By Bradley Stead
It’s no secret that Carlos Corberan made an inauspicious start to his Huddersfield Town reign.
Defeats against Brentford and Norwich to begin the Championship season were disappointing, but perhaps not unexpected, given Brentford finished 3rd last season and are expected to be challenging in the top 6 again, and Norwich have kept the squad that won them the Championship back in 2018/19.
The Carabao Cup defeat to League One Rochdale was perhaps more of a shock.
Based on statistics provided by Infogol, across the opening two Championship games Town have averaged 49.4% of possession, an xGF (expected goals for) of 1.05, and actually scoring 0 goals, and an xGA (expected goals against) of 3.83, actually conceding 4 goals. Corberan has clearly started to implement a more possession-based style, however, in these opening two games Town had struggled to create scoring chances.
The game against Nottingham Forest, who had also lost both their opening games, presented more of a chance for Town to start picking up points and confidence. Both sides went into the game without having scored a goal this season. Surely something had to give?
Town started the game with some good fortune. A challenge in the opening minutes of the game by Johnathan Hogg, who went over the top of the ball to connect with the lower leg of Forest debutant Harry Arter, was lucky not to be sent off, however, the referee saw fit to give nothing more than the free-kick.
A lot has been made of the new style Carlos Corberan is trying to implement at Huddersfield. Influenced by the Leeds United Head Coach, Marcelo Bielsa, who was watching from the stands, Corberan wants his team to press their opponents with great intensity, with man-marking across the pitch when out of possession, and to control games by dominating the ball.
There were times throughout the game, where the Town centre backs would split, allowing Toffolo and Pipa to push higher up the pitch, while Hogg would drop from his defensive midfield role to create a back 3 with Stearman and Crichlow, who was making his Huddersfield debut.
Town were able to work the ball from flank to flank, trying to move Nottingham Forest (notorious for defending deep) from side to side and create pockets of space for the likes of Pritchard to find, or for Koroma to cut in from the wing.
Forest, who struggled during the opening 15 minutes, soon began to get a foot on the ball, and were occasionally able to play around the pressing of the Huddersfield players. Other times they would play the ball long up to Lyle Taylor and attempt to win second balls.
They were able to create the best chance of the first half too. Sammy Ameobi played a 1-2 with Sow as he cut in from the left, turned Crichlow on the edge of the box and sent the ball curling towards the net, which forced Ben Hamer into a good save.
Other than this chance though, Huddersfield looked to be in control of the game, and it appeared that the best way for Forest to score would be from a set-piece. Ameobi fired the ball across the six-yard box after a short corner routine, which was well dealt with by Crichlow. Loic Mbe Soh found space in the box but his header could only draw another good save from Hamer.
Town looked comfortable though, They/were bright on the ball, and were well worth the only goal of the game, which came 10 minutes into the second half. Forest had all their outfield players back defending their box, set up in a 5-4-1 shape, but Bacuna played the ball to Toffolo, who advanced the ball to Mbenza on the left touchline, and began his run into the box behind the Forest full-back.
Mbenza found the return pass to Toffolo, who cut the ball back from the byline into Campbell. The Forest centre backs had dropped into their own six-yard box, presumably following the run of Toffolo, which allowed Campbell to hold his position on the penalty spot, giving himself the time and space to volley the ball into the back of the net. 1-0 to Town.
In attempt to get back into the game Forest began to make changes, most notably the introduction of last season’s top scorer Lewis Grabban who within minutes of coming on fired the ball just over the Huddersfield crossbar. Naturally, as the game entered its final stages, Huddersfield were forced to defend deeper for large spells.
However, there were chances for Town to kill the game on the counter-attack. The pace of Diakhaby and Koroma helped create a 4 v 2 situation, and it was a combination of good goalkeeping and poor shooting that stopped Town from doubling their lead.
They held on though, and saw out the game to claim their first win under Carlos Corberan. This was a good performance, an xG of 2.84 shows that Huddersfield created enough chances to win the game, and they limited Nottingham Forest to an xG of 0.87. Town didn’t dominate possession (48%) but their man marking system meant they pressed well, there were numerous times that they won the ball in the Forest half, and when they did have the ball they used it well.
A win and a good performance will hopefully give Town some much-needed confidence, and fans will hope that they can build on this and create some momentum for their upcoming games against newly-promoted Rotherham.
Special mention for Romoney Crichlow who was impressive on his first start for Huddersfield. Decent on the ball, some good headed clearances and blocks to keep Forest out. At 21 years old there’s hopefully more to come from him.