and showed some nice composed football as Gobern and Nahki Wells linked up well, the former shaped to play the ball down the line for Tommy Smith but instead played a clear reverse pass in Wells’ path but the shot was blocked at the edge of the area. In the opening fifteen minutes, Ishmael Miller had caused the Blackburn defence problems and he beat Hanley for pace down the left hand side looking to play the ball into Wells but Hanley got back well to clear the danger and in the 15th minute, Ishmael Miller looked to have got behind the Blackburn back line and was picked out by a sublime pass by Butterfield but it was ruled offside. In the 18th minute, Town had their best chance of the half as Butterfield’s corner found Oscar Gobern at the far post but he was unable to put his shot on target as it ballooned over the crossbar. In the 22nd minute, Town continued to push forward and Conor Coady was causing problems for Blackburn’s defence as his in swinging cross struck the bar leaving Simon Eastwood stranded and Coady’s second whipped ball was contested between Miller and Eastwood with both missing the ball and the ball nestled in the net but Ishmael Miller was adjudged as offside as he was interfering with play. Town continued to look like the team that was closer to scoring and Ishmael Miller went close in the 24th minute as he held the ball up well fending off Tommy Smith and his shot trickled just wide of the far post. In the 27th minute however Blackburn took the lead against the run of play. A mistake in possession by Gobern which was uncharacteristic of late allowed Paul Taylor to dance into the box with no Town player taking the risk to make a challenge and as the ball found its way to Gestede his shot cruelly deflected into the bottom corner leaving Smithies stranded. Three minutes later and Blackburn had doubled their lead, following an over hit cross, Joe Wilkinson put the ball out for a needless corner, Craig Conway’s cross found Jordan Rhodes lurking in the 6 yard box and he powered the header above Smithies head. This goal appeared to have deflated Town’s confidence as Blackburn continued to grow into the game however in the 38th minute Ishmael Miller bought a foul on the edge of the area and Butterfield stepped up and fired an excellent free-kick past Eastwood and off of the underside of the bar. In the 40th minute, Town almost got their equaliser as Oscar Gobern lined up a volley from 30 yards and connected sweetly but it curled just wide of Eastwood’s far post and Blackburn were hoping for half-time to come soon. This would be the final action of the first half.
The second half started slowly and in the 49th minute, Joe Wilkinson was once again beaten by Craig Conway and Wilkinson had to drag him down conceding the free-kick. The game was becoming more feisty as Lenihan was booked for a late lunge on Ishmael Miller which received a booking but Blackburn’s outrage was that Wilkinson didn’t receive a booking for a similar cynical challenge and Butterfield was next to be enraged as it appeared that Wells had been dragged down blatantly but nothing was given and moments later, Blackburn won a cheap free-kick. The game becoming stop start and choppy was better for Blackburn than Town. In the 59th minute, Chris Powell showed his intent as he brought on Joe Lolley for Joe Wilkinson and pushed Conor Coady back to centre-back. This would create gaps in midfield as both Butterfield and Gobern lack a defensive minded approach but it was a positive change which has been a rarity under Chris Powell. In the 61st minute, Town went close once again, Sean Scannell who had tormented Martin Olsson in the first half had switched sides and he beat his man with ease and his drilled cross skirted dangerously across the six-yard box but neither Wells or Miller had gambled and Blackburn were let off. In the 68thminute, we saw a glimpse of Joe Lolley’s potential as he darted into and ran at the Blackburn defence, it appeared that he feigned to shoot but slipping the ball cutely in Wells path but he was unable to put the ball under Eastwood’s body. Although Ishmael Miller had proved effective in the first half, in the second he had fail to have any impact at all therefore it was no surprise that Vaughan came on for him. He had an immediate impact winning a header and Butterfield was first to the ball as he lifted it over the defender’s head but it was blocked by a hand and Butterfield had another opportunity to score from a dead ball situation but this time it hit the wall and deflected away. In the 78th minute, Town got a let off as Hudson who had struggled all afternoon with Gestede and Rhodes was robbed by the latter but Hudson held him back and accepted the yellow card. Nothing came from the Blackburn free-kick and Scannell who’d quietened down for fifteen minutes found a rare occasion where he’d isolated the full-back and beat him with ease, his vicious ball along the six yard box similar to his ball earlier in the half was this time pounced by Nahki Wells who was all alone to tap it in but he was flagged offside which was a marginal decision. The disallowed goal swung the momentum fully in Town’s favour and four minutes later, Town got their equaliser. Oscar Gobern won a 50/50 leaving him in a heap in midfield, his knock down fell kindly for Joe Lolley who took one touch to push the ball out of his feet before emphatically firing the half-volley out of Eastwood’s reach from 30 yards. The remainder of the game slowly petered out as both clubs settled for a hard-earned point.
Man of the Match:
Although Joe Lolley made an excellent cameo performance. It wasn’t enough to earn him the man of the match award. For me, it was between Joel Lynch, Jacob Butterfield and Sean Scannell. Joel Lynch just shades it as he did excellently to deal with the physicality of Gestede and the pedigree of Jordan Rhodes and also bail out Smith and Hudson who struggled at times. Jacob Butterfield scored a brilliant goal and was at the heart of everything that Town did well.
It’s almost frustrating that Town have shown this much quality and guile particularly in attack in these past 6 games which seems so distant and alien from the middle of the season when Town were struggling to pick up any points at all, it does show that when Town do find a vein of consistency that they can compete with anyone in the championship and the character and determination is needed to succeed, Chris Powell has managed to instil within the team, the challenge is to now replicate this next weekend and into next season and if he can do that as well as strengthening the depth of the squad then Town will be a force to be reckoned with next season.
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