Huddersfield Town and Darren Moore grace period now over in five conclusions

We’ve had a wait-and-see attitude toward both the team and the new manager so far this season, but this game puts an end to that, with wins now required to instill confidence.
Huddersfield Town’s trip to bottom club Sheffield Wednesday was surrounded by a lot of hype as Darren Moore returned to the club he left in the summer – and Terriers fans will have been anticipating the whole three points against the managerless and winless Owls.

In the end, neither side was able to break the deadlock, but Moore thought his team was treated unfairly when a late strike by replacement Kian Harratt was ruled out for an alleged foul on the goalie by Tom Lees in the build-up.

That leaves Moore without a win in his first four games in charge, extending Huddersfield Town’s own winless run to five. Here’s our five conclusions on the game and more importantly, what comes next on the other side of the international break.

Read more:Huddersfield Town plans and priorities for international break revealed

1. Huddersfield Town failed to find the gear change to execute their plan
Even against the worst side in the division, a steady-away but unspectacular first-half performance away from home was more or less acceptable from a Town perspective given how unbelievably shoddy they had been against Birmingham City just a few days prior. Of course Town would have loved to have taken an advantage into the break, but a renewed focus on avoiding any more stupid errors is naturally going to put a bit of conservatism into the players’ minds.
Going in goalless at the break, then? Fine. Boring, but fine. And that achieved, Moore set about trying to do what he had also done in the 1-1 draw against Coventry City a couple of weeks prior: make proactive attacking substitutions to get more and more men into the opposition half and try to ramp up the pressure on Sheffield Wednesday.

MOORE: “ENCOURAGED AGAIN BY THE TEAM” - News - Huddersfield TownThat did produce more openings for Town as the game went on, but time and again they were unable to take advantage of them. The final 30 minutes or so was probably best summed up by Sorba Thomas at one point getting forward and having two different viable crosses on that would surely have led to goals, with Kian Harratt and Delano Burgzorg both making excellent runs; instead, the Welshman put his cross straight at Cameron Dawson, who barely even needed to adjust his footwork to claim it.

We can say with an entirely straight face that to their credit, Wednesday generally defended well – we’ve certainly seen Town go up against shakier back lines than this. If there was anything Town’s toothless attack were going to exploit, it was Dawson’s nerviness on crosses into a crowded box: he had spilled one that Josh Koroma lobbed wide in the first half when he really ought to have at least forced a goalline clearance.

That’s what Town got when Lees put Dawson off and Harratt turned the loose ball into the net, only for the officials to whistle against the former Owls centre-back, who was ruled to have used his elbow unfairly. We disagree, in truth, as did Moore – but it was hard for us to feel any real sense of injustice, given that Town had just seven other shots all game and didn’t hit the target with a single one of them.

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Nil-nil was the right result; if the two sides had gone back out to play next-goal-wins rules, they’d still be there now. Unfortunately, it does as little for Town as it did for the Owls.

2. Huddersfield Town are either not far off or miles away, and we still aren’t sure which
Town have had more draws recently than Wyatt Earp and Neil Buchanan taking a trip to Ikea in their underpants, only it’s been far less interesting to watch. At this stage of the season, and so early in a manager’s tenure, what do you make of that: is it an encouraging foundation to build on and a sign of being (largely) hard to beat, or is this, worryingly, the best they can do?

The attitude from Moore and the club alike seems to be the former – or at least, a fervent hope that’s the case. The whole reason they made the switch to Moore was to give him as long as possible to start to get these players playing football again, if we can use a phrase that is unintentionally disparaging to his predecessor. That both parties are comfortable taking that kind of long-term view suggests that nobody is at any kind of panic stations as it stands.

What makes it so difficult to judge Town is that they’ve been so wildly inconsistent, under both Warnock and Moore: error-strewn and incompetent at the back against Plymouth, Norwich, Stoke and Birmingham, but hugely impressive against Leicester and Ipswich; clinical against West Brom and Rotherham; and somewhere in between in their remaining games.

Intentionally or not, this game ended up feeling like a reset to zero. Town’s games this season have all been very open: only five sides have a higher combined expected goals for and against. The relatively even xG split (14.1 for, 17.6 against) suggests it’s no accident that Town are drawing so many games; in fact, going by xG they actually have more points than xG says they should have, even if not always from the right games.

We’re now at a point where we can’t put it all down to the fixture list having been unkind: Town have played sides from up and down the league table now. As such, we think it’s fair to conclude that playing games as openly as they have has not served Town particularly well, even if it did – spectacularly – towards the end of last season.

That means that something needs to change, and the logical step is for Town to try and have more control over the way games play out, instead of setting out to make things as manic as possible and hope the roulette wheel lands in their favour.

The big unknown is whether this squad is good enough for that to be a wise strategy. Their attempts to change their approach in the first half against Coventry and against Birmingham were near-disastrous. Here, Town lacked the quality to punish a Wednesday side who, admittedly, made things difficult by concentrating more on getting their clean sheet than on trying to win – but we don’t use that as an excuse. By any reasonable standard, Town should have won this fixture.

This weird period of being unsure about what Town’s prospects are reminds us strongly of the first half of both of Carlos Corberan’s seasons in charge, when Town were similarly inconsistent and the direction of travel for the rest of the season proved impossible to predict accurately. So it’s extra confounding that both seasons took such profoundly different turns at around the halfway mark. Will the change to Moore’s style work or not? We genuinely don’t know.

3. Huddersfield Town must show signs of improvement after the break
That uncertainty, plus Town’s precarious position in a league table that now feels worth paying some attention to, makes it imperative that we get at least a bit of encouragement soon. We’re not expecting an unbeaten run, but they have to improve from a point per game to something more like four points every three games if they want to keep themselves away from any serious relegation worries. That ought to be the bare minimum standard from now on, and it’s one we will hold them to.

For now, we can fully accept and understand Moore’s explanation that he has had precious little time with his players: take recovery days, travel time and matchdays out of the equation, and Moore has perhaps had six or seven full training sessions. He has, by his own admission, had to try and be pragmatic by retaining parts of what had worked well under Neil Warnock – a gameplan that is largely alien to how Moore has generally preferred to do things himself.

A lot is now riding on how well they use this international break: Moore himself has talked up his relief at finally getting some proper time with his players and what a big difference it could make. We worry slightly, though, that even a fortnight without a game is a very short window to make a real difference.

That’s not a diss on Moore; just a case of once bitten, twice shy. We all remember Fotheringham talking about how big the World Cup break would be, only for them to come out the other side of it looking somehow more jaded and with absolutely zero improvement in attack.

In fact, we have looked through the past few seasons and found very little correlation between international breaks and notably upturns/downturns in form: if they were good, bad or indifferent going in, they generally remained so on the other side. The two big exceptions in either direction are:

March 2022, when the break came just as they had well and truly run out of puff from their 17-game unbeaten run and Town had lost to Millwall and Bournemouth in awful displays. Town then came back refreshed from the break and went unbeaten until the play-off final.
March under Warnock last season – though even then the improvement had already begun, as Town had just beaten Millwall before the break began.
Arguably those two exceptions are both cases where what the players needed most was rest and relaxation away from the game, not a new set of tactical and technical information. However, this is the first time for years that Town have gone into a break quite so soon after a change of manager; does that make a decisive difference here?

4. Darren Moore’s big surprise worked tactically but failed on execution

We thought when the teamsheets came out that Moore was thinking along the same lines as our own predicted 3-4-3 with a front line of Thomas, Burgzorg and Koroma – but instead, it was more of a 3-4-1-2 with Thomas playing as the attacking midfielder behind a front two of Burgzorg and Koroma.

Darren Moore's solid start at Huddersfield Town compounds Dejphon  Chansiri's mistakes at Sheffield Wednesday - Stuart Rayner

We laughed at the idea that Moore’s solution to making the best of playing two wingers at centre-forward was to also move a third winger into a central position – but actually, we thought it worked in most regards other than the most important one, the provision of a final ball. And yes, that is very important – but Thomas’ most wasteful spell actually came later on, after he took over from Tom Edwards at right wing-back.

Some necessary context here because we don’t want to come across as being unduly critical in light of this: on an individual player basis Thomas currently leads the entire division for expected assists. That’s good! But throughout his Town career, his assists have tended to come from set pieces: just one of his three/four this season has been from open play, depending whether you count the own goal he ‘assisted’ against Middlesbrough.

Even if we do count own goals, we make it that 19 of Thomas’ 26 assists in a Town shirt have been from set pieces – and at least a couple of the seven classed as ‘open play’ were really a second ball back into the box shortly following a set piece.

All of which is great and fine: it’s wonderful that Town have such a useful weapon at their disposal. However…Thomas is the first and only man to exceed 100 non-set piece crosses this season (he’s got 111; the next highest is 84). He ranked third last season on raw numbers, but far exceeded first-placed Ryan Giles on a per-90 minutes basis. The season before that…top of the table again.

So many crosses, so few open play assists…it does rather suggest that Town are not getting great value out of Thomas being the Championship crossiest player, doesn’t it? (That’s not to be confused with the Championship’s crossest player, although he’s probably that too). Some of that may be down to the profile of Town’s centre-forwards, of course, but we are talking about what they have now, so the point stands at least until January.

All of which is a very long walk around to a fairly simple point: it may not be a bad thing, longer term, for Thomas to play in a role that asked him to think about different angles of approach than just going for the cross every time – even if it’s just a role he takes up every few games, rather than on a full-time basis.

We know that he can thread a pass – look at his exquisite ball to put Danny Ward in to score against Birmingham towards the beginning of last season for a prime example – but he is rarely in positions to do so.

We bemoaned Moore’s tinkering and playing players out of position against Birmingham, but we think Thomas at 10 may merit further examination. After all, Town have not got enough goals or chances from the other obvious candidates for that role (Jack Rudoni, Brahima Diarra or Ben Wiles), while Koroma and especially Burgzorg simply won’t pass the ball so trying them there would be a waste of time.

Thomas can still drift wide from number 10 at times, of course, but moving him also frees up space for Tom Edwards to come into the side. Moore hinted after the game that the Stoke loanee needs to build his fitness back up having been left out for a spell by Warnock, but Moore seems to have a brighter view of Edwards’ prospects.

The big loser from the change, meanwhile, is Wiles, who was benched for the first time since arriving at the club as their big summer signing. We’re curious to see that battle for places unfolds on the other side of the international break, but our hunch would be that Thomas may be similarly deployed again in games where Moore feels his creativity is more important than Wiles’ work rate.

5. Danny Ward could be just as important to Darren Moore as he was to Neil Warnock
Sorry not sorry to harp on about it, but Town do need an out-and-out striker in the side, don’t they? Koroma and Burgzorg were unconvincing throughout but especially as a pair, with Town’s better openings coinciding with Harratt’s introduction in place of Koroma.

If Town are going to play a front two, we must go back once again to it feeling more like a natural fit to play one of Danny Ward/Harratt/Kyle Hudlin alongside one of Burgzorg/Koroma/Pat Jones – the first group’s natural striker instincts naturally bring better space and finishing to the side that complements the latter group’s rawer flair and unpredictability. If Moore wants a lone striker, it really could so with being one of the out-and-out strikers, too. As much as he has his detractors, Ward is clearly the most proven of those out-and-out centre-forwards.

Even with Ward on the mend, you can tell Moore and Town are desperate for the January transfer window to open so they can do what they couldn’t do in the summer – and possibly bring back an extra option in Jordan Rhodes, who has six goals in seven games on loan at Blackpool and enjoyed a mini-spell of rare form for Sheffield Wednesday under Moore a couple of years ago.



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